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From the convent to college: Sisters take Spanish classes at Belmont

The stereotypical Belmont student walking across campus might dress in general hipster attire with oversized glasses, plaid button-up shirts with an old band T-shirt underneath and full beards for guys or sometimes colored streaks for girls. Many students sport a guitar strapped to their backs with “x”s on their hands marking that they attended a show the night before.

This semester, walking alongside those Belmont students, are Sisters Mary Ruth and Maria Teresita. Although the Sisters in appearance wear habits, the traditional white tunic and black head covering for Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, the two attend class like everyday students.

In Adele Robertson’s 2010 intermediate level Spanish class, the sisters become students, soaking in all the knowledge about the language that they can for their ministry at the predominantly spanish speaking parish Our Lady of Guadalupe in Nashville, Tenn.

Mary Ruth and Teresita live at the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia convent in Nashville, Tenn. Mary Ruth has been residing there for 25 years and Maria Teresita for 14. Furnished with dark wood banisters and large stain-glass windows, the convent dates back to the late 1800s and parts were renovated in 2006. St. Cecilia is the patroness of music, students, writers and poets.

“We were music before music city was music city,” Sister Mary Ruth said.

As sisters, the women have the duty of both a “contemplative prayer” and “apostolate,” which includes service to the community. The “monastic lifestyle” calls for the sisters to schedule their day around prayer, meditation and silence as well as evangelism and working in the community, Sister Mary Ruth said.

Still, the sisters make time for recreation and activities with a tennis court on site.

Both of the sisters serve as teachers. Sister Maria Teresita teaches fifth grade, received her education at Aquinas College and is currently working on her Master’s in Theology. Sister Mary Ruth has taught a variety of grades but mainly focuses on music due to her studies of the clarinet and music therapy in college.

In addition to teaching, the sisters work at different parishes, and the heavy Hispanic immigrant population inspired the sisters to learn Spanish in order to tailor more to the needs of the people they served and taught Catechesis, or catholic study.

“We’re shooting for becoming fluent, because we have this great advantage of being with them and floating in a Spanish environment.” sister Mary Ruth said. “We go to different parishes and do this program which is already available in English, but some of our sisters who have been able to translate to Spanish have initiated for the Spanish-speaking population here.”

Dioceses in Kentucky and Knoxville, Tenn. have also begun to put Spanish programs into action.

The Sisters felt the need to support the immigrants in this safe “haven of love for Christ” after realizing that many of these people come to America from higher education and positions of status, only arriving to hold jobs of much lower recognition and esteem. They enjoy taking part in the creation of a community where the immigrants feel comfortable and worship in their native language.

The members of the church will come daily and stay until its time to lock up, because they are so desperate for the fellowship of a faith community, Sister Maria Teresita said.

The most rewarding part of learning the new language is “to be able to receive from them the wealth that they have to bring. Because if you don’t understand what they’re saying, then you can’t learn from them either,” Sister Maria Teresita said. “I find for myself, I have been so evangelized by them, by their faith and their trust in coming to a new land where they don’t know the language and how they just live by faith each day.”

This article was written by Brooklyn Penn. 

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