Sister María P. Sánchez, Nun

Photograph by Kenny Braun

Sánchez took her vows and entered Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence in 1984. She is the project manager for the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement, a labor-relations organization based in Weslaco, where she lives. Between 1993 and 2004, she was the director of religious education at St. Joseph the Worker Church, in McAllen.

I grew up in San Juan, in the Rio Grande Valley. We were a migrant family. I was twelve years old when I went into the fields. We used to travel to Moorhead, Minnesota, for the summer months to work in the sugar beet fields and then to Waupaca, Wisconsin, for the cucumber crop. I looked at everything with the eyes of exploring and knowing new places, new cultures. The Scandinavians owned the farms, and the Native Americans would work side by side with us in the fields. My father was very pro-education, and wherever we were, he would take us to the local school. Finally, in my senior year of high school, I asked him if I could start and finish the year in one place, and after I graduated, I went to the University of Texas-Pan American, where I obtained my bachelor’s degree in education.

I was always involved in the church, doing different volunteer ministries, and I thought about becoming a nun on and off, but I didn’t take it seriously until later, when I had accomplished my goals: I taught school, I did some traveling, I got the car of my dreams—which was a Datsun 280ZX. If you saw me today, you would never think that I would have driven that car!

And then I began to look around to see what else I could do with my life that would bring meaning. I decided to see what religious life was like, so I went to San Antonio to have my religious formation at St. Andrews Convent. I didn’t think it was a calling because my intentions were not to stay. I went to explore and see if this was something that I could do. Before I left the school district, I made sure that I could come back and still have my position.

When you come into religious life, you begin to live communally and you divest yourself of everything that you own. I used to wear tight jeans! They were the brand names, and I had to learn to go to the thrift store to find pants for 50 cents. I had to learn how to use public transportation. I did miss the 280ZX. There were many times when I felt like “What are you doing here?” One time I was at a bus stop in San Antonio—I was going to a theology class—and it was January and the wind was cold, and as I got there, the bus took off, which meant I had to wait another twenty minutes. I started questioning myself. You know, “I’ve got my own car. I’ve got my own career. I can do just about anything.” At that moment there comes a woman with three children—one in her arms and two other little ones following her—and the bus is her only means of transportation, and the child in her arms is running a fever and she is taking him to the doctor. I said, “Okay, Lord, I have nothing to complain about.”

After I became a nun, I returned to San Juan to help my mother through an illness and was hired by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church to be the face of the church in the colonias. At the time, the colonias did not even have infrastructure—no sewers, paved streets, street lighting, even mailboxes. And when it rained, the water from the cesspools would rise above the ground and the children would walk in that water.

So I began to carry out my ministry and talk to people about the Scriptures, and I heard, “Well, this is the situation—this is what we don’t have; this is what we need.” The American dream is to have your own piece of land with your house so you can raise your children. I realized that bringing the Good News was not only learning the Scriptures but also acting on the Scriptures. Let’s say I was talking about Moses and how his people yearned to own their own land and see the fruits of their work. Or in Isaiah, chapter 65, they’re creating a New Jerusalem, where everyone will be able to grow their own crops, have their own home, and the youngest will live to be one hundred. Well, in the colonias they were working very hard and still they couldn’t see the fruits of their work. So I was being called to bring the Good News, but how could it be good news?

I began to look around to see how we could bring positive change to the area, and this is when I discovered that our parish was part of Valley Interfaith. I’ve been on the executive committee of the organization for ten years now. Protests can only go so far, so what we try to do is go from protest to politics, to being at the table where the decisions are made. I learned the process of negotiating with officials. You build a relationship. If you stand on principle—it’s my way or no way—you’re bound to lose. The politicians take time to respond, but you have the perspective that things happen in God’s time and not your time, and that time can be useful.

Usually my day starts early, six-thirty at least. I take an appropriate time for prayer after I get up—about thirty minutes—and then I come into the office. Usually I have meetings, maybe two in the morning and two in the afternoon, with community leaders or to discuss where we are going as an organization. And I listen to people and console them. Recently I met with a young single mom who had been let go from her job at a bank, and we

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