Local Religious life

Ministry transplanted from Brazil has blossomed in archdiocese

Sister Sentinelle, PJC, hands a cantaloupe to Keith Winterhalter, a parishioner of St. Joseph in Shawnee. The Sisters of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ sold produce and flowers at churches this past summer to support the order’s special-needs fund, which helps mission houses in 16 countries throughout the world. The Sisters will celebrate the 10th anniversary of their arrival in the archdiocese on Jan. 21 with a free concert and eucharistic adoration beginning 7 p.m. in the parish hall of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, and a Mass on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at the cathedral. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Of all the challenges the Sisters of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ have faced over the past 10 years, there is one that stands above all others.

It wasn’t the 2018 fire that seriously damaged their convent, although that was the scariest thing that happened.

And it wasn’t dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two years, although it temporarily shut down their homeless ministry and they all caught the virus.

Rather, the most difficult thing the Sisters from Brazil have dealt with has been this: communication.

“The most challenging thing, if you ask each one of us, was learning English,” said Sister Miracles of the Little Way, the provincial.

This weekend, the Sisters will be marking the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first three Sisters here in the archdiocese on Jan. 22, 2012, and the establishment of their first house in the United States.

There will be a free concert and eucharistic adoration beginning 7 p.m. on Jan. 21 in the parish hall of the Cathedral of St. Peter, 409 N. 15th St., Kansas City, Kansas.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann will be the main celebrant of a Mass at 7 p.m. on Jan. 22 at the cathedral.

All are welcome to attend both events.

Sister Miracles rolls into the parking lot of St. Joseph Church in Shawnee with a truck filled with cantaloupes, watermelons and flowers to sell. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

As befitting their Franciscan character as a mendicant community, the story of how the Poor of Jesus Christ got established in the United States begins with their ministry of begging. The community’s founder, Father Gilson Sobreiro, PJC, made mission cooperative visits to the archdiocese to raise funds for his order and their ministry in Brazil.

While here, he got to know Father Tom Hesse, former pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Wamego and a board member of P.R.A.Y. — Project Rescue of Amazon Youth — and one of the founders, Sally Savery, from Wamego.  Savery became Sister Magdalena of the Sacred Heart with the Poor of Jesus Christ.

Father Hesse visited Father Gilson in São Paulo and admired their way of life and ministry. He and Father Gary Pennings convinced Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to allow the Sisters, a public association of the faithful, to establish their American foundation in the archdiocese.

Their first convent, for two-and- a-half years, was the second floor of the former Catholic Worker House, Shalom House, in Kansas City, Kansas. In the spring of 2015, the Sisters moved into the vacant convent of Blessed Sacrament Parish, at 2226 Troup Ave. in Kansas City, Kansas. The building, now the Mission House of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was damaged by a fire that began in the basement on Aug. 15, 2018.

Sisters of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ hand out cantaloupes, watermelons and flowers they’ve been selling all summer at parishes around the Kansas City metro. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Following in the footsteps of St.  Francis, who had a special love for the poor, the Sisters focus on the poor and struggling.

“Our main ministry here is street ministry,” said Sister Mariana Disciple of the Divine Master. “We serve the poor in Kansas and Missouri. We go every Saturday and Tuesday [to give food and clothing to the homeless], and we have volunteers from many parishes who help us and support us with their time but also donating food.”

Much of their ministry is directed to the nearby Hispanic community.

“We have eucharistic adoration every Monday at Blessed Sacrament Church,” said Sister Mariana. “We work most weeks evangelizing. We have a couples retreat and a couples group we support. We have a young adult group called Rescue Me.”

They go to Hispanic prayer groups and preach, give spiritual direction, hold retreats for girls in discernment and provide a daily rosary podcast in conjunction with the Holy Family School of Faith. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, they had to cease their prison ministry but hope to resume it eventually.

“We also have a program — Be Sober — which works like Alcoholic Anonymous for the Hispanic community,” said Sister Mariana.

In addition to their ministry to the poor, the Sisters have also brought a  piece of their Brazilian culture. Since 2015, they’ve led volunteers in the creation of beautiful carpets of colored sawdust, with intricate designs, for Corpus Christi processions. They are called “tapete.”

Sister Sentinelle, PJC, chats with parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Of course, it would be impossible for their ministries to function without all kinds of support from parishioners and parishes in Kansas and Missouri.

“I would summarize everything with the word ‘amazing,’” said Sister Miracles. “We would not be able to carry [out] our ministry if we didn’t have the support of so many priests and parishioners of their parishes.

“We are very thankful for every person who comes through the doors of our house to give us donations for the homeless, canned goods, time and treasure for the fixing of our building. But also, this beautiful spiritual friendship we have with so many people.”

Currently, there are five Sisters at the Kansas City, Kansas, house, minus two who had to leave due to immigration problems. There are a total of 26 Sisters in the United States at houses in Kansas City, Kansas; Baltimore; Cedartown, Georgia; Los Angeles; and Birmingham, Alabama.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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