Diocesan News

‘A Complete Leap of Faith’: One Teen’s Journey to Becoming a Sister

Prior to the pandemic, Anabell Maradiaga (center) traveled to Saint Mary of Mount Carmel (Hammonton, NJ) with the sisters from Queens – (L-R) Sister Aurora Maria del Rosario, Mother Clara Maria de la Cruz, Sister Rosario Luz de Maria, and Sister Karolina I Fuente de Luz – to learn more about the Missionary Sisters of Mary for Faith Formation. (Photo: Courtesy of Mother Clara María de la Cruz, MMF)

WINDSOR TERRACE — For Anabell Maradiaga, moving to Puerto Rico has been an eye-opening experience, compared to life in the concrete jungle of Corona, Queens. The 19-year-old is on her way to becoming part of the Missionary Sisters of Mary for Faith Formation (MMF).

A 2020 Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples report noted a decrease in the number of religious women globally — including a 3.3-percent drop in the United States between 2017 and 2018. But, young women like Maradiaga are going against the trend.

“I realized that I was being called to serve God in one of the most beautiful ways possible by consecrating my life to Him and putting Him as a complete priority in my life,” Maradiaga said. “Saying yes was a complete leap of faith, but that was what made it so special.”

Two and a half years ago, Maradiaga befriended the small group of sisters at her parish, Our Lady of Sorrows. At the time, she was a junior at St. John’s Prep and was working at Our Lady of Sorrows’ after-school tutoring program. Maradiaga had noticed the sisters in church while serving as a lector and choir member.

What first started out as greetings in passing turned into spending time with the sisters for about an hour every day. She also danced in the sisters’ Three Kings Day musical production — a first for Our Lady of Sorrows since their arrival.

“I felt so happy to be around them,” Maradiaga said of the sisters who are in charge of the parish’s faith formation program. “The few times I went to the convent [located at Blessed Sacrament Parish], I fell in love with the way they worked together and lived up to the word ‘community.’”

La Asociacion Benefica Cultural Father Billini, located in Corona, Queens, is a non-profit that focuses on helping children and families through dance, sports, and afterschool care as well as educational activities and community service. Anabell Maradiaga and her friends danced the merengue and bachata in last year’s Queens Dominican Day Parade, held in February 2020. (Photo: Courtesy of Mother Clara María de la Cruz, MMF)

Mother Clara María de la Cruz, MMF, always invited Maradiaga to participate in events at Our Lady of Sorrows.

“Whatever it was, she always said ‘yes,’ ” Mother Clara said. “I remember telling her that she had a special quality that all nuns have — service — because she loves and cares about people.”

During her senior year, Maradiaga was faced with a tough decision: pursue college or potentially join the community.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to become an engineer, teacher, or physical therapist,” Maradiaga explained. “I had so many widespread ideas of what I wanted to study, but I couldn’t figure out anything.”

“Before I met the sisters, I really hadn’t thought about a religious vocation,” she continued, adding that her mother had once considered joining the Carmelites in her home country, Colombia. “But, after spending time with them, joining was planted in my heart, too, and I was torn.”

Two months after the pandemic hit New York City, Maradiaga decided to virtually join other teenage girls who were also interested in joining the Missionary Sisters of Mary for Faith Formation. During a three-month-long formation — the process of discernment that women follow before making a lifetime commitment to a religious community — they discussed topics that dealt with the church and the community itself.

Maradiaga later traveled as an aspirant to Bayamón, Puerto Rico, where one of the community’s six houses is located, for pre-postulancy — the first phase of formation. There she lived with a group of sisters for three months, immersed in their way of life, and self-reflected on whether this was her calling.

“After those three months, we could decide if this was something we wanted to continue with or leave and go back home,” Maradiaga explained, noting that she was 18 at the time. “God calls everybody in different ways and you just have to figure out what He’s calling you to do.”

She continued, “I said ‘yes’ to continue this path when it ended in December and had two weeks to say goodbye to my family and friends.”

Mother Clara noted she and the sisters never push any of the young women to choose this path.

“We never hide anything, and we’re there to help them visualize what goes on when becoming and being a nun,” Mother Clara said. “You have to be sincere and open.”

“We’re together in this,” she added, “and you will never be alone.”

Maradiaga said her mother, who had previously met the OLOS sisters, was supportive of her decision.

“When I told her, I was kind of scared,” Maradiaga admitted, “but, not because I wasn’t sure how she was going to react.

“It was just this kind of weird feeling,” she continued, “but, to this day, I know she’s very happy for me.”

Since returning to Puerto Rico in January as a postulant, Maradiaga has been participating in a more intense discernment — praying, evangelizing virtually, and helping with convent-related maintenance tasks.

Anabell Maradiaga is excited for the next chapter in her life, as she continues to live in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

The next step in Maradiaga’s journey will be entering the novitiate, where she will be formally received into the community and called “sister.” After dedicating more time to prayer and community life, Maradiaga can make her first vows and, eventually, her final vows.

“This is like starting over in a way, but it’s something I’m looking forward to because there’s so many things I can be called to do,” Maradiaga said. “As a missionary sister, you never know where you’re going to be tomorrow.”

Mother Clara said there are nine new aspirants in the community currently living in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic for their vocational experiences, as well as 24 young women participating in the virtual discernment process.

Maradiaga hopes to inspire other teenagers to consider taking a leap of faith.

“I’d say if they have that religious vocation, go for it, don’t be scared, and always have that confidence in God,” Maradiaga said. “One of the biggest sacrifices you can make is letting your entire life go into the hands of God and having that faith that He’s going to take care of all the things that you left behind.”