LEFT: Sister Maria Sarto Moreau, shown here teaching a Bible class, learned to speak Navajo so she could connect with the people she served.
RIGHT: Sister Maria, pictured with two of the children she taught, immersed herself in Navajo culture and found there were commonalities with the Church.
"No Obstacles She Wouldn’t Tackle"
Sister Maria Sarto Moreau was honored for her persevering work in the southern part of the Navajo Indian Reservation, a 25,000 square-mile area that covers three states, and for her ability to teach the Church’s traditions in the context of Navajo culture. Sister Maria arrived at St. Anne’s Mission, located in a remote area of Arizona, in 1973, and immediately began to learn the Navajo language. This is a language so difficult that U.S. Armed Forces used it as an unbreakable secret code during World War II. But Sister Maria was unfazed. “I promised myself that as soon as I came, I would learn the language so I could speak with the people,” she said.
Eventually, along with providing food, clothing and a listening ear, St. Anne’s Mission was celebrating bilingual Masses – in English and in Navajo. Although it was difficult at first, Sister Maria immersed herself in Navajo culture and found that there were commonalities with the Catholic Church, including an emphasis on ritual and prayer. She even learned how to weave rugs. For her, there were no obstacles – whether language barriers or unpaved roads – that she wouldn’t tackle in her efforts to bring the light of Christ to the Navajo people.
Postscript: Sister Maria Sarto Moreau died in 1997.