Sister Lucy Mendez, P.C.M., has been the director of religious education at St. Bartholomew’s parish in Elmhurst since 2012, but early on during her time there, she felt a pull to do even more than work full time as the DRE and participate in the life of her community, the Preachers of Christ and Mary – she wanted to get a college degree.
She told the pastor, Father Rick Beuther, about her desire. He supported her, and in 2014, she enrolled in St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, with a full scholarship. In May, after five years of study, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in religious studies.
Like all students who received diplomas during this graduation season, Sister Lucy has a special story. But her tale stands out for a few reasons. At the age of 35, she’s older than most college students, she’s a nun, and she worked full time while pursuing her degree.
And she may not be done yet, saying she wants to get master’s degrees in counseling and theology. It’s not just for herself, but to help others.
Sister Lucy wants to use her knowledge of psychology to help the students and parents she works with in religious education. “Anywhere you can go to better help others, to recognize their dignity, is where I want to go. That’s what my vocation and my faith is all about,” she said.
“In my first year, I had my first class in general psychology and just fell in love with it. It was a vocation call; as I started to learn more about psychology and knowing yourself, I realized the connection between the human mind and body, and my desire to help others,” Sister Lucy said.
Sister Lucy’s road to Queens and Brooklyn began in her native country of Colombia when she was 16 years old and felt a call to religious life.
“I was sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, reading the story of Jeremiah, and I just cried. Here I was thinking, the way Jeremiah did with God, [that] I was too young; I don’t know how to speak,” she recalled. “But it was like He was talking to me, reminding me that He will be with me always. I was speechless – it was, like, how can I fight anymore against You, God?”
After finishing high school and two semesters at a college in Colombia, she joined the Preachers of Christ and Mary in 2005.
“It was an off-and-on spiritual journey, and I kept thinking, what if I became an old lady thinking of still becoming a nun? I wanted to at least try it,” she said.
Sister Lucy came to to the Brooklyn Diocese in 2008 as a novice. She studied English at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and during that time, she began helping out with the religious ed and RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) programs at Blessed Sacrament Church, Jackson Heights.
She eventually move to St. Bartholomew’s, where under her watch, the DRE program has grown to 1,000 participants from just over 250 when she started. Between her job and her college work, her days have been jammed packed with activity. Her routine included early morning prayer, classes, parish work and late-night studying. She typically made the hour-long commute to St. Francis three times a week.
It all came to fruition on May 23 during St. Francis’ commencement ceremony in Coney Island. “This journey has been amazing,” she said. “At my age, it was a beautiful dream that came true.”
Her advice to religious brothers and sisters who want to further their education: “Keep dreaming, keep following God and His will, trusting in Him, just placing and surrendering yourself to God, and He will help and guide you. It was through God, with His help and grace, that I was able to study and be part of St. Francis College, and I was able to graduate. Just place your dreams in His hands, and everything will come true.”