by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a heartwrenching sight: Ten Catholic nuns in full habit, standing at a window in the departure area of Kansas City International Airport, weeping and waving.
Out on the runway, a plane was awaiting its clearance for departure. Through the plane’s windows, the Sisters, Servants of Mary caught sight of their dear friend and former provincial superior, Mother Alfonsa Bellido. She was waving, too.
“And finally, the plane left,” said Mother Carmela Sanz, local superior. “It was very touching, and we were left there crying and very sad. We went home, almost saying nothing, because it was hard.”
A great honor
Mother Alfonsa has been provincial superior of the United States Province of the Servants of Mary, Ministers of the Sick, for the past 15 years. This October, during the order’s XXIV General Chapter celebrated in Rome, she was elected superior general of the entire congregation — 1,700 Sisters in 115 communities throughout Europe, America, Africa and Asia. She will serve from Rome, directing congregation activities worldwide for the next six years.
It is an awesome responsibility.
“I will be stationed in Rome, but I will be traveling all over the world,” she explained. “One of my duties is to visit every single community where we have Sisters. It will be my responsibility to assure they have a solid formation so they can be good Sisters, good nurses, good missionaries and faithful to the magisterium of the church.”
On her way to Rome, Mother Alfonsa will stop in Madrid, Spain, where the order has its motherhouse. There she will visit the tomb and remains of its foundress, St. Maria Soledad Torres Acosta, whom she has often turned to during her journey with the Sisters, Servants — a journey that began almost 50 years ago in Zaragoza, Spain.
Answering God’s call
“When I finished high school, I went to a retreat,” recalls Mother Alfonsa. “I felt God calling me to do something.
“I perused different congregations, and when I visited the Servants of Mary in Spain, I felt at home and said, ‘Well, I know this is my place.’ I entered the novitiate north of Spain in 1959 and professed my vows on July 4, 1962.”
The young nun was sent to the United States in 1965, where she was assigned to the community of New Orleans. It was at this time that she met Mother Carmela. They made the journey from Spain to New Orleans together and have been close friends ever since.
Mother Alfonsa has lived in the United States and served her congregation in the formation capacities of auxiliary sister for the novitiate in Oxnard, Calif., and the juniorate in Kansas City, Kan. In 1976 she was appointed provincial secretary, an office she held for 12 years. In 1989 she served as local superior to the community in Kansas City, Kan., and in 1993 was appointed provincial superior of the United States Province.
After almost 28 years of service as spiritual secretary and provincial, Mother Alfonsa wasn’t expecting to receive the honor of her new post.
No time for rest
“She was hoping to be in one of the houses helping in the infirmary or doing some work that doesn’t require so much responsibility,” explained Mother Carmela. “But the Lord had a different plan.”
“When all the votes came in with her name,” continued Mother Carmela, “she was overwhelmed, and told the Sisters, ‘I’m very tired and I don’t know if I’m going to be what you need right now.
“But for the love of God and the love of my congregation, I will say yes.’”
Though the future is daunting, Mother Alfonsa said prayers from Kansas will sustain her.
“I feel a little bit unworthy to assume this post. I feel a little bit afraid,” she said. “But I’ve got my Sisters and so many priests and so many good people in Kansas City that know me. They’re going to pray for me and that strengthens me and gives me courage.”
Mother Carmela is confident her friend will handle the responsibility very well.
“She has a lot of endurance for work and she has a lot of reassurance in what she decides,” she said. “But it is going to be a lot of work and traveling, and I hope her health stays well.”
In addition to the prayers of her friends, Mother Alfonsa will be relying on her own spiritual strength, grounded in her devotion to Mary and trust in God.
“I fell in love with God from the very beginning of my vocation,” she said. “He always strengthens me and gives me courage. I have a strong devotion to Mary and often repeat what our mother foundress said so many times, ‘I have placed all my confidence in Mary.’”
Until we meet again
It will take all of the next six years for Mother Alfonsa to visit each of the communities in the eight provinces, but at least one of the trips will bring her back to Kansas City, Kan. Mother Carmela and her Sisters look forward to that day. In the meantime, their friend will be deeply missed.
“It is going to be hard for us,” Mother Carmela said. “We depend on her so much. She was very dedicated, very thoughtful. Everybody loved her here in Kansas.”
On her way to Madrid, Mother Alfonsa had a layover in New York. While there, she decided to call her Sisters back in Kansas for one last goodbye.
“We asked her, ‘Did you see us wave?’” said Mother Carmela. “And she said, ‘Yes, I did see you.’”
Mother Alfonsa’s parting wish was to thank all her friends in Kansas City who support the Sisters, Servants of Mary.
“I know so many people because of having been here so many years,” she said. “They’re wonderful; they’re so generous. I just want to express my gratitude and tell all of them that I will remember them in my prayers.”