By SISTER MARY FRANCIS, Special to the Bulletin | Published August 4, 2016
Have you noticed gentle nudges throughout your life to serve in ways you thought weren’t possible? Are you drawn to those who suffer and who are lost? Do you want to help them and wish you knew how? Might your faith be tested to trust in God, that he would give you the graces of strength, courage, patience, perseverance, endurance and wisdom, to do his will for you?
I am a Catholic sister of the Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour, an association of the faithful in Tijuana, Mexico. We are called late in life to serve the least of our brothers and sisters. We follow the spirituality of St. John Eudes and our foundress, Mother Antonia Brenner, whose beatification process has begun.
We make consecrated vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and divine agape, and renew them every year. Our charism is mercy. Prison ministry is our primary ministry, although we may work in other ministries of mercy. This journey requires us to make necessary radical changes to our lives. We abandon self, learn true humility, live simply, commit to a daily prayer regimen, and serve the least of our brothers and sisters in ways we otherwise would never consider in our later years of life. Our daily attire is a habit and veil, a sign of our consecration to the Lord, and originated with Mother Antonia’s ministry in the Tijuana prison. It was also recommended by the archbishop of Tijuana and the bishop of San Diego, California, that she wear the habit and veil for her protection in prison. We also wear a distinctive cross of the Star of David and a cross made of nails and copper wiring. This unique cross reminds us that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah and Jewish, to never forget the Holocaust, and to recognize the fulfillment of the Old and New Testaments. Archbishop Rafael Romo Munoz of the Archdiocese of Tijuana approved this association of the faithful.
“Come, follow me”
We are encouraged by the teachings of our founder to meditate often on the Beatitudes, and to answer Jesus’ call to “Come, follow me,” in the 11th hour of our lives. Our mission is to bear in our hearts and in our lives, the pain of the imprisoned, the poor, the sick, and rejected, forgotten and abandoned children of God.
As a divorced mother of three sons, grandmother, veteran, former realtor, former corporate supervisor and manager, I never anticipated the calling and spiritual journey God would provide for me.
I have come to learn the calling is not the same for everyone. Sometimes it is subtle tugging at your heart over the years, and other times it is like getting hit upside the head with a two-by-four, which was my case! I didn’t see it coming and was shocked that Jesus would want me to become something I had never seriously considered, a Catholic sister.
Our association allows for flexibility when our family needs us in a significant way, which is why we make temporary vows and renew them every year. Mother Antonia recognized the importance of family since we are called late in life with established families and never wanted us to depart from them completely, as a result of the calling.
At 61 years old, I never would have dreamed that the calling would lead me to serve the suffering and to help others find their way to the cross. Over the past couple of years I returned to Tijuana to serve in the prison. The Tijuana Federal Penitentiary is built for 3,000 and houses 9,000 men and women. The cells are 10-by-15-feet and hold an average of 20 men and six bunk beds. Serving in this place is joyful and fulfilling, as well as serving in the ministries of mercy I currently have in Georgia: prison ministry team leader, hospital chaplain, spiritual adviser for St. Vincent de Paul outreach to the poor, and serving those God sends to me outside of these ministries. I am a member of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Blairsville and perform my ministries in that area of Georgia, with the exception of serving in the Tijuana prison for a month prior to vows each year.
Discernment house opens
When I was preparing for vows last year, the Holy Spirit laid on my heart heavily the thought of starting a discernment house to help other mature women with their calling to become consecrated Catholic sisters. Our formation is a total of nine months, three months of which is formal discernment to learn the prayer life and ministries of a sister and to discern if the individual wants to move forward, and six months of formal formation in Tijuana. Although this is a relatively short time frame, women are not accepted into the process unless they are already spiritually grounded and practicing Catholics, and we recognize that we, like all Catholics, continue to grow in our spirituality and holiness until the day we pass on to be with Our Lord.
After I made my vows, the yearning to start a discernment house became much stronger and to my surprise, this became an approved initiative by my superior general, the vicar of religious and our Atlanta archbishop. As of July 1, 2016, I welcomed the first approved candidate to discern formally her calling on her journey to become the hands and feet of Jesus as a sister.
Mother Antonia, the founder and spiritual guide of the Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour, was originally from Beverly Hills, a twice-divorced mother of seven children who was used to serving the poor and working in ministries of mercy. When a priest showed her the terrible conditions of the Tijuana penitentiary, she felt drawn to serving in the prison.
“The Prison Angel”
Mother Antonia lived in a cell in the Tijuana prison for over 30 years, yet never committed a crime and served the imprisoned Christ. More can be learned about Mother Antonia through her biography, “The Prison Angel,” by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan. This ministry began when her heart was touched by the deplorable conditions of the Mexican prison, witnessing the suffering of the incarcerated. Mother Antonia moved into the Tijuana prison with the approval of the warden to better serve her spiritually adopted sons and daughters and later it became clear how much more could be done by including more sisters in the work of prison ministry. With prayer and guidance from God, Mother Antonia worked with the Vatican’s Vicar of Religious for Women and sisters from several established canonical orders to develop the structure of an association of the faithful, the Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour, for women who are called in the latter part of their lives.
We are a new branch growing on the 400-year-old tree planted by St. John Eudes, whose feast day is Aug. 19. He founded the Eudist Sisters of Our Lady of Charity and the Eudist Congregation of Jesus and Mary for priests. From Our Lady of Charity came the Eudist Sisters of the Good Shepherd. From the Eudist Third Order came the Little Sisters of the Poor and many other communities. St. John Eudes wrote the divine liturgies of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Are you an older woman who feels you are being called to serve the suffering as a consecrated Catholic sister?
To be considered for eligibility, you must be between the ages of 45 and 65, financially self-sufficient, and have your own medical insurance. Your marital status must be divorced with annulment, widowed or single, to be considered. After vows, a sister is allowed to return to her home state to perform her ministries of mercy or she may remain in Tijuana.
Please contact Sister Mary Francis at email@example.com for more information. The website is www.eudistservants.org.