Most of the Sisters living and working in New Mexico today were born there and have families in the region. They were drawn by the example of a previous generation of Dominicans to join our Congregation. For all the Sisters called to or from the Land of Enchantment, it is their love of New Mexico that keeps them ministering there.
“We are finding out who we can become as we grow deeper in love with the people of New Mexico and with God. That is why we are there,” says Sandra Delgado, OP, a member of the current Dominican Sisters Leadership Team based in Grand Rapids.
The Sisters’ roles in New Mexico, as elsewhere in the world, have evolved over the past few decades. “As the needs of society changed, we were always there, ready to see what was needed and what gifts were called for,” says Eva Silva, OP, MA, LPCC, a psychotherapist in private practice in Albuquerque, just 30 miles from her hometown of Belen. “As the need for Sisters as teachers and nurses reduced, we were called to work in parishes and many other professions. We recognized that there was a whole world that we wanted to explore.”
Ann Thielen, OP, originally from Bay City, Michigan, was called to New Mexico several times over the years, serving as a nurse and later a parish life coordinator. Today, she volunteers with the Women’s Housing Coalition and St. Vincent de Paul Services in Albuquerque. Whereas in New Mexico we used to serve elbow-to-elbow with many other Sisters at schools and hospitals “…we are all individual in our work now,” says Sister Ann.
These important and much needed ministries are still energized and enriched by our communal identity and interaction as Grand Rapids Dominicans. In fact, communal support may be more important than ever as we seek to respond to the many and diverse pleas for help that come our way. And, our more recent experience of ministry calls us into profound partnership with other laity, as well as clergy, in the service of God’s people.
Teachers without a School
Originally, the Dominican Sisters were called to New Mexico to meet the need for teachers in remote regions. “In the 1920s, the Sisters became educators at the missions in Peñasco and Dixon. The impact that these early Sisters made in the northern part of New Mexico was important to those communities,” says Dolorita Martinez, OP, a former teacher and parish pastoral coordinator whose career has always involved making effective bilingual connections and who now volunteers in an Albuquerque parish.
The Dominican influence flourished beyond the initial summons. “There were no high schools in the north, so the Sisters started one,” says Sister Dolorita. Other small towns in New Mexico delighted in the arrival and service of more Sisters who were sent to New Mexico, and vocations flourished among the young women we served. By the late 1940s many Sisters were teaching in what were actually public schools, with most faculty from religious congregations. Eventually, a group challenged the local school board’s mandate that closed the local public school and required children in the town of Dixon to attend the Catholic school in town. The result of Zellers v. Huff, or the Dixon Case, pulled many of the Dominican Sisters, and other Sisters teaching in New Mexico, from their jobs in public schools statewide.
Many rural areas rallied and formed their own parish schools, asking the Sisters to step in and run them. “When the Sisters were put out of the public schools, I was in 7th grade. But, our community built a Catholic school out of the corrals that we had for the horses just in time for the next school year to begin,” recalls Therese Rodriguez, OP, a former chaplain who is a pastoral ministry volunteer at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.
The Roots of Current Ventures in Health Care
Recent changes on our Marywood campus to embrace new ministries of skilled nursing and residential care are well grounded in our experiences in New Mexico (and California). Our work at the Nazareth Sanatorium in Albuquerque began soon after our arrival in New Mexico.
In its early years it served as a place for care and respite for patients with tuberculosis. By the late 1940s it was transformed into a psychiatric care facility and the hospital also served as a school for the training of registered nurses in psychiatric care. This was followed by Congregational ministry of administration and care in two hospitals in California and one in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and still later by our maternity and health services in Chimbote, Peru. The Word of God is also preached through the healing miracles of Jesus, and our provision of compassionate care.
Influenced by the Landscape
Everyone who journeys to New Mexico is struck by the abundance of sunshine and drawn into the big sky that surrounds them. This is the perfect backdrop for our community, especially considering that Care of Earth is one of our Direction Statements.
“I think we are very much influenced by the landscape in which we live. We have huge open blue skies that move your soul. We have mountains that are always present and beautiful. We have sun all the time, even when it is raining,” says Sister Eva. “Those experiences affect us and impact us in ways that we don’t
In the 1920s, the Congregation acquired, through a gift and a savvy purchase, land in New Mexico including an area that was later fondly referred to as “the gravel pit.” This land held abundant saleable mineral and water resources and through effective management has provided for the Sisters over the years.
The Sisters mandate in all sales agreements that land they once owned cannot be used for the research, development, production, or deployment of weapons. It is a condition that preserves our legacy of commitment to Care of Earth and perhaps encourages others to be more thoughtful about land use. Such a stipulation was in place in the 1980s when we sold the gravel pit to the City of Albuquerque, creating what is now the home for Albuquerque’s International Balloon Festival.
“When we were looking to sell that land we were specific about whoever the buyer would be, that it would not be used in any way related to anything to do harm,” says Sister Eva. “So when the city bought it for the International Balloon Festival we were happy that it was for something so family oriented.”
“To see those balloons out there in the air with all of those colors… your spirit just lifts,” says Sister Ann. “The Festival has grown since the city bought the land. It’s been wonderful for everyone here.” Like our ministry, it lifts people up.
Going Where the Need Takes Us; Our Presence Today
True daughters of Dominic, the Sisters in New Mexico have never shirked from meeting whatever new challenge comes their way. Our Sisters continue providing their ministry of presence in a wide variety of work and volunteer roles, providing constancy and presence in New Mexico. They do so with the warmth and energy of the desert itself.
Ada Medina-Dominguez, OP, MA, is assistant principal at an Albuquerque public school that serves 706 elementary school children. “Many of the children know that I’m a nun. People accept it. They value my presence here,” says Sister Ada. “The children do talk to me about things, but my ministry to them is by my actions. I try to be kind to them, to be caring, to help in any way that I can.”
As an English instructor in a military academy serving students in grades 8-12, Eileen Jaramillo, OP, also has the title of Ensign, United States Naval Sea Cadet Corp. Sister Eileen has found balance between her religious vows and the disciplined commitment to the education of the whole student that is fostered by the school. “I often tell people that I am not there to promote war, but hopefully peace in whatever way the Lord leads me and directs me,” says Sister Eileen. “I try to be an example.”
“During my job interview, the Commodore of the school asked me if I had any military training. Well, no I don’t, but I told him that I was convent-trained,” says Sister Eileen, chuckling over the memory. “He was laughing so hard, he about fell out of his chair. Then he told me, ‘I think we’ve got you hired!’”
Volunteer ministry in parishes, hospitals and social service agencies also put us in contact today with individuals and families who are homeless or hungry, with liturgical music and the beauty of worship space, with the accompaniment of women, with religious education for children and adults, and with patients at hospitals and VA centers.
“My journey has evolved. If you look at every individual’s professional journey, one experience of ministry reaches to the next,” says Sister Eva. “Sometimes someone opens doors for us, or perhaps there is a need that is not being met.”
“In New Mexico, our Dominican presence has helped other people live better lives. That is the best I can hope for. Not just as a Dominican, but as a human person,” says Sister Ada. “My hope is that I’ve made a difference in people’s lives wherever I am.”
“Powerhouse,” is how Sister Eva describes being a Dominican Sister in her home state of New Mexico. “I am surrounded by this powerhouse of women who assist me in my presence to others.”