Sister Sara Marie Gomez, OSU: Aug. 31, 1943-July 24, 2022

Sister Sara Marie Gomez, 78, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, died July 24, 2022, at Mount Saint Joseph, in her 60th year of religious life. She was a native of Gobernador, N.M.

Sister Sara Marie was the epitome of hospitality and loved to share her southwestern cooking. She spent 36 years serving in New Mexico and was the last Ursuline Sister to serve there after 100 years of community educators. She earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from Brescia College in 1966, and a master’s degree in special education from Eastern Kentucky University in 1977.

In Kentucky, she taught in Louisville at St. Denis School (1966-67); in Lebanon at St. Charles School (1967-73), St. Charles Junior High School (1973-76) and Marion County High School (1976-77); in Knottsville at Mary Carrico School (1983) and in Owensboro at Cathedral School (1984-89) and St. Angela Merici School (1989-90).

In New Mexico she taught at Sacred Heart School, Farmington (1972-73, 1997-2018) and St. Joseph School, San Fidel (1977-83). She served at St. Joseph Parish, Aztec, as a parish minister (1990-97) and then director of religious education (1999-2019), while also serving as director of religious education at Holy Trinity Church in Flora Vista (1999-2019).

Survivors include the members of her religious community; siblings Louie Gomez of Farmington, N.M., and Bart Gomez of Covington, La.; and nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents, Juan and Lila Gomez; and her siblings Juan Gomez III and Melesia Atchley.

The funeral Mass is at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 28, at Mount Saint Joseph, where visitation will begin Wednesday at 4 p.m., with a wake service following at 6:30 p.m. Burial will be later in New Mexico.

Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory, Owensboro, is handling arrangements.

Donations in memory of Sister Sara Marie may be addressed to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, 8001 Cummings Road, Maple Mount, KY 42356.

Wake Reflection: Sister Sara Marie Gomez, OSU

By Sister Sharon Sullivan, congregational leader. June 27, 2022

In the Gospel for Sunday, July 24th, we heard, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him. . . .” We needed to hear no more, for although in Saint Luke’s story, the friend at first replies, “no;” if that friend had been our Sister Sara Marie, she would have thrown open the door in welcome and treated all to a feast. And surely, this model of Christian hospitality has found such a feast and welcome in her heavenly home.

Sister Sara Marie began her life on Tuesday, August 31, 1943, in Pagosa Springs, CO, as Maria Evelyn Gomez, the first child born to Juan Christobal (Chris) Gomez and Lila Sarah Padilla. Just a few weeks later, on Sunday, September 19th, Maria Evelyn was baptized into her faith family at Sacred Heart Church in Durango. Growing up under the brilliant blue of Colorado and New Mexico skies and amidst the ever-expanding vistas of the Southwest must have helped form the open and expansive nature of Evelyn’s heart.

Over the next years, the Gomez family grew to include Evelyn’s sister, Melisia, and her brothers – Juan (the third), Louie, and Bart. And to Louie and Bart and their wives and families, and Sister Sara’s aunt, nephews, and cousins too numerous to name, we – the Ursuline Sisters – extend our love, sympathy and prayers. Family was always most important to Sister Sara.

According to Sister Sara, she and her siblings grew up out in the boonies, up on the mesa, playing on the canyon rocks and listening to the Cisco Kid and Dragnet on the radio. But school was also a necessary part of growing up and Evelyn began her formal education, still under the high New Mexico sky, at Aztec Elementary in Aztec, New Mexico; then for a few years she learned with the Ursuline Sisters at Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow (sort of a family tradition). Her faith journey continued as well, when Evelyn celebrated her confirmation at Sacred Heart Church on a Kentucky Derby Saturday, May 3rd, in 1952.

For a year, the Gomez children attended Gobernador Elementary School in an effort to help keep the tiny school open; but Evelyn soon returned to Waterflow. She began high school at Silverton High in Silverton, Colorado, but her sophomore year brought her back to Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow where she encountered the people and events that would shape and direct her future in ways she had not anticipated.

It was here in Waterflow that two young sophomores – one, Evelyn, still a bit shy and reserved, and one, Michele Morek, boisterously outgoing – became locker mates and dormitory buddies and best friends. I dare not attempt to report on Waterflow shenanigans – those tales can be better told by those who were there. But Sister Michele does report that throughout high school, their bond of friendship grew stronger, as they often visited each other’s homes, “. . . staying up until all hours, reading and eating potato chips.”

Soon it was 1961 and graduation approached. Sister Sara reported that she was planning to join the Navy after high school (more blue skies and broad horizons), but her uncle convinced her parents that she should go to college. It seems, however, that God and her Waterflow friends apparently had other plans for Evelyn. Brescia College offered a scholarship to Evelyn; so she would choose – not to join the Navy, but to go way east to damp, green Kentucky – not to use her scholarship to Brescia College, but to become an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph.

Five young women from New Mexico went to Kentucky in 1961 – among them were Evelyn, Michele, and Judy Smith (who became our Sister Sheila Anne). Evelyn was one of sixteen on that Thursday in September to become Ursuline postulants. And almost a year later, on a hot August Tuesday in 1962, Evelyn became Sister Sara Marie with seventeen other young (and older) women. What a group! To her remaining classmates – Sisters Michele, Rose Jean, Sheila, and Kathy – we extend our sympathy, our love and our prayers.

And for the tales of the exploits of that remarkable group of novices, it would be only wise, only prudent, to leave the telling to those who can do it best.

Later, while still in the Novitiate, Sister Sara Marie did begin her Brescia College education, and made her first vows two years later on Saturday, August 15, 1964. For the next two years, she continued her studies and completed her Baccalaureate degree at Brescia, graduating in 1966. In 1977, by the way, she furthered her education laurels with a Master’s degree in Special Education from Eastern Kentucky University. Starting right after Brescia’s graduation, Sister Sara began her more than fifty years of hospitable ministry to God’s children.

For the first twenty-four years, Sister Sara shared her ministerial hospitality between Kentucky and New Mexico schools, and between second graders and students with special needs. She served at Saint Denis School in Louisville; Saint Charles Elementary and St. Charles High School in Lebanon, Kentucky; at Sacred Heart in Farmington, New Mexico; Marion County High School in Kentucky; Saint Joseph School in San Fidel, New Mexico; and back to Kentucky at Mary Carrico School in Knottsville, and Cathedral School and Angela Merici School in Owensboro.

One of her principals wrote that Sister Sara “tried in every way to interest and uplift those children. . . . She is a lady and a Sister in all her professional dealings.” And just this week, the Principal at Saint Joseph School in San Fidel wrote: “Sister Sara Marie’s time in San Fidel touched all the many lives that passed through our doors. . . . When we begin school (this fall), we will have a Mass for her!” Sister Sara herself wrote that she “enjoyed very much being a second-grade teacher,” that she believed she was preparing the children for their spiritual and physical feasts – incorporating both Sacramental preparation with exposure to their cultural roots with experiences of hospitality and fiestas. Within the school settings, Sister Sara included faith development opportunities – participating in liturgical prep, music, the Rosary, and other ministries for herself and her students and families.

In 1990, Sister Sara responded to a slightly different note in God’s call – she understood it was time to leave the classroom expression of her call and enter parish and pastoral ministry. For the next thirty years, she would minister in New Mexico – back to the blue skies and canyon rocks. “I know I’m going to miss teaching. . .,” Sister Sara wrote of her move to Saint Joseph Parish in Aztec, New Mexico; but, she added, “my life has become full with all that God asks me to do through others for His people here in Aztec.”

Going home to Aztec allowed Sister Sara to serve and live among people close to her heart, close to her history, close to her culture – the children and adults, the parish family, and her Gomez (and Padilla) family. She soon added to her Saint Joseph, Aztec, ministry service at Holy Trinity Parish in Flora Vista and religious education at Sacred Heart School in Farmington.

One of her pastors in Aztec wrote about Sister Sara Marie, “(She) is always at work behind the scenes; Sister Sara Marie is involved in just about everything we do as a faith community (with children, adults, families, music, and worship) . . . (he emphasized especially) she is noted for her empanadas, which are a treat. . . . Sister has the heart of a true Christian woman, I encourage young and old to get to know Sister Sara Marie, because they will learn a gentleness and femininity which is uncommon in our world today.”

While in Aztec, Sister Sara’s hospitality outgrew its bounds with so many opportunities to share – family, parish members, Ursulines, and many from the broader community. Sister Michele noted that Sister Sara was “. . . so generous, she apologizes if she comes to see you and does not have a gift.” As a Brescia sister, I certainly benefited from that trait, enjoying the annual goodies package when Sara came to visit over the holidays. The apricot preserves was to die for. Sister Michele added, “and everyone who comes to Sara’s house can depend on being well fed; she is famous for her sopapillas, bizcochitos, and dried fruit empanada, not to mention her chili.” And Sister Vivian, known herself for her hospitality, summed it all up, “She’s the most hospitable person I know, no matter how involved she is in her ministry or her family. . . if you go visit her, you meet all her aunts and cousins.”

However, Sister Sara’s health began to cause her more difficulties, and late in 2019, after almost thirty years in New Mexico, Sara was called back to her Kentucky home at Mount Saint Joseph and began her ministry in the Powerhouse of Prayer in the Villa – and to the Villa staff, nurses, and other caregivers, we give our thanks for your generous loving care of Sister Sara and offer our sympathy and prayers. Sister Sara soon demonstrated that simple location did not have any significant impact on her spirit of hospitality. Soon we were all involved in producing and consuming sopapillas, bizcochitos, and empanadas.

Of course, the Pandemic arrived shortly after Sister Sara did and threatened to close the hospitality – but Sister Sara was a most clever and inventive hostess. Although the Villa was in almost total lockdown, Sisters in their rooms, masks and social distancing, Sister Sara and her “across-the-hall” neighbor, Sister Lois, soon realized that the hallway was at least six-feet across. Socially distanced! So, at meal-times, they would take their meals in the open doorways of their rooms, and afterwards, visit across the hall, safely masked and safely distanced, but sharing hospitality nonetheless.

And, if you’ll permit me to share one more tribute to Sister Sara’s creative and inventive hospitality from her Kentucky teaching years in rural Kentucky. A fellow teacher recalled Sister Sara liberally sharing her southwest cooking skills and hospitality, remembering that Sara had “invited an old man who had no family to join (them) at the convent for Thanksgiving dinner; the old man was so grateful that he brought a bottle of homemade dandelion wine as a gift. It pretty much tasted like diesel fuel (she said). But Sara Marie, in her diplomatic and hospitable manner, said, ‘This wine is so special that we’ll save the rest of the bottle for future special occasions!”

Sister Sara knew that hospitality could embrace a world of expressions and manifestations, and hospitality shone so especially beautifully in celebrations. Sister Sara loved festivities and could turn anything into a celebration – parish fiestas, anniversaries, meals, Masses, the gift of an avocado, praying the Rosary, initiating the observation of Our Lady of Guadalupe, birthdays, sacraments, the last day of school, the firsts day of school, a new student teacher, a new house mate. Just a week ago, she celebrated her sixtieth jubilee and so wanted to celebrate with her classmates in New Mexico – but barely a week after that last celebration, on Sunday morning, July 24th, Sister Sara received an invitation to one more, enormous, fiesta with her loving God – she is surely celebrating one more time with brilliant blue skies and vistas beyond our abilities to imagine. So we say, Sister Sara Marie, blessings and may your celebration be everlasting.