July 1, 2019

Sisters answer the call of the peripheries In Lexington Missionaries of Charity dedicate their service to the Hispanic community

Sisters answer the call of the peripheries In Lexington Missionaries of Charity dedicate their service to the Hispanic community

Robin Roenker 

From their home on Versailles Road, four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity— the order founded by Mother Teresa, now known in the Church as St. Teresa of Calcutta — live their lives in prayer and service to their neighbors.

With their home situated in an area of Lexington that’s heavily Hispanic, the sisters’ daily house-to-house visits with nearby residents are often conducted in Spanish. “Our main thing is that we encourage them to pray together as a family,” said Sister Angeles, MC. “We encourage them to build an altar in their homes, and we provide them some devotional images to help them build that prayer space, which they can use together.”


Wearing their unique habits — the iconic white sari with blue striping made famous by St. Teresa of Calcutta — the sisters are easy to spot each day as they venture into nearby neighborhoods to share prayer books and Bibles in Spanish, rosaries and other spiritual support materials to families who may not already have a church of their own.

“The sisters’ work here is foundational,” explained Deacon Eduardo Fortini, Hispanic ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Lexington, who works closely with the order in support of their door-to-door mission work.

“What they’re doing, in the Catholic Church very few do it. To have nuns willing to go door-to-door to do evangelization is a blessing. Their work is helping preserve the Catholicism of the Hispanic population here.”

The importance of this work is reflected in the diocese’s ongoing efforts to bring more women religious from Latin America to serve in the diocese.

It’s an exchange that’s second nature for Sister Angeles, a native Spanish speaker from Costa Rica, who joined the Missionaries of Charity when she was only 18, in 1983.

The other members of Lexington’s Missionaries of Charity Order — Sister Emerita, MC; Sister Shikha, MC; and Sister Janita, MC, the group’s mother superior — are from India, so they’re in various stages of learning and improving their Spanish skills.

Often, the mix of cultural backgrounds and languages that blend together in prayer during the sisters’ work is itself a thing of spiritual inspiration. “We invite people to come in for prayer and Holy Hour, and one time, we had English-speaking people, Spanish-speaking people, and also Congolese. It was kind of beautiful,” said Sister Janita, who joined the Missionaries of Charity in 1980, after feeling called—like St. Teresa of Calcutta—to serve the poor.


The Missionaries of Charity moved to their home in Lexington in late 2016. Previously, the order had a longtime presence in Jenkins, in Letcher County— in fact, St. Teresa of Calcutta herself visited Eastern Kentucky to establish the order there in 1982.

Even with the move to Lexington, the sisters still work closely with the Jenkins community, traveling there monthly to distribute nonperishable food, which they purchase themselves, to residents. Each July, they also host a free, two-week summer Bible camp for children ages 4-13.

“The children love it,” Sister Janita said. “Last year, we had 70 kids.”

“Last month, during our visit, we reminded them camp signups were coming, and the kids were running and taking us by the hand to invite their friends to come as well,” said Sister Angeles. “They were so cute.”

For the sisters, the chance to share in the spiritual growth of others represents a true gift, one they cherish as a calling from Jesus and Mary, which was, in turn, passed on through St. Teresa of Calcutta herself.

St. Mother Teresa “had a vision in which Mother Mary came to her and said, ‘Teach the families to pray the rosary, and if they pray the Rosary together, all will be well,’” said Sister Angeles, who—like Sister Janita—feels fortunate to have met St. Mother Teresa many times during her service to the order.

“That’s why we want to teach the families to pray the rosary. That’s why we want to help the families build their altars,” she said. “Also, Mother [St. Teresa] would say that Jesus has chosen us to be his servants among the poorest of the poor. Jesus told [St. Teresa], ‘They don’t know me. That’s why they don’t want me.’ That’s why one of our missions is to help people to come to know how much Jesus thirsts for them.”


In mid-June, the local Missionaries of Charity welcomed Sister Prema (Sister Mary Prema Pierick, MC), the order’s third and current superior general, who, from her headquarters in India, oversees the worldwide order — which includes roughly 5,000 sisters serving in 120 countries, as well as roughly 400 brothers and 35 priests. Sister Prema has led the Missionaries of Charity since 2009, succeeding Sister Nirmala Joshi, who succeeded St. Teresa of Calcutta herself in 1997.

On June 18, Masses were celebrated at 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the sisters’ house for anyone who wanted to meet Sister Prema. Bishop Stowe was to celebrate a bilingual Mass with the Hispanic community, complete with a program including Mexican dance and a program put on by children on the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bishop Stowe and Sister Prema also traveled to Jenkins on June 21 to celebrate Mass.