If you ever want to know what the “3 Is” – international, intercultural and intergenerational – looks like in practice, Sister Vilma Franco’s perpetual vow ceremony in Spokane on October 7 was a model.
Sisters of Providence and friends present at the liturgy celebrated by Spokane Bishop Blase J. Cupich at St. Aloysius Parish represented a host of countries, ethnicities and ages.
Sister Vilma made profession of perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a Sister of Providence. Her spiritual journey so far has taken her from her birthplace in the department of Chalatenango in El Salvador to Chile, Montreal and the Pacific Northwest.
General Superior Kathryn (Kitsy) Rutan, who received Sister Vilma as a candidate and a novice, came from Montreal to receive her vows.
Others who came from afar to share in this beautiful moment included General Councilor Alba Letelier, who had been Sister Vilma’s novice director in Chile; Sister Monica de L. Campillay, from Chile, her candidate director; and Sister Maria Antonieta Trimpay, who accompanied her in Angela Montano, El Salvador.
Family present in spirit
Although Sister Vilma’s family and friends in El Salvador were unable to attend, a photo collage carried down the aisle during the procession reminded everyone that they were present in spirit.
Sisters of Providence came from nearly every corner of Mother Joseph Province – including Seattle, Spokane, Olympia, and Yakima, Wash.; Great Falls, Mont., and Portland, Ore. – to wish Sister Vilma well. Sisters Marcia Gatica and Marisol Àvila, temporary vow sisters from Bernard Morin Province in Chile who are continuing their formation and discernment in this province, also attended and sang for the occasion.
Sister Vilma’s perpetual vow ceremony was bilingual, in English and Spanish, and the songs, decorations and food at the reception that followed integrated the congregation’s international and intercultural flavor. “I chose the theme, ‘Come Follow Me,’ for my final vow ceremony because every day I feel that God is telling me that,” Sister Vilma said.
Sister Vilma came to Seattle to enter the Sisters of Providence in 2002 along with Sister Margarita Hernandez, who recently renewed her temporary vows. Sister Margarita offered a beautifully graceful liturgical dance at the celebration.
Sisters in El Salvador since 1995
Sisters of Providence have been in El Salvador since January 1995. In February 2002, for the first time, the sisters hosted their international General Conference there.
We are blessed as a community to have Sister Vilma share with us her life and her experiences of God’s action in and through her,” said Provincial Superior Karin Dufault, SP. “She has a generous spirit and a heart that draws her to service of those who are most vulnerable, especially children.”
Sister Vilma lost her father and six brothers in El Salvador’s civil war from 1980 to 1992. After the war, she and her sisters relocated with their mother to the department of the Usulután in the coastal zone of El Salvador. She was living with her mother, a sister and a niece in the community of Angela Montano when Sister Fran Stacey moved there in 2000. While assisting with the youth ministry, Vilma expressed a desire to be a sister and was encouraged by Sister Fran to pray and explore this call.
Her involvement in ministry with the sisters led Vilma to want to learn more about the Sisters of Providence and how to become a member of the religious community.
She participated in a Come and See experience in La Papalota and in the Sisters of Providence pre-candidate program in San Salvador. The latter included basic community living skills, personal development and group skills. She also attended Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, a Jesuit university in San Salvador.
Joined community as novice in August, 2004
Sister Vilma was welcomed into the religious community as a novice in a prayer ceremony on August 15, 2004, at the annual Provincial Chapter in Spokane. She and Sister Margarita joined other Sisters of Providence novices in Chile for their canonical year to explore in depth the call to vowed life in the religious community.
Since she began her journey with the religious community, Sister Vilma has focused on learning to speak and read English, one of many barriers she faced in coming to a new country, culture and the historical reality of the U.S. government’s involvement in the war in El Salvador. Another was being away from her mother, with whom she is very close. “Still, God said, ‘Come and follow me,’ and I knew he will take care of me.”
The experiences she has had in the last decade have helped her to grow and to become more accepting of this very different culture, she said. “This is my home now, but I also want to go back and help my people. They need someone to speak for them in Spanish and in English.”
Sister Vilma is in her second year of community college studies in Spokane and will complete a degree and a certificate next spring in child development. She has loved serving as a volunteer in the school’s day care program and for the L’Arche community, and she plans to serve in ministry with the disabled. L’Arche community members attended her vow ceremony.
“I want to work with children, wherever they need me,” she said. She hopes to work with disabled children in El Salvador, who do not receive care and support now. “I want to show a different way to take care of them and to see them as human, like one of us,” she added.