Did you know that there is a religious Order of Sisters in the United States who have a rich Mercedarian and Eucharistic charism?
Located in California, Texas, Louisiana, and Ohio, The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are a teaching order in the primary grades, and have other duties that include visiting the sick, prison ministry, and pastoral duties.
The Sisters were founded in Mexico City by the servant of God Maria del Refugio Aguilar in 1910. Their mother foundress, enamored of Jesus in his Eucharistic Mystery, wanted to found an institute whose members would dedicate their lives to loving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and making reparation for the many offenses He receives in this sacrament.
At the same time, Maria del Refugio wanted to foster a quality Catholic education to blossom academic knowledge, virtue, and strong character. There are approximately 680 sisters today staffing 83 schools and missions in 12 countries: United States, Mexico, Italy, Spain, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Guatemala, Cuba and Mozambique.
Adhered to the Order of Mercy Friars
The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament were adhered to the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, a men’s Order, on June 11, 1946. This order, also known more simply as the Order of Mercy, was founded in 1218 and is an international community of priests and brothers who live a life of prayer and communal fraternity based on the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Constitutions of the Order.
The men’s order seeks to carry on the work of its founder, Saint Peter Nolasco, who in imitation of Jesus the Redeemer, offered his life for those Christians in need of redemptive love.
The Mother Foundress of the Mercedarian Sisters, Maria del Refugio, wanted to put her institute under the patronage of Our Lady of Mercy and share therefore in all the graces and indulgences given to the order. At the “School of Mary,” as our Holy Father John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia:
“Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving [Mary]. It means accepting – like John – the one who is given to us anew as our Mother. It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us. Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist. If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist.”
The Mercedarian Sisters strive to live the following spiritual values:
• The constant giving of their lives as Jesus does in the Eucharist
• Following the example and model of Christ the Redeemer
• A life centered on the Eucharist and our Blessed Mother
• Daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, Meditation, and Rosary
• Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction
• Faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Church
The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are a religious institute of pontifical right, and are directly under the authority of the Holy See. The Sisters have this right through the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. Their constitutions are submitted directly to the Holy See for approval, and other matters of law such as perpetual vows or promises, and dispensations, must be submitted to the Holy See for approval.
Below are some questions I asked the Sisters’ Vocation Director, Sister Jeanette:
Question: I read that the Mercedarian religious strive to be always faithful to the Magisterium of the Church. We know that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of religious order leaders who represent 57,000 American nuns and sisters, were recently told that Pope Francis supports the Vatican supervision of the LCWR initiated by Pope Benedict XVI last year. How do you respond to those who feel the Catholic Church’s positions on issues involving women are “outdated” and even harmful to women, and that the Church should change?
Sr. Jeanette: The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are not part of the LCWR. We are part of the CMSWR (Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious). Regarding the perceptions that the Church’s position on issues involving women is “outdated,” I would definitely have to disagree. In fact, the Church in the last decades has defended the dignity of women around the world. It suffices to read John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem and his work on the Theology of the Body.
What other Church gives such great honor to a woman as we Catholics give to Mary? Who has been the permanent force in defense of women, especially when it comes to care of her body as the Church when opposing abortion and contraceptives? Indeed, we feel so united to the Church that we could not understand our identity and apostolic life apart from the Church. Our spirituality and charism is a God-given gift, a gift upon which the Pope, as the Vicar of Christ on Earth, has put his seal of approval and therefore has declared its authenticity. Concerning our ministry, it is fruitful as long as it is under the umbrella and the approval of the Church; otherwise, it would cease to be a ministry and become a merely philanthropic endeavor.
Question: How does your ministry reflect the charism of being Mercedarian-Eucharistic?
Sr. Jeanette: Our day begins with prayer. We begin with Morning Prayer and Holy Mass, which strengthens us for the apostolate. That is, we go to the source of love, to the One who has called us to serve Him. Nobody gives what he or she does not possess. We ask God to use us to bring his presence to His people. Is that not being Eucharistic, when each one of us strives to be God’s presence among us, the Emmanuel?
In the evening, we come back to our convent and have silent adoration, that is, we bring to Jesus all the needs, joys, and pains of His people and present them to Him, to do as He wills. Then, we continue with the recitation of the Holy Rosary and Evening Prayer. We also begin our day with Eucharist and finish with the Eucharist.
The Mercedarian charism has to do with the redemption of slaves, and nowadays we have so many forms of enslavement! We want to redeem our students and their families and other people that we share our apostolate with; first of all, from a world that lives as if God did not exist, from ignorance of the Catholic religion, and finally from enslavements such as addictions and perversions. But we view his redemptive work as a proclamation of the Eucharistic Kingdom of God. We discover our own slaveries and those of our brothers and sisters through the contemplation of Jesus in the Eucharist, the kenosis of God, and we present to Jesus in the Eucharist the slaveries we witness, asking Him to help us to experience the freedom of the children of God.
Question: Upon reading your website, I see that it states that Mary, Our Lady of Mercy, accompanies us during our journey, teaching us and helping us to be transformed in the Eucharist for the glory of God and the good of our brothers and sisters. How would you say that you go about living mercy toward oneself and toward others, living with compassion, with gentleness, with forgiveness? What does this look like?
Sr. Jeanette: Since the mystery of the Eucharist is essential for us, who else can teach us how to receive Jesus, except Mary? She, who believed first and then conceived the Son of God in her womb, is the teacher par excellence – to educate us to help us become living tabernacles. We strive to be merciful when educating our students and young people. Children and young people need structure; they need to know what their boundaries are, but they need to know that when they trespass those boundaries, they will find mercy.
In our schools, we expose our students to Eucharistic adoration and to the maternal love of Mary who is the best way to approach Jesus. Children and young people need to know that they have a Father and a Mother who love them immensely, since many do not have both of them in the broken world that they live in. We talk frequently and continually work with our students, especially those with behavioral problems. They must feel loved, but they must not stop at such and such Sister or teacher that loves them so much, but understand that we are the means that God and Mary use to show them their love. One day, we humans might not be available to them, but Jesus in the Eucharist and Mary are always there for them.
Question: What is the biggest challenge that you face as sisters?
Sr. Jeanette: Concerning our institute, the biggest challenge is to live 24/7 what we have committed to becoming – Eucharist for each other and for our brothers and sisters. It requires a lot of sacrifice (denial) but brings also a lot of joy in our teaching apostolate. Our biggest challenge is swimming against the current of hedonism, which views mortification as something of the past and against the well-being of the human being, enticing young people to engage in premarital sex, drugs, porn, etc. Also included is the movement that seeks the approval of same-sex “marriage” since it ridicules the sacrament of marriage and the institution of the family. Finally, relativism that convinces people that there is no universal truth, allowing them to feel comfortable with sinful situations that they can rationalize and justify.
Question: My final question is: For those of us that are not in monastic communities, what are your suggestions for living more contemplatively in day-to-day life?
Sr. Jeanette: Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity talk about that inner cell available to everyone where one can retire to be in a heart to heart talk with Jesus. Everyone is called to love. If we love in our day-to-day endeavors, realizing that anything good we do comes from the One who loves us, we would be living a contemplative life. Our mother foundress was married, then as a widow she was dedicated to raising her daughter. But little by little, God taught her to remain in His presence. The foundation of our community was the blossoming of a love that has been nourished for years.
Question: How can others get in contact with you?
© 2013. Robbe Lyn Sebesta. All Rights Reserved.