In 2003, the Franciscan Sisters accepted a call to serve San Rafael Parish, which is located in a very poor, rural area in the Diocese of Linares in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. They founded the Franciscan Missionary Center and created programs that train lay people to be religious leaders who serve the pastoral and spiritual needs of the people.
San Rafael Parish is located approximately 250 miles from the Texas border, about a six-hour drive from McAllen. The parish is spread out over many miles which makes ministry a challenge. When the sisters arrived, there was just one pastor serving the parish of 10,000 members in the town of San Rafael and 54 small, outlying communities. With poor road conditions and few cars in the region, each small village is somewhat isolated from the next. Pastoral care and religious education were limited throughout the parish, and some villages only saw a priest three times a year or upon request for special events.
The sisters have been successful in training committed lay leaders who carry out the work of the Church in many of the small remote villages. Trained catechists and celebrants of the Word provide a strong Catholic presence where people enjoy meaningful worship, participate in Bible study and receive preparation for the sacraments. Catechetical programs and small group ministries enable parishioners to grow in their Catholic faith and their relationship with God. The sisters develop teen leadership with over 200 youth through weekly gatherings and retreats. The fruit of the teen leadership is that some 70-80 teens are leading the worship services in small communities of the mountains during Holy Week.
The people are committed Catholics, longing for pastoral and spiritual care during times of crises, sickness and death as well as structured religious education for their children. They seek a better understanding of Scripture and ways to grow stronger in their faith. A significant Catholic presence and spiritual renewal throughout the parish are helping the people grow in community and self-sufficiency.
Students in Residence program serves up to 20 girls each academic year.
Access to education is very limited throughout San Rafael Parish, especially for women and girls. To respond to this need, the Franciscan Sisters started the Students in Residence program in 2006. The goals are to provide opportunity for girls from poor families to attend high school, to educate the students in life skills, build self-esteem, and help them see their potential for future success in life.
As the sisters visited the homes of the parishioners in the outlying areas, they detected a need to promote high school education, especially for women and children. At this time, Casa Franciscana serves up to 20 girls, providing room and board, mentoring, tutoring and other services. The girls live in community with the sisters and learn the Franciscan way of life as well. The program recruits students from the villages within the parish. It’s common for the smaller villages to have an elementary school, but no middle or high school. Because of poverty, lack of transportation and a positive vision for the future, very few children, especially the girls, have the opportunity for an education beyond the 6th grade.
Seeking to be in mission and ministry in places different from our Minnesota roots brings new opportunity to live the gospel and walk with people of another culture. Our Franciscan Sisters started a mission in San Rafael, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in 2003 to train lay leaders for pastoral ministry. In 2010, a Franciscan living group was formed in the city of Monterrey to support Sisters Aurora Tovar and Isabel Berrones during their university studies. Since then they have completed their degrees and moved on. Believing in the importance of a continued Franciscan presence in Monterrey, Sisters Mary Hroscikoski and Ange Mayers have joined Sister Janice Wiechman in ministry and outreach to the people of Monterrey.