By Hannah Richardson
“It’s not enough that you love the young, they must know they are loved.” – St. John Bosco
These are the words that built the foundation of the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco. These Sisters commit themselves to creating a new, educative presence among the youth of today. Four Sisters dedicated to this lifestyle were visitors of Natchitoches earlier this week, with one having been raised and grew up in the town. The Salesian Sisters, also called the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, are the largest congregation of religious women with over 11,000 sisters serving in 98 countries.
The Sisters have several elements to their Salesian Charism, or gifts they offer the church, including Eucharist and Confession, Devotion to Our Lady, Fidelity to the Pope, Pastoral Charity, Joy and Optimism, Work, and Community. All four of the Sisters, Lindsay Durham, Theresa Jones, Tuyet Nguyen and Debbie Walker, are involved with St. James the Apostle Catholic School in San Antonio and interact primarily with young people in this educational and informative setting.
Sister Durham, daughter of locals James and Betty Durham, went to school at M.R. Weaver and East Natchitoches, then attended Natchitoches Central High School. She also received her postsecondary education at Northwestern State. “After college, I moved to Houston to get a different setting in life,” she said. While there, Durham starting volunteering with a church, St. Clare, with a youth group. “I’ve always had a love for kids,” she said. “During adoration one day, I was taking a group there and I just heard the Lord call me, ‘Lindsay, Serve Me.’” Durham prayed and talked to others about her encounters. She started visiting different orders and knew she wanted to work with youth. A friend told her about the Salesian Sisters and put her in contact with them. “When I walked into their house for the first time, I was home. I was meant to be there and just had a sense of peace and calmness.” With her passion of working with the youth at St. Clare in Houston, she already found a connection in working with them. “Our founder, Don Bosco, always said love what the youth love and they will learn to love you and trust you,” she said. “I keep up with the music the kids are listening to and things like that to keep in touch with modern times, but also keep boundaries. We let them know we’re here for them for whatever they need and that we love them no matter what.”
Sister Jones was born in southern California. “My sister was interested in becoming a Sister,” said Jones. Her mother encouraged the girls to visit a group of Sisters that taught a few miles from their school. “We had all sorts of religious teaching our elementary school growing up, but when we met these sisters, there was something really special about them,” she said. The Sisters asked Jones’ sister to be a counselor at their summer camp and their friend was also invited. While her sister and her friend didn’t end up pursuing this life, it was Jones who took it up. “Talk about God’s ways,” she said. “I just loved working with the Sisters at camp and I just kept going back every summer.” Mid-way through her high school career, Jones said she answered the Lord’s call after the third summer. “I think the fact that we’re working with young people automatically keeps us in the moderns world,” said Jones. “I say at the end of every school year ‘I don’t know who learned more – me from the kids or the kids from me!’”
Sister Walker, raised in the New Orleans area, attended catholic school beginning in fifth grade. “We had Sisters there, but they were Dominican Sisters. I didn’t really think too much about religious life at that point,” she said. Walker said she always loved being around kids and working with them. It was in high school that she was around the Salesian Sisters and started to realize God was calling her. “I was very active in the church and youth groups,” she said. “With the Sisters I realized this was the way God was going to allow me to have kids I could work with. I had that desire in high school and had the chance to volunteer with the Sisters at their summer camp. I went to college for one year and decided to enter [as a Sister].” “We do what we do regardless,” said Walker. “I’ve been a sister for almost 29 years. The type of life we basically live I don’t think has changed a whole lot from when I entered to now. As far as our community life and our prayer life, we try to keep to our routines. With today’s society, I think our presence with the young people we serve and meet, a lot of people still have a great appreciation for religious life. One phrase that I like is ‘we may be the only page of the bible a person sees.’ Because of who we are and what we represent, at least our presence will hopefully make someone think of God.”
Sister Nyguyen of Vietnam came in contact with the Salesian Sisters when she was in high school. She said she prayed with Mary a lot and thought about her future every day. She saw the love the Salesian Sisters had for the youth and they would invite her to visit with them often. Nyguyen told the story of how she had the travel a distance to meet and join with the Salesian Sisters. When it was dark and she couldn’t find her way, she said she met with a Sister who would take her there on her bicycle. After she did, she turned and the Sister was no longer there and none of the others knew who she was either. Nyguyen said she believed it was Mary’s angel that helped her find the Sisters. The four sisters departed from Natchitoches on Tuesday down to the New Orleans area to visit a few communities then headed back to San Antonio Thursday. One program that the Sisters are starting is called, “Friend a Sister.” This is for those who want to have a connection with a Salesian Sister, whether it is through prayer, giving advice or just having a pen pal. You may even choose to connect with these Sisters. If interested in Friend a Sister, visit https://www.salesiansisterswest.org/prayer/friend-a-sister/. For more information on the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco, visit salesiansisterswest.org.