"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

“Be diligent in serving
the poor. Love the poor,
honor them, my children,
as you would honor
Christ Himself.”

St. Louise de Marillac

 

Sister Juanita Marie Gonzales

 

Sister Juanita Marie Gonzales died Dec. 29, 2023, at the age of 85 in Mother Margaret Hall, the nursing facility for the Sisters of Charity. Sister Juanita Marie was born on July 26, 1938, to Fidencie and Juanita (Sanches) Gonzales in Santa Rita, New Mexico. She was the eighth of 14 children, seven boys and seven girls. She was a Sister of Charity for 63 years.

Sister Juanita grew up in Santa Rita, New Mexico, attending Sully grade school and graduating from Cobre High School in Bayard, New Mexico. She had a strong desire to become a nurse at an early age; her mother supported the idea and she enrolled at St. Vincent Hospital, Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was during this time that she was introduced to the Sisters of Charity, the first real women religious she had contact with. After finishing her LPN program, Sister Juanita chose to enter the Sisters of Charity on Feb. 2, 1960, a decision she never regretted.

Sister Juanita earned a Bachelor of Science in education from the College of Mount St. Joseph in 1964. She received a Master of Education in administration from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, in 1981.

Sister Juanita’s ministries covered more than 55 years: 32 in elementary education, all in Michigan; six as a missionary in Poland; and 20 as director of parish faith formation in New Mexico. Sister Juanita suffered a serious back injury while in initial formation, which changed the initial direction of how and where she would serve. After earning a degree in education she was first missioned to The Shrine of the Little Flower, Royal Oak, Michigan, in 1964 as a primary teacher. In 1967 she went to teach intermediate grades at St. Mary, Jackson, Michigan, and in 1969 to Holy Cross, Lansing, Michigan, where she served first as teacher and then as the school administrator for 18 years. Here she would say she experienced her greatest satisfaction, working with immigrants, encouraging immigrant children to work hard and learn English. In the summer of 1980 while in Lansing, Sister Juanita worked with the U.S. Catholic Conference to reunite and relocate 18,000 Cuban refugees at Fort Smith, Arkansas. They were in need of translators and those who were Spanish-speaking. It was the depth of their faith that touched Sister Juanita. “When you go through what they had been through,” she observed, “your faith is tested and tremendously strong. They wished to be welcomed and become a part of American society.”

With the fall of Communism, the Sisters of Charity congregation put out a request to Sisters interested in helping women religious in Eastern Europe learn English while U.S. schools were on summer break. This held great appeal for Sister Juanita who had a missionary heart and was ready for a ministry change. In 1996 she learned basic Polish with the help of the Maryknoll Missionaries and went off to Warsaw, Poland, to teach English to high school girls in a technical school and tutor adults who wished to improve their language skills. She welcomed the challenge of language, culture and food while making life-long friends and seeing much of Eastern Europe. She lived with the Gray Ursuline Sisters, remaining in ministry there for six years, sharing faith and service. 

In 2004, Sister Juanita was to serve in Guatemala, but once again health issues changed her ministry direction. San Isidro/San Jose, a growing parish in Santa Fe, New Mexico, called for her response. Sister Juanita served as director of faith formation at the parish until the time of her death, a total of 20 years. Currently the parish is made up of 2,000 families with a faith formation program of 300, grades 1 through Confirmation. She remained ever grateful for the faith and spirit of service present in her teachers, families and volunteers.

Sister Juanita believed that Elizabeth Seton’s Legacy of Charity changed her life. “It is her drive that keeps me going to wherever I can be of service to God’s people,” she once said. “She inspires me as to what it means to be open to God’s will and to trust that God will see us through wherever we are to be.” She found hobbies of pottery and photography offered her a refreshing outlet. Her happiest memories were when Sisters gathered together as community.

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