Tell us about your growing up years and family.
All my life I’ve been on a journey. For sure it’s about movement, each step an adventure. I can truly say God places me on these paths and I have trusted and continue to trust that I am where I need to be. I was born into a large family as the second of nine children, five girls and 4 boys. My father died when I was very young. I remember leaving Durango, Mexico, with my brother and my mother to come to United States to find work. I don’t remember an elaborate planning session though, certainly, there must have been plans other than “Connie, go pack a bag!” After all, arrangements had to be made for my siblings. They stayed with my aunt eventually joining us when my youngest brother turned seven. We made our home in California, moving to town from Santa Maria to Sacramento. We all managed to find work in every town. I, however, was the only one who had the luxury of going to school. God is Good.
Please share a favorite story about your early community service.
I have worn several hats since I entered the Community. In 1991, I was placed on a path along with Sisters Marilyn Archer (Holy Name Province) and Antonia Anthony (Sacred Heart Province). We were sent by the leadership of the three United States provinces to search for a location for a future mission in Mexico. Early on, not fully understanding the breadth and scope of this project, I prayed and prayed a lot (almost the entire time!) that God would guide me. Indeed, God has been the Good Shepherd and, as always, His plan was to lead me to joy and contentment even if it was not how I imagined it to be, as around each corner, there were surprises along the way! I was so welcomed by the community in Palenque; they affectionately call me “mother.” Over the years, I have served as a formation director, local minister, administrator, general coordinator, and pastoral associate. I’ve helped to facilitate liturgy education, prepare coordinators to teach Confirmation, offer pastoral care, and advocate for patients. Together with my sisters, we also host retreats to support families. Our latest service is to start a medical clinic allowing people without funds to receive care. This clinic is located on the land where my sisters and I live and is surrounded by a permaculture garden. I sense this is not the end of my journey. Certainly, there is so much to celebrate!
Why did you decide to become a sister?
Understanding the wise words of Mexican Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, “We are each called to be faithful to God in our time and place in history,” I knew I wanted to serve communities that are struggling and left to the fringe of society. My ministry in Palenque with the indigenous people of the state of Chiapas feels aligned with my original mission to “Go where the Spirit is sending you!” I dreamed of planting the seeds of Franciscan charism. I had no idea I would be helping to literally “plant” seeds of corn! I have witnessed a harvest of faith far greater than I could have imagined.
How do you share your Franciscan values and spirituality now?
I live in Palenque year-round though I returned to Sacramento (my home away from home) in early 2020 due to the pandemic and couldn’t return until February 2021. That return turned out to be a visit, however, as the pandemic continued but I was encouraged by the leadership shown by the young sisters. I was no doubt astounded by all that had been accomplished and am overjoyed by the blossoming leadership capabilities of the sisters in my care. The permaculture project was started, including a new greenhouse to grow vegetables, fruit, and medicinal plants. A small lake made up of two natural springs now provides fresh water. And lighted walkways, additional lighting, and parking for an ambulance have been installed.
What would you like us to know about being a Franciscan?
My ministry in Palenque has always focused on building relationships with the women in the surrounding villages. Along the way, I became a promoter of the rights of Indigenous women amongst the Ch´ol and Tzeltal native peoples who live in the 130 village communities of our local parish, Santo Domingo de Guzman. I started as a teacher of unalphabetized indigenous women and, over the years, became a promoter and advocate of women’s rights. To approach the women, I had to first work with indigenous men, specifically the leadership of the villages, to build trust (cultivar confianza) and ensure engagement. I have served as the co-foundress of CODIMUJ (Diocesan Coordination of Women) in the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas. Through CODIMUJ, women receive educational opportunities to learn leadership skills in response to their economic needs, developing themselves into farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs (baking, canning, and marketing/selling products). Learning and building these skill sets, along with financial coaching, contributes to their self-sustainability and boosts the local economy.
Please share a favorite quote or verse.
Serving in Palenque has been an uncharted journey with the sisters God has chosen and in the wisdom of our order’s foundress, Magdalen Damen, who said, “Let us try to serve the good God together.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Since my arrival in 1991, we have opened the Novitiate house in Palenque that has given fruit to four professed indigenous women in Palenque. This was not and is not a simple task as the indigenous peoples of the area are Mayan and include four distinct native language groups. Spanish, the official language of Mexico, is foreign to the indigenous peoples. To reach the various communities, we set out to teach Spanish as a second language as this is the foundation for the instruction and outreach efforts and the religious celebrations.
I, too, needed additional preparation for the numerous roles I would serve over the years. I completed my theological studies at Centro Antonio Montesino in Mexico City and received academic recognition for studies in the areas of Culture and Pastoral Ministry at the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, Texas. This academic preparation affirmed my abilities to be a pioneer, a quality I had not yet seen in myself. Living the gospel, developing patience, trusting in my faith and calling up the courage deep down was the only way I could continue to accept and sometimes choose risk. I am sorry my fellow sisters who started this journey with me in 1991 did not survive to witness this miracle, but I feel their prayers and presence every day.
The newly formed Clinica Familiar Lak Ña Clara, a new medical facility located on the sisters’ 5-acre property on the outskirts of Palenque, consists of eleven pre-assembled containers housing a laboratory, radiology, space for primary care and advanced mother-infant care, and a surgical suite with two surgery rooms, recovery room, and pre-op section with a dressing room, bathroom, shower area, and lockers. The legal work of establishing the nonprofit corporation in accordance with the Mexican government and within the US guidelines and standards was accomplished in 2020 and we have a bi-national Board of Directors with associate Lourdes Caracoza serving as the first board chair. Key administrative positions have been filled and the sisters have established collaborative relationships with the local public hospital and other local health care providers. As of September 2022, the renovation of the old dispensary building will be completed to better support administrative, dentistry, and pharmaceutical services. Our twice-annual medical missions, which began in 1996 and led to the development of this clinic, will re-start in late 2022 after being on hold for over 2 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.