June 30, 2017, Pensacola, Florida – For the past nine years, seniors at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Parish in Pensacola have been on a journey – understanding more about their faith and its impact on their lives through Bible study.
Throughout those years, Sister Marguerite Renuart, OP, has been in the privileged and blessed position of guiding them as the parish’s Director of Adult Bible Study.
Nine years ago, Sister Marguerite explained, she was invited to plan and organize a parish Bible study program. “I had no idea where this would go,” she said. “Now as I reflect on my work, I am amazed at where this job has taken me. Class planning and organization are just the nuts and bolts that keep the whole thing going.”
The parish offers the Bible study program five times a week, with more than 100 participants in each course. Through the years, thousands of parishioners have taken part in the program. Among Sister Marguerite’s joys and blessings as Director of Adult Bible Study is the “eagerness of the senior parishioners as they sign up for the two-hour classes, buy their study guide, faithfully attend the classes, watch the DVD presentation, participate in the group discussion, and open up to each other.”
For Sister Marguerite, the success of the program lies in the transformation of participants rather than in their numbers. “Once they start reading the Bible and working out answers to the assigned questions, they come to class longing to understand and to share questions, doubts, and amazement about what is being revealed to them,” she said. “As the facilitator, I have the joy of deeply listening to participants. I am amazed at how God is working through their lives.”
Many of the participants were raised in the faith before Vatican II and see themselves as “catching up” on new understandings of the faith brought about by that Council.“God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have a whole new meaning in their prayer lives,” Sister Marguerite noted. Her role has been to accompany them on this faith journey.
It has been a “unique privilege” to walk with parishioners as they attend Bible study, “longing to know and grow in faith, desiring to grow closer to Jesus and His Church, and wanting to participate fully in the spiritual life offered to them,” Sister Marguerite said. “I thank God every day for this opportunity to know, love, and serve Him.”
December 1, 2016, Bodǿ, Norway – Sisters Racquel P. Rones, OP, and Alma Zapanta, OP, both Adrian Dominicans from the Philippines, minister in what many may see as an unlikely place: a parish in Bodǿ, Norway. The Sisters are there for a specific reason: to reach out to the Filipino immigrants, who work in hospitals, hotels, and the fishing industry.
Sister Racquel has served in the northern Norway parish since April 2013, and was joined by Sister Alma in July 2016. They are pastoral workers at St. Eystein Menighet Parish.
“Because of my ability to speak [the Filipino immigrants’] language and my understanding of the practice of the Catholic faith in the Philippines, I am able to work with the parish priest and staff to minister better to their needs,” Sister Raquel explained.
Sisters Raquel and Alma assist parish catechists who prepare children for first Communion, counsel parishioners, visit the sick and those who live alone, help with the financial aspects of the parish, and facilitate special events such as Advent and Lenten recollections.
The Sisters also help with coordination Masses. The first and third Saturdays of each month they travel three hours with the parish priest to offer Mass outside of the parish; once a month, they help facilitate English Masses, which includes leading choir practice. On weekends, the Sisters serve people who come for prayer and counseling, go on visitations, follow up on parish activities, and attend meetings.
Along with their vigorous ministry, Sisters Racquel and Alma also have a structured regimen of prayer: daily Mass at different times and places on different days of the week and communal Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer.
Both also spend much of their time in formal study of the Norwegian language.
“At first the biggest challenge is the language, weather, and culture, but with God’s grace we learned to adapt and love our ministry because the community is simple,” Sister Raquel said. The parishioners are “helpful to one another. They see the graces and blessings in spite of their hardships.” In addition, she said, they are respectful and show their love for the Sisters and the parish priest.
Sisters of Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter have served in Bodǿ, Norway, since June 2005, when they were still a separate Dominican congregation. Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, currently Chapter Prioress, heard about the need for Sisters to minister in Norway through her involvement with Dominican Sisters International. After visiting St. Eystein Parish in 2004, Sister Zenaida became one of the first missionaries to serve there, along with Sister Bibiana Colasito, OP.
Feature photo: Sister Alma Zapanta, OP, poses with the Norwegian flag
October 25, 2016 – Sister Jolyn “Jules” Dungo, OP, a junior professed Sister, is in the fifth year of a mission she deeply loves: living with and serving the Aetas, indigenous people of the Philippines, in the remote, mountainous areas of Villa Maria and Barangai Diaz in the region of Porac.
Sister Jules’ ministry involves a great many facets of service, as well as hardship, as she struggles to meet the needs of the Aeta people who were displaced from their homes 20 years ago after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. She currently shares her ministry with Sister Antonette Lumbang, who joined her more than a year ago.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Remedies – once a separate Dominican Congregation but now a Mission Chapter of the Adrian Dominican Sisters – have opened a school in Villa Maria and a satellite school on Barangai Diaz. The schools serve elementary, high school, and college students.
Sister Jules said the ministry involves a feeding program for the students, who had previously attended school without the benefit of breakfast. Currently, the program runs three days each week, serving 500 students from Villa Maria and about 75 from Barangai Diaz.
Sisters Jules and Antonette are also involved in the spiritual lives of the people. “As missionaries, we’re not only feeding them,” Sister Jules said. “We’re not only giving them food but we also feed their spiritual lives. That’s our duty.”
Sister Antonette offers catechism, teaching grades four, five, and six, and preparing students for Communion. The Sisters also work in the Maria Villa and Barangai Diaz communities, offering weekly prayer sessions on Sundays and weekly Bible studies. Mass is offered in the communities only about once every year.
The Aetas are deeply spiritual people, Sister Jules said. “They respect Mother Earth. Their name for God means ‘Everything is possible.’”
One of her challenges is finding donors to sustain the mission, and in particular to fund scholarships to ensure students can continue their education. “We depend on local sponsors,” Sister Jules said. They also sell T-shirts and local products to raise needed funds.
Sisters Jules and Antonette also endure physical hardships. While Villa Maria is equipped with electricity, water, and a system of roads, Barangay Diaz does not have electricity – and the only source of water is a spring.
“We have to go down a 10-minute walk just to get the water and a 10-minute walk to go up,” she said. To get to their ministries, the Sisters might be able to take a motorcycle – but are often forced to walk two hours in mountainous terrain or three hours taking a longer route.
“One of the things I love most about the indigenous people is that they give the best for you,” Sister Jules said of her ministry. “They don’t give excess. For us, we give what is excess for us. But they will give you their first fruit.”
She said she also learned the meaning of prayer and the value of trust from the Aeta. “You trust and depend on God’s providence, because everything is providence.”
Sister Jules deeply loves her mission with the Aetas, but is looking to the time when another Sister will be assigned to minister with them.
“I am hoping that the Sister who will replace me will have a heart for the mission, will work beyond the hours of 8 to 5 and will be not only feeding them but always giving what is true to them, because the mission is not about us,” Sister Jules said. “The mission is about them and about God.”