At age 105, Sister Iluminada Soto’s Catholic faith and work has spanned two centuries and 15 postings from Honduras to El Salvador to Santa Ana. She’s a member of the Mexico-based Spanish/English Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
Born Maria Luisa Soto on Oct. 31, 1917, in Zamora, Michoacan, Mexico, she came with her parents to El Modena, CA, returning to Mexico City to enter the convent. She has been a devoted member of the Church for most of her life.
“I always wanted to be a nun,” she said. “I always liked missionary work and I dedicated myself to it.”
She has lived at the convent adjacent to the St. Francis Home in Santa Ana since 1978, an inspiration to her eight fellow nuns. They showed their love for her by throwing her a festive birthday party that included an elegant birthday cake, fresh flowers and star shaped balloons.
FRANCISCAN MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
The declared mission of her order is to restore the Lord’s vineyard in prayer, sacrifice and apostolic action. The order moved to Southern California in 1926, fleeing the religious persecution of the Cristero War between Catholic loyalists and the Mexican government.
SR. ILUMINADA SOTO CELEBRATES HER 105TH BIRTHDAY ON OCT. 31. COURTESY PHOTO
Sr. Soto has fulfilled a wide range of ministries in the missionary order: catechism instruction in Santo Toribio, CA (1941); mission school supervisor in Suyapa, Honduras (1954); child care in Orfanatorio, Honduras (1957); teacher in Escuela de Poverello, CA (1973); preschool and kindergarten teacher in Honduras (1973); Mother Superior at St. Mary Pine Top, AZ (1980), not to mention sacristan, Mother Superior and local vicar at St. Francis. Her missionary work in Central America included visiting the sick, preparing children for First Communion and Confirmation.
The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception operate two hospitals in Mexico and a wide range of services in Southern California: schools in Sylmar and Los Angeles; homes for the elderly in Santa Ana and San Fernando; the House of Prayer in Chula Vista and St. Paul’s House of Formation in Northridge.
According to St. Francis Activities Director Maricela Alegria, at one time Sister Iluminada Soto directed all the activities. She oversaw the daily exercise program every day, plus the arts and crafts.
She may be slowing down a bit as she continues to negotiate her second century, but she is continuously inspired to help as much as she can.
“She helps residents if they’re confused, either to the chapel, to the convent or to their rooms,” said Sr. Elia Caro, the administrator and superior at St. Francis Home.
“I would be happy to continue missionary work if I could,” Sr. Soto said, explaining she’s still as active as she can be, given a bad leg and the need for a walker.
“We have to try and not sit down, try to be more flexible,” remarked Sr. Soto. “We have to work together, trying to be healthy.”
With each passing year, Sr. Soto says her faith has only grown. As for birthday gifts, sister had a special request.
“Pray for me to have the strength to work to the end.”