Sr. Mary Immaculate of Our Lady of Guadalupe was born in the small rural town of Abasolo, in the central state of Guanajuato, Mexico. When she was only twelve years old she packed her few belongings and went along with some family members to Chicago, Illinois in search of a better life. An English teacher by the name of Mrs. Sullivan took a special interest in this little girl with a big smile and coached her in this new and somewhat difficult language. She worked hard at her studies and once school was completed she found employment in order to help support the family. Her brother entered the seminary and began his studies for the priesthood. Years later, he was ordained a priest for the diocese of Chicago. She was privileged to be present at this beautiful ceremony and would forever treasure that special occasion as one of her greatest joys.
She herself felt the stirrings of her own vocation grow stronger and stronger with each passing day. Her Franciscan vocation was sprouting roots and seeking expression. In response to this longing she joined the Third Order of St. Francis where she deepened her love for God and neighbor. There was a Poor Clare monastery near the parish of St. Augustine on the south side of Chicago that seemed to beckon her with words heard only by the heart. One day she definitively proclaimed to herself and to the world, “I want to be a Poor Clare Sister!” The year was 1949 and she was by now, twenty-seven. For the rest of her life she would devote herself to hidden works of kindness and prayer behind the monastery enclosure.
Sixty-five years later, when you find yourself in the presence of Sr. Mary Immaculate, you can immediately recognize once again that young girl with a big smile. She speaks of the Consecrated Life as having no limits. She encourages all to have unbounded trust in Divine Providence and to see the Lord as a God of grace, forgiveness and love. She wholeheartedly urges everyone to proclaim that “Christ makes all thing new!” and to uphold the sacredness of each and every person from the moment of conception to the point of death. “If the young people only knew the love of God our Father, and the plan He has for each one of us – the monasteries would be too small!”
She says that she has only words of gratitude for all the people, and for all the priests, brothers and sisters that have in some way touched and enriched her life. Words of appreciation and joy from a little girl with a big smile span the arc of time and are as fresh today as they were in times past on the south side of Chicago.
Sr. Maria Guadalupe was baptized Iliana Isabel in the year 1991. Her home was in the town of Santa Marta Melendrez, in the country of Guatemala. It wasn’t long before she, as a little girl of eight years, would confidently say to her father, “I want to be a Sister.” Her father was somewhat surprised by this statement and firmly told her to forget about such thoughts. But throughout her youth the great desire that continually reminded her of a vocation to the Sisterhood only became more persistent.
When she was eighteen years old, Iliana moved with the family to the United States of America and settled in the state of Virginia. It was here that she happened to meet a Capuchin friar who spoke to her about the Poor Clare Sisters who live at the St. Veronica Giuliani Monastery in Wilmington, Delaware. He explained to her about their life of prayer, community, and the great sacrifices that are part and parcel of such a vocation. These words were music to her ears, and before long she was standing on the doorstep of this convent asking for admission.
Sr. Immaculate and Sr. Maria Guadalupe are two women countries apart, separated in time by several decades, with different points of origin and personal histories. They have come together by Divine Providence to live under the same roof. Though their stories began in different lands, they both arrived at the same destination, with the same motivation and the same spirit. Both state that they entered for the love of Christ. Both attest to the fact that community life within the enclosure is one of their greatest joys. Both are filled with gratitude for having received a vocation to be a Poor Clare. And both proclaim to the world the words of St. Paul: “We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen. What is seen is transitory; what is unseen lasts forever” (2 Cor. 4:18).
Today, Sister Maria Guadalupe is a novice and is preparing for that special day when she will take her vows as a Capuchin Poor Clare. Her fellow sisters will teach and guide her in the faith and traditions of the Order. She is following in the footsteps of Sr. Immaculate, who followed in the footsteps of other Sisters –– a long and winding path stretching all the way back to a woman named Clare who lived in a town named Assisi, many years ago.
“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)