Sister Maryud Cortés did not plan to become a nun. She wanted to get an education, but she believed that achieving this goal might be difficult to do as a sister. As she learned, she can do both.
Tough Growing-Up Years
Born prematurely into a poor family in the highlands of Colombia, Sister Maryud spent her first weeks of life in an incubator. At 9 months, she walked briefly, but contracted a spinal infection, which left her unable to walk at age 1. She spent the next several years as an invalid and could not attend school.
Sister Maryud Cortés
Her father pleaded with the Virgin Mary for healing, and at age 9 she suddenly started feeling her feet again and miraculously began to walk.
Amidst her medical problems, her family fell apart. Her parents had six more children and then separated. When Sister Maryud finally started attending school, she was behind a few grades. She needed to financially support the household, so she studied in the morning and worked in the afternoon. At age 11, an elderly couple offered to compensate her to move into their home and help their grandson with math. For the next six years, she lived apart from her family.
During these troubled times, Sister Maryud thought often about becoming a nun because she felt close to the Virgin Mary, whom she credited with helping her to walk. But she had missed years of school during her sickness and wanted to get an education.
But God’s calling grew stronger. At 17, before completing high school, she joined the Missionary Servants of the Divine Spirit. During her formation, she finished her high school degree, and in 2014 she took her final vows. That same year, her congregation asked her to go to the United States as part of Catholic Extension’s newly established U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
Serving in the U.S.
She was one of four sisters assigned to the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan. This agricultural area has many immigrant families and attracts about 20,000 additional workers during the harvest season. During this time, they face long working hours, disruptions to family life and disconnectedness from their home base. They rely heavily on their faith to manage their strenuous lives.
Left to right, Sisters Maryud Cortés, Sr. Argene Berley Gamez Hernandez and Sr. Yuliana Patricia Rua Giraldo
Sister Maryud is sympathetic to these hardships. She and the other sisters provide comfort, faith formation, pastoral care, home visits and youth programs. They serve nine parishes and nearly 300 migrant camps. The sisters are keeping these communities strong and faith-filled.
For Sister Maryud, the Catholic Extension program provided the opportunity to get the education she wanted for so long. With financial support from Catholic Extension, she completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Atlantic International University in 2017. In May, she will receive her master’s degree in applied leadership from Boston College.
“I had a dream to serve my brothers and sisters who suffer from psychological illnesses, depression and high levels of stress,” she said. “When I arrived in the U.S., I saw this situation every day. I heard painful stories and encountered the anguish of many migrants.”
She believes that women have a special role in the Church. “Women add soul, sustenance and flavor. They are energetic, passionate and have a big capacity for love,” she said. She cited Pope Francis as saying that “women bring harmony that makes this world beautiful.”
She dreams of creating self-improvement workshops for women, parochial leadership programs and youth English classes. “My greatest hope is to share all the tools I have received in this country,” she said.
With two academic degrees and five years of experience, Sister Maryud is fulfilling her goal to learn and to lead. She is already a steady and invaluable leader to many faith communities, and her guidance and the example she sets will continue for many more years.