January 17, 2016
Sister María Elena Ferrer New Director Of Faith Formation
Amarillo—School Sister of Notre Dame Sister María Elena Ferrer has been appointed Diocesan Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Amarillo by Bishop Patrick J. Zurek.
Sister María Elena began her new responsibilities on Jan. 4.
A native, Havana, Sister María Elena is the middle child of three born to Olga and Alberto Ferrer. Her education at the age of four began with the Sisters of the Incarnate Word from Mexico.
In the second grade she attended a small neighborhood bilingual school, which she attended all the way to
ingreso al bachillerato, which is a year that you spend studying to get ready for high school, according to Sister María Elena.
As a young child in Cuba she joined the Legion of Mary for little girls, she said.
“We taught catechism. The priest would teach us and then we would teach the smaller children. I also went to Mass daily. The church was not far away and it was a place where my mother allowed me to walk by myself, so a part of it was just to feel like I was a grownup. It was there that I began a devotion to the Eucharist and a deep love for God.”
In high school, Sister María Elena attended the same school where her mother taught, where she was introduced to French and Latin, while continuing to learn English.
Life in her native Cuba was peaceful—that is, until April 1961 and the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
“I was a sophomore in high school that spring and my parents took us out of school,” said Sister María Elena. By July, my younger brother Jorge and I were on our way to the United States to join our older brother, uncles, aunts and cousins who were waiting for us in New Orleans.
“Soon we were enrolled in school and I went to a Catholic high school near my new home.” In January 1962 Sister María Elena had her first encounter with the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
“After I came to the United States, I went to a Catholic high school because the public school system was not accepting refugee children,” she said. “It was difficult to me because I did not feel accepted. In December 1961, I told my aunt that I wasn’t going to school anymore. She persuaded me to try for a little longer. A short time later, I told her I was finished with school.
“Then my aunt called Sister Caroleen Hensgen, a School Sister of Notre Dame. Sister Caroleen called me to ask what color was my school uniform. After I told her it was a blue skirt and a white blouse, she told me to be at her school the following Monday.”
When Sister María Elena arrived at the school, she found herself with 32 fellow Cuban students.
“Of course, we ate together and hung around together,” she said. “The sister would come by and say, ‘
English, English!’ They scolded us with so much sweetness and I fell in love with the sisters. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to have the joy they had and I wanted to serve like they did.”
In her senior year of high school, Sister María Elena contacted Mother Georgianne Segner, the provincial of the Dallas Province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. By August 1964, Sister María Elena was on her way to Dallas. She made her first profession in 1966 and her final vows in 1972.
In 1967 while still attending college, Sister María Elena began a career in the classroom, teaching at Holy Rosary School in San Antonio. She would receive a Bachelors in Elementary Education from the University of Dallas in 1970 and would later earn a Master’s Degree in Religious Education from UD in 1981.
After six years in San Antonio, Sister María Elena moved to Dallas, where she taught for six years at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, teaching primary grade students. Six years later, she relocated to Albuquerque, where she taught at St. Francis School. A year later, Sister María Elena took part in an internship in parish ministry at San Jose Church in Albuquerque.
But the classroom beckoned and she returned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Dallas, this time as principal for five years.
“That was a wonderful school, with a wonderful convent and good teachers,” Sister María Elena said. “Teaching was the love of my life.”
The stint in Dallas was followed by a three-year assignment at St. Anthony’s School in Casa Grande, Ariz. After a six-month period of renewal in Chatawa, Miss., Sister María Elena returned to the Diocese of Dallas in 1991 to work for the Office of Hispanic Ministry. That was followed by “the next love of my life,” Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe in Dallas, where she spent five years.
“We had thousands of children there that came to learn about the Faith,” said Sister María Elena, “and the parents came with them. The parents had to be taking classes at the same time the children were taking classes, since it was a requirement.”
It was during her next assignment at St. Edward’s Church in Dallas, that Sister María Elena realized she was doing a lot of spiritual direction without the training. It was during those six years at St. Edward’s that she received her training in spiritual direction.
Sister María Elena’s next chapter was in her province, first as a Vocation Director, followed by nine years as a provincial councilor. She was also elected to the council of the new province, serving a four-year term.
What is her goal as she begins her assignment in the Diocese of Amarillo?
“In my first year, I hope to observe and continue what Sister Janet Marie Abbachi (School Sister of Notre Dame) started,” she said. “Faith Formation continues for all of us, because there is always something new to learn. God reveals Himself in many different ways at every age.”