Diversity of Cultures

The article below is an excerpt taken from “And The Truth Shall Set You Free,” a weekly podcast series hosted by Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP. The producer of the series was GoLEDigital, a digital community created by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

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As Dominicans, the whole world is our home. As you know, preaching and teaching is what we do, and we do it is through a lot of prayer, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of determination. Today, I am very pleased to have Sr. Mercedes Torrez and Sr. Miriam Holzman with me. These two Sisters have had some diversity in their own lives as teachers teaching in different missions around the country. I would like to begin today with asking about some of your teaching experiences, Sr. Mariam.

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Sr. Miriam:

Well, I’ve had the privilege of teaching in San Francisco and Kansas City, Missouri.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

That’s a lot of diversity.

Sr. Miriam:

Yes. And I absolutely love it. You just know the people you’re encountering at those schools and in your classroom are the very people that God wants you to encounter. There is nothing like having the opportunity to bring these people before you closer to the Lord. I had never thought about being a teacher before I entered the community.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

In your teaching, what grade levels and subjects did you teach?

Sr. Miriam:

I am a high school teacher. I’ve been teaching science as well as theology, which is an interesting combination.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

Sr. Mercedes, what about your teaching experience?

Sr. Mercedes:

I have been teaching in Phoenix, Arizona, which has been a wonderful experience. I too didn’t really think about teaching before I entered. It is wonderful to be a presence for the students. That is really what they need the most, Christ in your consecrated presence. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

Sisters, what’s so beautiful when we send the Sisters out to go teach and preach is the diversity of the people we teach. Sr. Mercedes, with teaching in Phoenix, how does the variety of cultures impact your teaching? 

Sr. Mercedes:

It actually was very much what I expected, and it is very similar to how I was raised as well. There is a high Hispanic population, particularly in my high school. And it is actually very interesting because I spent the last few years teaching Spanish. You would figure, “Why are you teaching Spanish to Hispanic students?” But it’s actually beautiful because they do not know a lot of the specifics of the reading and grammar.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

You mentioned your own background. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your life and how you came to your vocation?

Sr. Mercedes:

Well, my parents are from the Dominican Republic. I was raised here in the United States in Brooklyn, NY, and I spent a lot of time with my family in the Dominican Republic as well. All of my grandparents and cousins were there, so we frequently traveled back and forth. I really had both cultures which is an experience of many Hispanic youths here in the United States. Having that experience in common with my students is a beautiful thing. 

Many of them have not seen religious youths in the US. I had not seen religious youths before I met the Sisters in New York and our Sisters now. I attended public school most of my life, and I had very little catechesis. I had that rich Hispanic Catholic culture, which is a wonderful thing to have, but you do not necessarily know the person of Christ through that culture. That is actually a difficulty when moving forward as an adult. And that, for me, needed to change. So, I fell away from the faith a bit in college. 

After college, I began spending time with some of my cousins and ended up encountering Christ and seeing the lived life in Christ in many of my cousins. That really changed me, because it meant that my relationship with my family was the cultural foundation to be able to love Christ. I couldn’t necessarily say,  “Alright, I’m going to go out and just love Christ and bring him to my family.” It was more about going out and bringing him to everyone. That really helped me find my vocation because this openness to loving Him is how you find Christ in your vocation and how you find who you are meant to be. I find that it tends to be a difficulty even for my students to think about a vocation because of family. In Hispanic culture we love our family — we cannot leave!

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

As the vocation director, I know exactly what you’re saying. So what do we do?

Sr. Mercedes:

It was difficult for my family. I spent my life very involved in my family. It is more than involved. We are the family. We are together all the time, and the difficulty is there. I had this beautiful cultural foundation of the faith, and bridging that to live the life with Christ was how I found my vocation. 

When you find your vocation, you are finding how Christ made you to love him. That in no way is leaving your family. You are actually gaining a family. Christ made us to be and to love. So in reality, I love my family more and have never felt like I have left my family behind. And I know they may have felt some difficulty throughout, but over the years, they have truly seen my joy and been able to accept a lot of the grace.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

That is beautiful. Sr. Miriam, tell us a little bit about where you come from, your education, your decision, and your vocational discernment.

Sr. Miriam:

I am from western Canada, and I had never thought about the religious life. I had always wanted to be married and to have children. I had never met any religious sisters before. I don’t recall ever seeing one around. My parents had brought me to mass every Sunday, and I thought it was so important to be open to receiving Graces from the Holy Eucharist. 

As far as career goes, I had plans for myself to have a good career. I was doing well in school in science and math. There are a lot of careers in the medical field with that, so I decided on pharmacy and got my pharmacy degree.  

I recall, at that time, in college years, the influence of my cousins and their faith life. Living with my cousins was really the first time I saw people my age who were living their faith and seeking God and speaking about God in a way like they knew Him. They knew Him, and wanted to follow Him. And that impacted my prayer life. They got me to Adoration; I started going to Confession more often. I had a realization and said to Christ, “I want to give myself to You, completely. I want for every moment of my life to be for You, out of love for You.”

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

Beautiful. Sr. Miriam, you actually were a campus minister on a very large Catholic campus. Tell us about that.

Sr. Miriam:

I was sent to study philosophy at the Catholic University of America and had the privilege of living right on campus with the students and getting to know them in that way. It is an interesting time in their lives because they have a new Independence that they might not have experienced before. They are making decisions about what direction they are going in their life. Are they going to go towards God, or are they going to be pulled in some other direction because of the many forces tugging at them? 

The Sisters are there at the university and are able to present another alternative. They say, “Let us show you the most beautiful way to go.” And that is just a matter of building a relationship with the students.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

So what were some of the activities you got them into?

Sr. Miriam:

One of the things we started was Ultimate Frisbee with the ladies, challenging them to get out on the field. We had this motto, “Play with us, pray with us.” We would get them on the fields and just have fun with them. When we met anyone on campus, we would strike up a conversation and say, “Hey, do you want to play frisbee with us?” They would end up having a great time, and then these relationships would form over time. Eventually, you can invite them to come to Adoration along with you, or you can invite them to meet up with you for different things. 

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

Didn’t you all have a music group as well?

Sr. Miriam:

We started up a band because they had a battle of the bands that happens every year, along with other campus events where bands play. So I said to the Sisters, “We need to get out there. We need to have a band.” So we made a band with a Dominican friar as our drummer, and the Franciscan Father, Fr. Jude, as our lead singer. We had a blast. Our band was called Force of Habit.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:

That is too funny. Beautiful. Well, I have to say, wouldn’t you (the readers, the listeners) love to have these sisters teaching your children? If so, put them in one of the schools where we teach.   For now, Sisters, thank you. Thank you for your hard work, your dedication, and your Vocation. God Bless you.

Sr. Miriam and Sr. Mercedes:

Thank you, Sister.

About:

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP is a Foundress and Vocations Director for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Her podcast And The Truth Shall Set You Free can be downloaded every Friday at 1:00 p.m. EST from iTunes. The podcast can be seen on YouTube at Go_LEDigital

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