In a historic move, six sisters from the contemplative branch of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity soon will live in and serve the Diocese of Orange.
Their arrival meets one of the key goals of Bishop Kevin Vann’s Strategic Plan calling for identifying and inviting “a religious community, with a charism of intercessory prayer, to make their home in the Diocese of Orange in support of evangelization efforts, the pastoral life of the diocese, and vocations.”
While the diocese presently is home to several orders of active religious sisters, until now it has not had a contemplative order, says Joan Patten, AO, diocesan delegate for consecrated life.
“The sisters live a simple life of radical poverty,” Patten says. “It’s a beautiful way to serve the poor.”
According to their website, motherteresa.org/contemplative-sisters, members of the contemplative branch lead a life of prayer and contemplation, silence, solitude, fasting, and penance. They love and adore Jesus under the appearance of bread in the Blessed Sacrament by spending much time in adoration. They host whole-day Eucharistic adoration in parish churches or chapels and often offer adoration in their own homes or convent chapels.
The contemplative branch was founded on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 25, 1976 in New York. “This gift fulfills further needs in the Church and in the world today and is the fruit of God’s special love for us and our gradual growth in love for him,” the website notes.
As opposed to the more familiar Missionaries of Charity who are dedicated to meeting the corporal needs of the poorest of the poor, the order’s contemplative sisters focus on spiritual needs, praying with and for the poor in their neighborhoods, says Sister Ancy Kollikollavil, M.C., regional superior for the West Coast.
“Now that the opportunity has come, we truly believe it is God’s will for us to be in the Diocese of Orange,” she adds.
Patten says a number of people collaborated to make the sisters’ move to Orange County possible. “It was part of God’s providence,” she notes. “We were praying for the intercession of St. Mother Teresa, and it is fitting that this occurs in the Year of St. Joseph; Joseph after all had to find Mary a place to stay.”
Strikingly, divine Providence – and St. Joseph – seem to have made the Missionaries of Charity’s move to Orange County possible. Work on their Santa Ana home commenced on the Feast Day of St. Joseph, March 19, and is expected to be completed by the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1.
Tom Saenz, one of the key individuals responsible for the sisters’ move, shakes his head and laughs a little at the way seemingly insurmountable odds were swept aside as plans were hatched and then came to fruition.
Saenz, a Fullerton resident and member of St. Juliana Falconieri Parish who is preparing for the deaconate, with his wife and family members has worked with the sisters for many years serving the poor in their Tijuana house, in Los Angeles, and in other cities in the U.S. and abroad.
“My wife and I learned from the active sisters that the contemplative sisters receive donations but aren’t equipped to get them to those who need the assistance,” Saenz says, “so we transported things from L.A. to Tijuana and got to know them.
“They are poor themselves,” he explains. “They give up all luxuries and conveniences, have no income. They rely on Providence through donations.”
In the process of driving some of the contemplative sisters past the Christ Cathedral one day, Saenz says a discussion ensued about them possibly relocating from their current Alhambra home to Orange County. A conversation with Patten came next, and the little team set to work with prayers for the project.
“We wanted to welcome them here,” he recalls, “but we didn’t have a home for them.”
To make matters worse, the country was in the middle of a pandemic and finances were tight for everyone, including the diocese, the sisters, and the Catholic Church at large, he says.
Still, impossible as it seems, as they struggled to find the sisters a home, donors came forward and one benefactor offered them a house.
The home now is being renovated and adapted to the sisters’ needs thanks to the donated services of developers and construction workers, Saenz notes.
“God willing the sisters will be in Santa Ana that day, on the May 1 feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, with their special focus on Eucharistic Adoration,” he says. “They walk in public places professing and sharing the good news in parks, on street corners, in jails. They go wherever the public is to pray with them, not just for them.”