Sister Maria Carmela
Sister Maria Carmela
of the Heart of Jesus, O.P.
I was born of Mexican parents, in Holtville, CA, in the Imperial Valley. At the grand old age of 11 mos., we moved to the San Joaquin Valley, where we settled in Planada, a small town with a population of 1500, which is also on the way to Yosemite National Park on Highway 140.
Growing up in this farm town of mostly Mexican people and the church being filled with Mexican people on Sundays, I just presumed that only Mexican people belonged to this Church! I remember as a child, seeing Anglos at church and wondered to myself, “What are they doing here?” I was amazed as I grew up, to discover that the Church was Catholic, that is, universal!
I remember being taken out of school to attend catechism classes taught by the Sisters of the Atonement. And later on, when we moved to Merced after high school graduation, I would go with Sister Carmelita to visit the camps where the migrant workers lived.
But it was while I was still in Planada that I first received the call to the religious life, when I was about 16 or 17 years old! I had no idea what religious life was all about, as after catechism classes as a child, I never again saw a sister. The only thing I knew was that they wore a habit and that only their faces could be seen!! One day, I even tried using towels to see what I looked like with my hair all covered up!! However, this phase passed and I continue to be more interested in boys and earning money!
Later on, after we moved to Merced, I again received another “calling.” This time it frightened me as it was STRONGER and I didn’t know what to make of it. I kept it a secret until I knew I had to do something about it! At this time, I only knew about the active religious life. Years later, I entered the Congregation of St. Catherine of Siena of Kenosha, WI., a Dominican congregation who ran Mercy Hospital in Merced, CA., and where I was working at the time.
It was in Peru as a missionary, that I actually received my FIRST calling to the contemplative life. I went to talk with the prioress of a Dominican Monastery in Trujillo, about an hour from Casa Grande where I worked (taught catechism) which was a sugar plantation.
The prioress was ready to receive me after just my first talk with her, but I thought better of it, as I couldn’t just leave my country and family.
It was after I had returned to the States that I got my SECOND calling to the contemplative life. I thought at first that the Lord wanted me to start a monastery and so I talked with the Bishop of Fresno. But since I didn’t have a group ready to begin this foundation, he told me to search further and see what it was the Lord was asking of me.
My search led me to work for the Diocese of San Jose and to make a retreat at El Retiro, a Jesuit retreat house. It was during this retreat that I was given more light and was advised by my retreat master to seek spiritual direction, which I did. I was directed by one of the Jesuit priests for a year.
And so, working at the Chancery for the Diocese of San Jose and with spiritual direction, I came to find the “road” that I was to follow which eventually lead to Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park, CA.