Announcing the Gospel

MAG Sisters celebrate 75 years with a Mass, opening of Holy Door

By Emily Booker

I trust in your mercy. Grant my heart joy in your salvation.  — Psalm 13:6

It was a day of both mercy and joy on Dec. 15 when Las Misioneras del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus “Ad Gentes” (The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus “Ad Gentes”) began their 75th jubilee year with a Mass and opening of a Holy Door at their convent in Jonesborough.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus “Ad Gentes” (MAG) was founded on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1949, in Mexico by Mother Quevedo García and Monsignor Manuel Aguilar Vergara.

“The mission of our congregation is to announce the Gospel to those who do not know it and strengthen the faith in those already evangelized,” Sister Maria del Pilar (“Pili”) Hinojosa Aguilar, regional superior, said. She explained that the religious order offers education, catechesis, and the formation and care of ecclesial groups.

The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus “Ad Gentes” have been serving in the Diocese of Knoxville since 1993. Currently, four Sisters serve Hispanic communities of the diocese in the Five Rivers and Chattanooga deaneries. They partner with parishes, lay groups, and families to provide Hispanic communities with catechetical resources, cultural events, and spiritual formation.

Those taking part in the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus ”Ad Gentes” 75th-anniversary celebration gather for a group photo in the Sisters’ Jonesborough convent. (Photo Emily Booker)

“For the Hispanic community, our Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus ‘Ad Gentes’ are a reminder of the presence of the kingdom of God among us,” said Blanca Primm, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Knoxville.

“Since the early years of the development of Hispanic Ministry in our diocese their presence has been a sign of hope. Their pastoral work and outreach to our immigrant brothers and sisters is paramount to continue our efforts to evangelize and share Jesus and His love in East Tennessee,” Mrs. Primm added.

Sister Pili works with St. Bridget Parish in Dayton and Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Dunlap. Sister Eloísa Torralba Aquino works with he Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga. Sister Maria Luisa Morales works with St. Dominic Parish in Kingsport and St. Patrick Parish in Morristown. Sister Maria Esther Ordoñez Cuevas works with Notre Dame Parish in Greeneville and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Mountain City.

Beyond ministry programs and religious education within parishes, the Sisters also go out into the community to reach people where they are.

The Sisters teach leadership development classes, lead sacramental and quinceañera preparation courses, provide counseling, accompany individuals to court, and help people find jobs.

In Unicoi and Washington counties, they visit the migrant farm workers and coordinate having Mass celebrated for them.

“They do great work,” said Mrs. Primm. “They are out there, in the community. Their presence is very important, essential, because they accompany the people in the field.”

“They visit families at home taking the Gospel and inviting them to become part of the parish community. The Sisters go where many can’t with their missionary vocation, sharing the Gospel where they serve,” she noted.

The Sisters have also established two casas de oración, or “houses of prayer,” in Chattanooga. These gathering places are strategically located in areas that will help them reach more people on the margins.

The Santa Cruz Casa de Oración is located in a former recreation center and serves around 500 people. The second, Immaculate Conception, was originally a garage and hosts around 350 people. Activities at the casas de oración include prayer and rosary groups, Mass, food distribution, marriage classes, counseling, and medical assistance. The Sisters and lay leaders host prayer services, musical gatherings, classes, and other community events.

‘Door of welcome’

Father Michael Cummins, pastor of St. Dominic and special delegate for the Five Rivers Deanery, celebrated the Sisters’ Jubilee Mass in Spanish on Dec. 15. Glenmary Father Tom Charters, associate pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Erwin, and Father Joseph Kuzhupil, MSFS, pastor of Notre Dame Parish in Greeneville concelebrated. Father Dustin Collins, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Johnson City, was in choir. Deacon Renzo Alvarado, who is serving a pastoral year at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, assisted.

About a dozen Sisters were present for the Jubilee Mass on Dec. 15, several traveling from outside the diocese to celebrate the anniversary together. Guests arrived from the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky.; the Diocese of Springfield, Ill.; and the Diocese of Shreveport, La.

Some of the visiting Sisters previously have served in the Diocese of Knoxville, including Sister Carmen Lina Ramos, who spent 22 years in the diocese. Around 40 members of the community also joined the Sisters at their Jonesborough convent for the celebration.

Sisters with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus ”Ad Gentes” and others take part in opening of the Holy Door in their Jonesborough convent on Dec. 15 as part of the 75th jubilee celebration of the order’s founding in Mexico. (Photo Emily Booker)

The ceremony began with the crowd gathering in the convent’s garage that opened into the yard. After prayer and singing was the opening of the Holy Door. A Holy Door is an entrance into a church or chapel that receives a special blessing of mercy. Pilgrims will receive a plenary indulgence for passing through the Holy Door and going to confession.

“Sisters, through this door you will welcome many others during this special jubilee year, and that welcome will be a blessing to them. It will be a blessing not just because they are being welcomed into a nice, clean, and warm house with good people who live in it, but because the Sacred Heart of our Lord is the most welcome resident of this home,” Father Cummins said.

“The Holy Door will be a door of welcome to encounter the heart of our Lord that burns both with a deep love for His Father and in the desire that all people know His Father.”

Father Cummins prayed and sprinkled the Holy Door with holy water. The Sisters stood on the nearby stairwell, each holding a candle.

“Open the gates of justice, we shall enter and give thanks to the Lord,” Father Cummins said.

The door to the convent chapel was opened, and he said, “This is the Lord’s gate. Let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness.”

With the opening of the door, the priests and Sisters, followed by the rest of the faithful, then processed through the Holy Door into the chapel for Mass. Processing to and through a Holy Door is meant to recall the spiritual journey that each person makes in life, with the goal being arrival in God’s mercy.

In his homily, Father Cummins congratulated the Sisters on their anniversary and thanked them for their dedication and work.

“On behalf of Archbishop [Shelton J.] Fabre, I extend congratulations and his prayers on the 75th anniversary year of the foundation of your community—Las Misioneras del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus ‘Ad Gentes.’ Today and this whole jubilee year is a blessing to your community and a blessing to all the people touched by your community’s faith and ministry. Thank you, Sisters, for your witness and your deep devotion to our Lord,” Father Cummins said.

He praised their missionary spirit and reflected how the Holy Door was a symbol of that.

“Missionaries are people who are ‘sent out’ to proclaim the Good News, and yet today, in celebration of your missionary community, we are blessing a door in a home, in a neighborhood of Jonesborough, Tenn.,” he said. “Doors are places of both going out and being welcomed in, and it seems to me that both of these truths are appropriate, both for today and through this special jubilee year.

“Sisters, you will continue to go through this door throughout this jubilee year to continue your work of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, to be His hands and His heart in service and care to God’s people.”

Following the homily, each Sister approached the altar and reaffirmed her religious vows.

The vow renewal was particularly special for Sister Eloísa, a native of Huamantla, Tlaxcala, Mexico, who had marked her 25th anniversary of taking religious vows on Dec. 9.

Following Mass, a luncheon was held under a large tent in front of the convent. It was a time to celebrate and accompany the Sisters, who give so much to the community.

“The Mass was full of joy, hope, and faith,” Sister Pili said. “It was actually a solemn ceremony. We feel privileged as a congregation to receive this blessing [of a Holy Door] through which many souls will achieve spiritual benefits.”

There already has been great interest in the communities from laypeople to visit and pray at the Sisters’ convent and the Holy Door during the jubilee year, according to Mrs. Primm. The Sisters are arranging times for visits and are excited about the new opportunity to share God’s mercy with others.

“[Being a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart] is a commitment to God and to the holy Church,” Sister Pili said. “My vocation as a missionary is to bring the message of salvation through evangelization. It is a joy to be able to be God’s instrument for this task.”

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