Q&A: How Latin American sisters helped a young woman in Michigan discover her calling

On a summer evening in southwest Michigan, 26-year-old Sandra Rayas stood up at a parish dinner. With a warm, clear message, she welcomed us on behalf of dozens of her fellow parishioners. She had never considered herself a leader, but that all changed when three sisters from Colombia came to the church five years ago. Now she is considering a career within the Church. 

We sat down with Sandra to talk about how the Latin American sisters from Catholic Extension’s exchange program have helped empower the Hispanic community in the Diocese of Kalamazoo.

How would you describe the sisters? 

They are more than just friends, they’re family. I can go talk to them at any time and know that if I call them they would answer. I love them. Just like anybody, they’re human beings. They’re so cool to talk to.

How have the sisters made a difference in this community?

(Before the sisters came) the Spanish Mass was started, but it wasn’t growing. Then the sisters showed up and they just kind of pushed everybody to do better, and they helped the community grow. They encouraged everybody to come in. Giving that encouragement to us helped us encourage other people.

The sisters planted a seed in every one of us here, helping us grow into the leaders that we want to be. 

How do you take care of a seed? You come back and water it. The sisters are showing us that we can be leaders.

How have they encouraged you to be a leader at the parish?

For me personally, they saw that I love to talk to people. And as they got to know me more, they were like, “You can take up more responsibilities. You can do a lot more, Sandra,” and I was like “Are you sure? Are you talking about me? Is there another Sandra around here?” (laughing)

So they planted that seed and they just came back and they kept watering me and gave me that knowledge and their love. They are showing me that everything is possible.

I went to a community college here in South Haven. It’s very affordable, which is why I decided to go to Lake Michigan College. I got my associate’s there in applied science, and I also got a certificate to be a registered dental assistant, so that’s what I’m working in now.

“If I would’ve known that there were careers within the church, I definitely would have went that route, but I didn’t know until I met the sisters and they are showing me a different world.”  

What comes next?

We still have further to go and more to learn from them, and from us. I know that there are a lot of great leaders who were here tonight and they definitely are trying to do better, not just for themselves, but for their families, to be one with God spiritually and build a structure and a formation that they want to see in the future.

I know that St. Basil has a youth group. I haven’t been very involved in it and I know it needs work, but I think I need to learn a little bit more before I go in there. I want to be that leadership. I want to be that person where I can plant these little seeds in these little kids and show them the way.

Catholic Extension works in solidarity with people in some of the poorest areas of our country. With the support of donors like you, Catholic Extension helps empower Catholic leaders to make a difference in their communities.

Subscribe for weekly stories sent to your inbox