Four sisters belonging to the Mexican order of the Missionary Carmelites of St. Teresa arrived in the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas to evangelize the rapidly growing Hispanic population, most of them recent immigrants and first-generation Americans and all them facing challenges in integrating into American society.
The sisters, Sr. Carmen Teresita Olivas, Sr. Joselina Cardenas, Sr. Rosario Martinez and Sr. Francisca Nava, work in three parishes — Our Lady of the Light in Anahuac, St. Louis in Winnie and Immaculate Conception in Liberty. Each parish has a large Hispanic population, more than 50 percent of its parishioners.
As pastoral ministers, the sisters hold retreats for families, prepare parishioners for the sacraments, train catechists and provide religious education. They put thousands of miles on their car annually to visit the sick, the grieving, those with financial hardships and those who have left the Church. They even accompany families to the Mexican consulate in Houston, about an hour away, to help them with their paperwork.
They have been instrumental in fostering stewardship in their parishes. After collaborating with the diocesan assistant director of community development and incorporating more stewardship into their teachings, the sisters helped to boost the annual bishop’s faith appeal contributions. The offertory in each parish has also increased by about 10 percent.
They started a Soldaditos de Cristo (Soldiers of Christ) program to increase youth and parent participation in parish life. This program educates and evangelizes through Bible study and workshops. The children who go through the program eventually become leaders in the Niños Evangelizando Niños (Children Evangelizing Children) retreats, gathering more than 100 participants each time.
The numbers that the sisters generate are impressive. Combined weekly Mass attendance in the three churches has increased by more than 80 percent. Confirmations have nearly doubled and baptisms have more than doubled. In 2016 the sisters made 2,400 home and hospital visits, phone calls and texts to parishioners. The Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day events at their parishes are popular with 500 attending the novenas and more than 500 joining the feast day celebration.
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont is elated to have the sisters in his diocese. “They pour their hearts into everything they do,” he said. “Because of the limited resources available to these parishes, the sisters make the most of leftover material that other ministries and outside organizations donate, creating handmade arts and crafts that they use in their retreats. Parents have often expressed that these family-oriented arts and crafts have made fathers more present in the family, mothers more understanding of their children and children more willing to fulfill their role in the Church.”
Of their commitment to the diocese, the sisters say, “In the search for God, we find His response through the people with whom we develop our apostolic work. Every day we respond to what the Lord is asking us in favor of His people.”