Pictured: Sister Zapata, behind the desk, assists a family.
Personal Reflection: Finding joy in the most needy
Sister Alicia Zapata, Sisters of Mercy in a Special to the Florida Catholic
In celebration of the Year for Consecrated Life, we bring you a series of articles told by religious sisters and religious order priests and brothers, who will share the joy of their vocation. Sister of Mercy Alicia Zapata, Farmworkers Ministry, shares her story.
I am a Sister of Mercy from the Mid Atlantic community. I have been in community for 41 years. I first met the Sisters of Mercy when I was a student in elementary school. They, along with sisters from four other religious communities, taught me again in high school.
I felt called to become a Sisters of Mercy because they were who I knew the best. I lived in the parish where the motherhouse was located, so I not only had the sisters as teachers but I saw the work they did with children who were placed in the care of the sisters. Half of the motherhouse was at one time an orphanage and changed with the times to minister to children who were placed there by the court when they could not live with their parents or family members. The sisters were kind to the children and had their best interest at heart.
I also had the opportunity to be the portress (answer the door and phones) on days of community celebrations and I saw how the sisters greeted each other. They were happy to be there. During those celebrations I could hear the singing coming from the chapel which also touched my heart.
I entered community in 1976, and the sisters were responding to the needs of the day supporting things like the grape boycott and other initiatives of the day. They were in the neighborhoods in Brooklyn where the most needy lived. It was important to the sisters that the children in the schools where they taught received the best education possible to prepare them for the future. They were not afraid to live among and with persons of color.
My ministry has followed a similar path. I work with the migrant farm workers in Auburndale, Florida. I have been in Florida for 30 years. I am Board of Immigrations Appeal accredited and happily do immigration work. The sisters continue to be my mentors and inspire me to continue in my ministry with the migrant farmworker community in Florida.
My life as a Sisters of Mercy has been quite good. In fact, I can’t imagine why there aren’t more young women clamoring to join us. I have had many opportunities to experience who this greater God is, who is being revealed to us more and more each day. It is important to me to be part of community, to be a woman of mercy and a woman of God, and a woman of the people.
I am the youngest of eight children from a Puerto Rican family and came up in economic deprivation that at times was so bad that it harmed me but at the same time was good because it showed me the needs of people and how to respond and be with the people on every level of life.
The joy of my vocation has been in recognizing this greater God, recognizing that there is something more than me. It isn’t mine to do, but it is God, the divine that is working through me, through all of us, not just religious women, but through all of humanity, to bring about a greater world.