“Many people will come up to me and thank me for wearing my habit,” Sister D’Souza says with a gentle smile. “When I wear this, it might trigger off a calling in someone else who sees me.”
Her habit is a symbol of her Catholic faith, to which she decided to dedicate her life as an adolescent in her homeland of India.
“When I finished high school, I was thinking of becoming a nun and was looking for a congregation to join when I met a Maltese nun who had come to recruit young girls,” she recalls.
That Maltese nun belonged to Daughters of the Sacred Heart, a congregation to which she felt immediately drawn.
“What attracted me most was its main charism [the motto by which members live]: ‘charity in simplicity and humility’,” Sister D’Souza explains. “Its main apostolate is education and running orphanages throughout the world, besides catechetical works of the church.”
Daughters of the Sacred Heart carries out its mission in large part by sending nuns around the world to head up new missions. Right now, the congregation is active in Malta, India, Italy, Libya, Kenya, Tanzania, the Philippines and the United States.
“Wherever we are asked to go, we go,” she says.
So when she was asked to come to Dallas, Sister D’Souza welcomed the mission.
“I am adventurous; I like challenges. And I was ready for a change.”
She arrived in Dallas in summer 2008, and began attending mass at St. Rita Catholic Church. This is when she met Monsignor Mark Seitz, a pastor at the church. Meeting Sister D’Souza, he says, was like finding the missing piece of a puzzle.
“I have long had a file in my desk titled, ‘Sister Search’,” Seitz says. “When I learned that a religious community was interested in expanding here in Dallas, it struck me that the hand of providence could well be involved. When I met Sister Stephania, that seemed even more likely.”
“She is, to my mind, the model of a modern Religious. She is cheerful, completely dedicated to Christ’s service, warm and outgoing, energetic, self-assured, prayerful.”
But even with the right person heading the project, creating a convent would prove to be a challenge.
“The parish was very supportive of the idea, but it had been so many years since we had a sister here that we were not entirely sure how to integrate them into our community life,” he explains. “In addition, we had no place for [the sisters] to reside because the original convent now serves as our parish office. At the same time, purchasing a home in our area is no small investment.”
But members of the parish came through, making the dream a reality. One dying woman donated part of her estate to St. Rita’s convent mission, and once the church was able to purchase a home for the nuns, volunteers stepped forward to refurbish it.
“So many volunteers donated services and supplies to fix up our home,” Sister D’Souza says. “I am very much humbled by the love and respect the people have for me and my sisters.”
And once their new home was complete, the sisters did the next logical thing.
“We had a mega housewarming party,” Sister D’Souza says, chuckling.
Since moving in, three more sisters have joined Sister D’Souza. She and two others are from India, and one is from Kenya. The group is adjusting to American culture, slowly but surely.
“Everything here is new to us,” she says.
Like driving, for example.
“We have rules here, but in India you drive without rules.”
Sister D’Souza has managed to learn those rules, however, recently obtaining her driver’s license. And she has explored the city, hitting up hotspots like the Galleria and NorthPark Center.
“Oh my, those malls are like a mini bazaar,” she says. “And I’ve heard country music here, which I like. I’m also a fan of barbecue.”
And that’s not the only Texan rite of passage she has experienced.
“I ate a turkey leg at the state fair,” she says, grinning and nodding enthusiastically.
Aside from getting culturally acclimated, Sister D’Souza and her fellow nuns have also found their place at St. Rita. The women help teachers at the adjoined St. Rita Catholic School and assist with day-to-day duties at the church office — all in addition to volunteering with local groups, like Catholic Charities of Dallas. Sister D’Souza says eventually, the hope is to start a daycare center under St.Rita’s parish, though she’s committing those plans to prayer.
“[My sisters and I] are open to whatever the Lord wants us to do. Right now we are here to serve the church and the people here. I am happy that the Lord has led us here, and I know God’s plan for us will be unfolded in its own time. God has brought us here, so it is His work we do.”
In the meantime, they are spiritually enriching the lives of those at St. Rita every day, Seitz says.
“In the Catholic Church there are many ways one may live the life of a disciple of Jesus: married life, single life, ministerial priesthood and the life of a vowed Religious. Ideally, a parish should be a community, which presents all of these varied ways of following Christ.
“The presence of the sisters has been a real blessing to our community already. To see them at mass each day, teaching our children, and to witness their cheerful dedication has challenged us all to live our faith a bit more fully.”
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