Maria Vilma Franco Calles

Sister Vilma Franco coordinates catechists for the parish of Arcatao, El Salvador, and is involved with Providence Health International. “My hope is to work with the poor, filling the emptiness of their daily reality as Mother Emilie Gamelin did,” she said when she was a novice.

Having completed her candicacy, Sister Vilma enters the novitiate. Here she addresses a congregation.

Having completed her candicacy, Sister Vilma enters the novitiate. Here she addresses a congregation.

“I always want to accompany those who have the greatest need and to proclaim God’s reign.”

Vilma became a novice in August 2004, in Spokane, Wash., thousands of miles from her home in El Salvador.

Asked how her goal differs from what she could do as a layperson, she replies: “In religious life, our lives are consecrated in the midst of the people. This will free me to give myself completely.”

A catechist from an early age

Vilma was a catechist from an early age. She was born in January 1979 in northwestern El Salvador in the Department of Chalatenango, an area of heavy conflict during the 12-year civil war that claimed the lives of her father and four brothers. She had to escape to the mountains with her mother.

When the war ended, what was left of the family moved to Usulutan and resettled in the village of Angela Montano. In 2000 she met the Sisters of Providence through Sister Frances Stacey.

Since she was a young teenager Vilma had been thinking about becoming a sister, but Sister Fran invited her to give it deeper consideration.

Experiencing her novitiate in Chile

As a high school student, Vilma had learned cultural and leadership skills through a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women and girls, and while still a teenager had been elected secretary of the new elected community council. She also was active in the Christian Base Community, participating in adult and youth reflection groups.

Currently, Vilma is in Santiago, Chile, sharing her novitiate with other Spanish-speaking sisters. It is a time of joy and wonder. The main fear that she expresses is that she doesn’t ever want to be unfaithful to Jesus. She also wonders sometimes if she’ll have the capacity to do what she dreams of doing as a Sister of Providence.

She says she enjoys and grows from two practices in daily prayer — an evaluation of the day made at each day’s end and reflecting on her time in prayer and examining how she really felt, not in her head but in her heart.

Asked what gives her the most support in this period of discernment, Vilma replies: “To have a person in whom I can confide, to share with and who accompanies me in discernment.”

Two years to explore in depth the call to vowed life in community.