Sr. Maria José is the new Area Leader for the Americas and known to the writer of this article personally since she was 18 years old! So, yes, I am biased! But all who know Maria can say with me that she is a warm, friendly and approachable person, wise beyond her years, a sincere and mature woman.
Maria comes to her new role after a wide MMM experience in mission. She is Brazilian, from the southern State of São Paulo. She grew up in the neighbouring State of Parana, but her roots come from the North and the Central Western areas of Brazil. As she says herself: ”My parents were internal migrants, searching for better place to live and work within the country in order to be able to offer us conditions for school and better living conditions.” Maria is one of four siblings, she has two brothers and one sister, all married with children. Maria’s father, Ernesto José da Silva, has died, but she is currently involved in her mother’s care; Maria’s mother, Maria de Lourdes Santana Silva, has Alzheimer’s.
Maria’s interest in religious life began as a young teenager. She told her mother she wanted to be a religious Sister, but as there were no Sisters living locally, it didn’t seem that this dream would be realized. Then MMM came to town. The first Sisters went to live in Maria’s town, Colorado, in 1980, and almost immediately began vocation work among the young people while working in the local hospital. Maria liked what she saw. “What attracted me to MMM was their simple lifestyle and how they related to people in an informal, caring way.” Maria came to live with the Sisters in Colorado and then went to São Paulo for novitiate. She made her first profession in 1986 and studied auxiliary nursing during her early years in MMM and then went on to get a degree in Social Work. Her first overseas assignment was to Angola in 1993 for two years. On her return to Brazil, this time to Salvador in the Northeast, she worked as a social worker in a project for disadvantaged children in a poor area of the city. She was also involved in formation work both in Brazil and overseas. In 2001, she had the opportunity to go to Baltimore to study for a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counselling.
In 2011 Maria went to East Africa, to Uganda, and was there for eight years, right up to the time she returned to Brazil to help with her mother’s care.
Maria talks of her hobbies as “taking long walks and contemplating nature”, but she forgets to mention that she is a good gardener and handy with a sewing machine as well! One enjoyable thing that has given her life is aging gracefully and enjoying good health. She feels at home and true to herself. The current years of pandemic have brought their own challenges. “How do you help young people not lose values and deepen their human relationships?”
Life has taught Maria to use wisdom, reflection and prayer as guide in life. She always acknowledges that she is not in charge of the whole truth. She does not need to change the world by herself, “life is a process and transition is part of life.”
Maria José, we wish you well as you take up your new responsibilities.