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‘Much more than a mother’

Mother Carmela Sanz — and confidant to the Sisters she leads — know just where to go for help

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

Being a mother of 35 is a huge undertaking. But with the Blessed Mother as her example, and God as her partner, local provincial Mother Carmela Sanz seems to be managing.

Protector, adviser, mentor, caretaker, counselor, confidant and friend — these are the terms the Sisters, Servants of Mary use when asked to describe the role Mother Carmela plays in their lives.

Mother Carmela, on the other hand, describes her job as that of a shepherd — “one who takes care of every sheep, guides them, corrects them, teaches them, lifts them up when they are down. She is a servant to her daughters.”

And her charges? They are her jewels.

“I love them, and they are precious,” she said, “like jewels in a box. I need to treat them with care, with attention and love, with all a person requires to grow.”

Mother Carmela has been the local superior of the provincial house in Kansas City,Kan., for eight years now.

According to the rules of the order, she will hold her position for only one more year.

“They elect us for three years and they can either reelect us or not,” explained Mother Carmela. “After nine years, we have to step out. They let us rest.”

Sister Yesenia Perea, who is originally from California, has been a Sister for only seven years. So like all Sisters who are not yet perpetually vowed,she has a weekly conference with Mother Carmela.

“We work during the night,” explained the young nurse, “so she makes sure that I get enough sleep.

“She asks me how it is at the patient’s house — if there’s something that I can’t handle because of my inexperience.”

“She’s like a mother,” Sister Yesenia concluded. “I can talk to her about pretty much anything, whenever I need to.”

That’s important, considering that some of these Sisters were born half a world away. Although the families of the Sisters can visit the community at any time, for many it cost prohibitive, and the Sisters are allowed to go home only once every three years.

But like any good parent, Mother Carmela’s love expands to meet her children’s needs and welcomes the younger Sisters’ confidences.

“They can come and talk to me about whatever is in their heart — whatever is bothering them, their families or their relationships in the community,” she said.

It is the obligation of the mother superior, she said, “to keep secret whatever the Sister tells her.”

But it’s not only Mother Carmela who takes on a familial role. Sister Lucero Garcia , who just pronounced her final vows on Sept. 13, is far from her home in Mexico, but feels close to her new family here in the United States.

“I don’t know how to explain it to you,” she said. “But if you would live here, you would notice the Sisters always caring for each other, saying, ‘How are you doing?’ — always sharing all your joys and sorrows, just being there for you, and always ready to give you a hand.”

The provincial house in Kansas City is one of the largest, housing 35 Sisters, including six who are still nursing students.

“We’re very richly blessed,” said Sister Yesenia, “because we have Sisters from Africa, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain, Columbia, Puerto Rico, and some of the United States. So it’s kind of like a big family.”

When Sister Fabiola Fernández came to this country,she not only left her family back in Spain, but her twin sister as well, who was also a member of the Sisters, Servants of Mary.

As a former mother superior herself in New Orleans, Sister Fabiola knows that in terms of Mother Carmela’s many responsibilities, mothering is the easy part.

“She’s much more than a mother,” said Sister Fabiola. “Whatever she says, goes. She has a tremendous responsibility because she has to see that everything goes according to the rules.”

“It is a very hard job, ” she said, “and Mother Superior is doing it right.” Sister Cristela MacKinnon, more than 65 years professed, agrees.

“[Mother Carmela] is a wonderful superior,” she said. “She is very kind and patient and attends to all our needs.”

Any mother superior’s primary responsibility is to help her Sisters achieve sanctity. But of practical importance is her ability to successfully match nursing Sisters with their patients.

“When we have a call, if I have a Sister available, I go and assess the patient,” Mother Carmela explained. “It is important for me to know what patient we’re taking care of, their surroundings and family — so I know where I’m going to send the Sister.

“Then, when she returns in the morning, we can talk about how her patients are doing and I can relate better, because I have been to the patient’s home.”

Though the community is always in dire need of funds,friends of the Sisters know Mother Carmela would take a vocation over a donation any day.

“That’s true,” she said. “Since we work for free, we need money to survive, but we need Sisters.

“We were founded to bring Jesus to the patients and to bring the patients to Jesus. That’s our apostolic mission and we want to continue it. So we need a lot of prayers for vocations.”

But when push comes to shove, Mother Carmela doesn’t hesitate to take matters in to her own hands.

When a need arises,she said, “First of all, I turn to God and then I go to the chapel,” she said.

There, she finds the One to whom she can always turn.

“He is my husband, he is my guide, he is my friend, he is my love,” said Mother Carmela.

“So I tell him, these Sisters don’t belong to me personally, they belong to you,” she said. “They’re yours,so you help me to take care of them.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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