The parents of Guadalupe Moreno could not have known, when they named her in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that she would someday become a Sister and a servant of the Church and of God. According to Moreno, Guadalupe is the source of spirituality and prayer, “embedded in our hearts and collective memory of the people of the Americas. Many Hispanic families have immigrated to the United States carrying the image of Guadalupe in their hearts.”
Moreno has lived into her name throughout her life and ministry, providing spiritual and practical guidance for those she serves, and praying always for their needs.
Born in Tampico, Tam, an important port in the Gulf of Mexico, she was the oldest of 8 children and grew up in a home where education and Christian values were a priority. Her personal call to the convent came when she was just completing high school at age 17. “I had visited religious communities and in one of the spiritual retreats, (I was) reading the Gospel of John when Jesus called his first disciples (1, 43-45) and He said ‘Follow me.’ (This) just made an impact on me and (I) began to think: What if God is calling me to serve him? I thought about it for two years and I made my decision. I wanted to dedicate my life to God.”
Moreno describes this decision as exciting and joyful. “It was like an adventure, a discovery of a new life,” she recalls. She had heard stories from the religious Sisters, about the places where they had lived and the adventures of missionary work. “The nuns always were very kind persons. They were young, looked very happy and full of enthusiasm. They were my inspiration. I wanted to be like them.”
She joined the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. They are dedicated to make the love of God, as shown in the Incarnation, a real and tangible presence in the world today, with missions in Mexico, Peru and the United States. She studied for several years to prepare for the ministry and holds a master’s degree in psychology and pedagogy, receiving certificates to teach in elementary and high schools and to serve as a principal.
Moreno has served in Mexico, as an elementary teacher in Torreon Coahuila, as principal of an Elementary School in Tampico, Tam for five years, and in San Luis Potosi for two years. She later taught Spanish for three years at Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Antonio, Texas, which is a bilingual parochial school, before returning to Mexico as principal of the Normal School Instituto Miguel Angel in Mexico City, preparing students to teach elementary school.
Moreno’s next call was to work at the National Office of Education for Private Schools, where she stayed for three years. “It was (a) very exciting job organizing and giving courses, conferences, and seminars (and) participating in (the) Congress of Education at (the) Latin-American and global level,” she recounts.
With this extensive experience, one might well wonder what brought Moreno to rural Hart. The story is that she had free weeks during the summer while working in education, and Father Ted Kozlowski, Director of what is now the Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, invited her to come and serve with the ministry of reaching out to communities of migrant farmworkers.
“This was an unknown world for me,” she recalls. “I always lived in big cities. Now I discovered the magnificence of the northern woods, the roads with a very few cars and beautiful roadside scenery, the panoramic view of large areas of land, the farms with their large variety of vegetables and fruits, the freshness of the produce and the hard work of the migrant farmworkers. My job was to provide pastoral services to the migrant farmworkers’ families.” In doing this work, she came to realize how essential these farmworkers are to the rural economy. The Diocese of Grand Rapids had a holistic program for Hispanic families and specifically for migrants so, she continues, “I visited the families, got to know them, and I was a channel to provide services for their needs.”
She learned that migrant families came to the north in search of work to support their families, and in this pilgrimage, they are also in search of God. “The migrants are people of great faith in God, very family-oriented, with great values and a great sense of community. I just fell in love with this job.”
After she had volunteered for two summers, Father Ted invited her to work year-round, and in 1986, she agreed to come for one year. Ultimately, she spent 33 years in this ministry, working as a coordinator for the Diocese in Hispanic Ministry and later as Assistant Director in the counties of Oceana, Mason, Newaygo, Lake and Muskegon, with an office at St. Gregory Catholic Church in the center of her activity in Hart. She worked with the local priests and networked with the West Michigan Migrant Resource Council and other agencies to provide services for Hispanic families and migrant farmworkers, recruiting volunteers, creating several groups, and training them to give a variety of services in the parish and in the migrant camps, including the teaching of the catechesis, bringing jackets, blankets and other necessary items to the camps, and holding a prayer service.
When visiting the migrant camps, she provided information about Spanish church services and programs the parish offers for them. “Their faith in God is ingrained in their culture,” Moreno explains. “They trust their Church. For them I am the messenger of God.”
In addition, she started a weekly program at St. Gregory’s, using volunteers. It provides formation, creates community, and gives an opportunity to socialize, including a meal for all the family, as well as prayer, singing and religious classes. “I am impressed with the desire and openness of the families to learn about God and the Bible, and the relationship they have in their lives with God,” Moreno emphasizes. She has now operated this program for 20 years, except for last year because of Covid-19.
When she retired from the Diocese of Grand Rapids in October 2018, Father Tom Bolster, then pastor of St. Gregory, invited her to work part-time for the Parish in Pastoral Care, though she says, “Working in ministry is not (a) part-time job.” But she adds, “I appreciate and enjoy the trust of the people who ask for services, and I feel very pleased and fulfilled serving the Hispanic community.”
She describes the last year as a sad chapter, and relates that, like many of us, she lost people she was close to, knew and served to the virus. As she explains, “The frustration for me it is that I was not able to visit the family, console, and pray with them like I usually do in this difficult time.”
Despite her long service, Moreno still has goals for the ministry going forward. She hopes to better integrate the Hispanic Community in the life of the parish and society, to reaffirm the baptism call of adult Hispanic parishioners at St. Gregory’s and share the healing love of God for humanity. She also wants to share the faith that is the heritage of Hispanic ancestors, and the hope that their lives and futures can be improved. To accomplish these goals, she will recruit, train and support volunteers for programs and activities related to Hispanic Ministry. “These goals are very ambitious (and) do not happen in one month or year, but I believe (this) is the foundation for their lives now and for the future,” Moreno declares.
Finally, Moreno shares that she has never regretted becoming a Sister, because she says, “I am sure it is what God wants me to be, and I feel privileged to be called by God to serve him and his people. I enjoy the work. It is richly rewarding.”