Paving the Road Ahead: S. Romina Sapinoso professes final vows
S. Romina Sapinoso signs the book and adds her name to the list of Sisters of Charity professing final vows with the Community.
As she looks back on her life story to the present day, S. Romina Sapinoso reveals that there has always been evidence that God is by her side. That wisdom and assurance gives her hope as she looks to the future as a newly vowed Sister of Charity of Cincinnati.
S. Romina’s journey to the Community began as a young adult in the Philippines. In 2002, as she was finishing her master’s degree at Ateneo de Manila University, the Jesuit university in Manila, she knew in her heart that she wanted to get a bigger perspective. Imbued with the Jesuit spirit of women and men for others, she thought that a year of service might be the answer. However, when she mentioned it to her mother and sensed the worry in her heart, S. Romina felt the weight of what she was asking and decided to look at other opportunities.
A shortage of teachers in the United States, particularly in Texas, led S. Romina to the States in 2002. She petitioned for a VISA and was originally scheduled to teach in the Brownsville Independent School District. Instead, she ended up in El Paso, Texas, a road bump that today can only be seen as part of God’s plan. Having just finished the 19th Annotation Retreat, she had a spirituality and faith that was deepening in her, but when she moved to the U.S. that part of her wasn’t totally being nourished. She describes the period as a time of self-discovery and adjusting to a new country. “I knew what was deepening in me but I also felt I needed to go along with what my new friends were doing,” she recalls. “There was this deep void following what I had already experienced and what I wasn’t feeling here.”
Jumping from parish to parish and young adult group to young adult group, S. Romina finally landed at St. Pius X in El Paso. Still feeling the loss of spirituality and service she wanted and needed, she became involved with the parish’s JustFaith program, eventually serving as a facilitator. Once again God’s plan was at work. As a facilitator for JustFaith she was looking for a local speaker on poverty, and the name Sister of Charity Janet Gildea was mentioned. At the same time, she was looking for names of spiritual directors who she could possibly meet with, and again S. Janet’s name was suggested. She took the hint and started with inviting S. Janet to speak with her parish group.
“… She sat down and started talking and I was completely absorbed and mesmerized by her presence and the work they were doing in the colonias,” S. Romina recalled. “I thought this is exactly what I want to do and these are the kinds of people I was in touch with before I left the Philippines. After the talk I went up to her and said I was looking for a spiritual director. She responded that she wasn’t formally trained but would be happy to accompany me spiritually. … Her presence evoked trust; certain people you see and know that they are the kinds of people you want to develop relationships with; that was Janet.”
S. Romina began regularly visiting Casa de Caridad, the Sisters of Charity house in Anthony, New Mexico where Sisters Janet, Peggy Deneweth and Carol Wirtz lived. She had finally found what she was looking for the last five years since arriving in the United States. She enjoyed their presence and powerful conversations. Two years later, in 2009, and after a few complications with her driver’s license renewal, S. Romina decided to move into Casa de Caridad, and while it was an adjustment, it was also a time of deepening her spirituality and uncovering her true self. She was beginning to shed the layers that she had put on; allowing herself to date, go out with friends, shop and get her nails done were all ways she embraced her new friendships and life in the States, but what they really helped her to do was find what truly made her happy. “It was all good in discernment,” she says. “And as we were living together at Casa de Caridad, I realized I didn’t need all those things; I was happy in community.”
In 2011, after getting her U.S. residency, S. Romina decided to do what she had initially come to the States to do – go to school. She found a program on international multicultural education at the University of San Francisco and decided to enroll. Moving to California, she continued to remain open. She found a teaching job at Freemont Independent School District just outside of the city and met many like-minded people diverse in faith. And while all of it was eye-opening, she continued to keep her home in New Mexico and the SC connection close. She met the late S. Cathy Cahur and Associate Jacquie Jones, residents of the San Francisco area, and they would get together regularly. Her Charity connections never went away.
And so finally, six years after moving in with the Sisters of Charity, and following graduation from USF in 2015, S. Romina was ready to begin Affiliation. “I just knew even if I had the perfect environment (like I did in San Francisco), community was a grounding place for me,” she explains. “My strength came out in community. I couldn’t do it all by myself.”
Her long journey led her to the Sisters of Charity. All along she was thoughtful and intentional in making sure that the choice was one she was making freely and authentically. And while those Sisters she lived with in Anthony may have known it was her call, they didn’t push or nudge. “They were really good about letting me find where I was called,” she said. “That’s not a strategy, it’s a way of being.”
As she began to get to know the Community deeper during her formation, S. Romina used the experiences she gained from her earlier years, particularly in San Francisco, to strengthen her identity and help the Community to do the same. Having heard and witnessed others put their experiences as immigrants and persons of color into words, she found she too could articulate her experiences and was hesitant when she realized the SC Community wasn’t talking about these issues and topics. S. Janet didn’t have all the answers to her concerns, but what she assured S. Romina of was that the Community needed her to begin the journey.
“For me, I know the Sisters have brought me so much in my own life in terms of self-discovery, support and love,” she says. “I know I need them to become the person that I see I can be. It was a mutuality in terms of this being a murky area of how is this going to look in terms of my new-found strength in my identity and the diversity I carry with me, but also entering a congregation that was not actively talking about it. I think that was something that shaped a lot of the things I tried to do in formation.”
In July 2021, S. Romina was eligible to begin final vow preparation and as she looked at the offerings from the Religious Formation Conference related to its life commitment program, she realized only white speakers were featured. So, she thought to herself why can’t there be something for everyone? She called her friend Mumbi Kigutha, a Sister of the Precious Blood, and together the two created the vow preparation series “Come to the Table: Conversations on the Vows.” They invited a very diverse group of Sisters to be part of a panel on community life and gave them the topics that Sisters from different countries and of different backgrounds have questions about. By creating spaces for women religious from minority cultures to discuss the vows in a way that embraces their diverse backgrounds and unique gifts, they hope to be journeying toward a religious life where everyone feels seen, included and valued. S. Romina says having the courage to say let’s create something new was one of the most impactful components of her formation journey, “Together, with the Community, we are paving the road ahead.”
Opportunities to develop and grow are visible in all aspects of S. Romina’s journey. Currently she began a new endeavor with S. Andrea Koverman. It has been a dream of theirs to begin a Montessori school for the children at Proyecto Santo Niño in Anapra, Mexico, and this year, after much labor and a lot of love, they were able to see it come to fruition. S. Romina teaches the younger children (ages 2 ½ to 7 years old). “To be honest it still feels surreal,” she says. “A lot of times I think I don’t know what I’m doing but I know it’s something good. I feel like in little ways we are creating a space for the children to be loved for who they are. There’s not a lot of places that would welcome them.” In addition to her ministry at Santo Niño, S. Romina serves as a spiritual companion and mentor through involvement with retreats for young adults in parishes and connecting with volunteers working at the border for a year of service. “It’s important to me since I was mentored so well,” she says. “Without my mentors I don’t know if I’d be where I am – and I like where I am.”
God’s presence remains with S. Romina in every step of her life and she was reminded of that more than ever on the day of her final vows, Sept. 24, 2022. She described the week as a whirlwind and feeling it was hard to be present. On the morning of her vows, she went to the Motherhouse chapel and as she was sitting there by herself she received a link to a video from family and friends unable to be present in person wishing her well. As she opened and watched each of the video messages, her mom recalled when S. Romina was 20 years old and wanted to do a year of volunteer service. “She said to me, ‘I didn’t want you to go then, but I am so happy that you still found a way to fulfill your heart’s desire. You’re doing it right now,’” S. Romina recalls. “God reminds you that this is what you had desired. There will days when you doubt it but God will find a way to reassure you. God did remind me on that day. It was a great affirmation.”
As she looks back on her journey to this moment in her life, S. Romina concludes, “God has never once left me. I can trust myself and the wisdom within because God has led me to all of these people; God is in that wisdom – and that gives me hope.”
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