Diocesan News

Brooklyn Native Starts Journey To Answer Salesian Sister Calling

Sister Jessica Castillo, FMA, (center) receives the constitutions of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, as she continues on her journey to becoming a nun. (Photo: Courtesy of Sister Jessica Castillo)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Until Jessica Castillo was 16 years old, she did not consider herself a practicing Catholic. Though she was born into the faith, “lack of information and understanding” caused her and her family to drift away from her local parish, St. Rita in East New York. 

That all changed when she and a group of her friends attended a retreat held at the Hispanic Catholic Charismatic Center in the Bronx, where a “personal encounter” with God and the Eucharist set in motion her journey to join the Salesian sisterhood. 

“The Lord was putting a seed just to fall deeply in love with Him and to live the sacramental life wholeheartedly by reception of the Eucharist and going to confession at least once every two months,” Sister Jessica said. 

Sister Jessica, FMA, 34, made her first profession of vows Aug. 5, acknowledging her vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience after four years of formation. She was joined by two other novices as they took their first vows with the Salesian Sisters. 

The Salesian sisterhood began ministry in America in Paterson, New Jersey, and its mission is to teach young people trades so that they can become self-sufficient members of society. Known as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Salesian Sisters are the largest congregation of women religious, according to their website, with over 11,000 sisters across 97 countries. 

Prior to her decision to join the sisterhood, Sister Jessica spent eight years as a teacher in Catholic schools across New York City. With a degree in education from St. John’s University to teach sixth through 12th grade, she most recently taught at the Sacred Heart School in the Bronx in 2016. 

“When I was working in the school in the Bronx, during prayer I was asking God, ‘What is it that He would want from my life? Where do I see myself most happy?’ The thought was the Salesian Sisters — it just came as a thought during prayer. A thought that never left,” she said. 

Through online research, Sister Jessica learned the order was based in North Haledon, New Jersey, and she regularly spent time with them for a year and a half beginning in 2017. Their devotion to the youth as a multigenerational congregation resonated with her as an educator. 

“Wherever the young people are, that’s where the Salesian Sisters are. I started falling in love with that charism and the way they live their life very simply and very joyfully,” she explained. “In the day to day, the way that they gifted themselves to the young people was very attractive to me.” 

The vows she took on Aug. 5 are only temporary — now, she must engage in the order’s ministry and live in their community for a few years, after which she will take perpetual vows. Her first assignment will be as a fifth grade teacher at St. Teresa’s School in New Jersey, which is run by the Salesian Sisters. 

Bishop Robert Brennan congratulated Sister Jessica on her vows, and offered his prayers for her vocation on Facebook. 

During her first profession of vows, she was walked to the altar by her parents Cruz and Custodio, the memory of which brings her to tears. 

“It symbolizes our parents gifting us to God, so we sit with them. It also shows our gratitude for them,” she added. 

When she began her own religious journey nearly two decades ago at that retreat in the Bronx, her parents, who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic to East New York in their late teenage years, also started to revisit their faith. 

“My parents at the same time were experiencing their own conversion to come back to the faith and to the sacraments, with more awareness and with more openness of heart. The Lord was working in their hearts as well,” she said. 

Sister Jessica’s relationship with her mother and father translated into her relationship with God. When she was growing up, her parents instilled in her and her siblings Wendy and Custodio Erickson the outlook to value everything that they have, and to be persistent in overcoming challenges, to build for the family. These teachings have helped shape her faith and allowed her to see God as a “good father.” 

“First, I am loved by Him. I have to know that,” Sister Jessica said. 

“That’s something that I’ve reflected on in these past four years of formation. That I am loved by Him first, because if I don’t know that I am loved by Him first, then I cannot give myself back to Him, or depend wholeheartedly on His love.”