Interview: Sr. Maria Escayola, Superior General

on 12 Nov, 2017
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11/12/2017, Srs. Gemma Morató and Conchi García.- The feast of the Presentation of Our Lady in the temple which is our feast is drawing nearer. To enable us to celebrate and grow deeper in this event, we offer you an interview with Sr. Maria Escayola, our Superior General. It invites us to relive the Charism and calls to mind the challenges of the Congregation at this time in our history. We hope that it will help us to reflect and grow in our fidelity to the Lord.


 VIDEO: We recommend "open full screen mode", in the lower right. English subtitles


Sr. Maria Escayola, Superior GeneralSr. Maria Escayola, Superior GeneralSr. Maria Escayola Coris

Barcelona (Spain), 1950

Superior General from 2014

What is the situation of Dominican Sisters of the Presentation at this time of history?

With more than 300 years of lived history, at present, we, the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation of Our Lady are found in 4 continents. Most of the Sisters are in the countries of Latin America, where nearly the totality of the Sisters is found in Colombia; we are also in the United States and Mexico. In Africa, we are in 4 countries which are Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Chad and Cameroun. In Asia, in the Far East we are in India, Philippines and Korea. In the Middle East we are in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. In Europe, in France which is the country of our origin, in Spain, Italy and England. At present, we are about 1960 Sisters who respond to the mission that Marie Poussepin left for us, that is to say, the education of youth, Health care and social and pastoral ministry. In many places the Sisters are offering accompaniment in frontier situations and it is a vital need to continue to be in these places where people are more in need of the Proclamation of the Word of God.

Looking at the situation of the world, what are our challenges today?

I would say that we have at least two or more big challenges. One would be internal, within the Congregation itself: to return to the sources, to understand the meaning of our consecrated life and the Charism of Marie Poussepin; in other words, it means to be in accordance with the world of today and the needs that we have. Another big challenge is that of multiculturalism and internationality. Already for many years we have been international. But at present, the Congregation has a diversity; this means that its members are very diverse and from many places and we need to learn to appreciate diversity as a richness and not to see it as a threat but as a richness. We must learn to make bridges among us, know ourselves better, have more dialogue and communicate among ourselves in another manner.

Another challenge is to update our response for the mission; it means to see how we are placed where we are and what we have to change to really respond to the needs of men and women of today. Many things are evolving and we see that welcoming the migrants is a need in many places; in other places they are called the displaced people, but in all those places we have to offer an accompaniment to the people who had been living in situations of violence; we have to help them heal their hurts and reconstruct themselves. Also in many places where we are, there had been natural catastrophes and it presupposes a work of reconstruction. It implies that we learn many things: to know to network with other Congregations and other organisms, to be interconnected and offer the service of charity that is needed today.

For someone who does not know sufficiently the Charism of Marie Poussepin, how would we explain it today?

Marie Poussepin was a person who lived before the French Revolution at a time when there was much inequality and misery and she let her heart be touched by this reality. Enlightened by the Word of God through her Dominican Spirituality, she searched for ways to help, promote and enable those who were around her to come out of their misery. For this, she gave professional formation to the apprentices and the youth of that time so that they could come out of the dangerous situation in which they were, because there were many orphans due to wars, but also due to epidemics and high cost of living. Then she dedicated all her efforts to construct or to constitute a Community which can attend to the needs of education and health care because in the villages, people were left very much abandoned. She made remedies for them, visited them in their houses and participated actively in the parish because she always wanted her work to be that of the Church and from the Church.

Why does a Charism from the XVIIth Century still last and how can we continue to make it last?

I believe that the Charism of Marie Poussepin continues to be very real because it responds to what is at the heart of the Church: charity, works of mercy and service to those who are most in need. Jesus Christ has already told us that there will always be the poor and people who need us, especially for the proclamation of the Gospel, because as Dominican women, we desire to give witness to the love of God to each human being. I believe that this is very important; it gives meaning to our life; this is the reason for which we are here. It is a project of life that requires having the awareness that others need the Word of God to be fully human and find his/her happiness. For this, we can collaborate and help; we are mediators to bring to men and women this love and this grace that He does not stop from giving us at every moment. It is an invitation for each one of us to live this Charism fully and also invite others to live it so that they too can become happy and make others happy.

What is needed to keep the Spirit of Marie Poussepin alive?
Firstly we should have the conviction that the Lord continues to call; perhaps, we are a little deaf today. Also, the youth have many offers and possibilities to focus their lives and to find their path through the great diversity of Congregations, movements and lay organizations which also serve for this kind of help and gift of self to the others.

What is essential in religious life is our consecration to the Lord and this full dedication means to say that He is the Lord and that it is worth giving Him our life.

What is essential in religious life is our consecration to the Lord and this full dedication means to say that He is the Lord and that it is worth giving Him our life. Surely, there are other youth who have not discovered it, because they have not yet discovered the Lord. Here, Sisters, we have a great task, the mission to approach and get to know better the youth of today; we must get closer to the youth and thus they may know and love God, feel within themselves being challenged by His merciful love and desire to respond to Him. The Congregation also works to understand the youth and help them so that that they can become real persons who live with Christian faith. This may strengthen them, give them meaning, enlighten them and lead them throughout their life.

What are some basic data to explain about the life of Marie Poussepin?

Marie Poussepin was born in Dourdan which was an industrial city and there, she grew up in a very Christian family; from her mother she learned to visit the poor and go to the parish. As a mature youth, she had already become an industrial woman who industrialized Dourdan because she brought those weaving machines from England and she also brought the persons who could teach how to work with those machines and promoted making stockings with wool and perhaps, this promoted the industrial development. She was a social apostle of charity because she gave much importance for the industrial development in her land.

But, the call of misery made her leave Dourdan and go to Sainville, a close by village where, there were many more needs. She left a comfortable situation to go to Sainville, to assist, help and live with the country people who had greater needs than she. She wished to live the Dominican Spirituality during her whole life and became a tertiary of the Third Order of Saint Dominic. When she founded her Community, it was dependent on the Bishop of Chartres, till she received the recognition from the King. It was such a very long process for her that it drew much of her energy. It was a suffering and a concern for her to leave her Community established and recognized by the religious as well as civil authorities and she succeeded. She died in 1744 after having lived 90 years of age. She left her Community already established with many foundations in other neighboring dioceses as well as in not so close by dioceses, which appreciated her charity and asked for Sisters for the hospital, school and /or parish.

What are some of the not so distant challenges for the Congregation?

I believe that there are some challenges that are there always: to center of our lives on the Lord by renewing ourselves constantly and also to know why we exist. Another very important challenge today is to convert the Community to be a life-giving space. At times we have let ourselves be carried away so much by the mission that we do not give the Community the space that it should have as a place with fraternal love, family spirit and motivation for the mission. I think that it is an important challenge to recuperate these qualities of our Communities and this quality of fraternal love so that the mission will really be a work of all, a work of the Church and that we may not personalize it as it had happened at some time in the history with regard to mission.

Another challenge I see, is to make our missionary presence updated; how we can continue to give response to the emerging needs which are being presented in different places and countries. I will say that nearly all of us need to have a reconversion. The whole Congregation is working on this theme to see how we can reconfigure our presence; we call this our missionary map for the future. What will be our evangelizing presence in the different places, because the needs of each country are so different? In some places the institutions have less meaning; in other areas, on the contrary, they are very necessary because the States still have not attended to the basic needs of education and health care. There is a great diversity in the whole Congregation; but we try to respond to the needs of the poorer people and of those who are more marginalized. We also try to sensitize, help and give meaning especially through catechesis...; with the help of the Sisters they have made much progress in their knowledge and also in living the Word daily by defending it, making it known to others, and sharing it with the others. We have experienced that sharing of the Word with the simple people who are our first concern, is a great enrichment for us. So this is our challenge as persons, Congregation and Community. We also have the challenge to be familiar with the youth of today so that the youth may know that as religious, they can have a full life in response to the love of God, if she is capable of discovering this personal relationship with Him.

Then she will feel the need to return with greater strength to recuperate her life of prayer, spirituality, daily relationship with the Lord and His Word, and also, for sure, the Eucharist which is the fount that nourishes us so that we will live through faith; if it is not through faith, religious life has no meaning at all; but through faith, it has a plenitude which the Lord left for His apostles so that they could go to proclaim His Word, His Love and His Mercy to the ends of the earth.

What will be your advice for a Young Sister, middle aged Sister or an elderly Sister?

There are things that are for all and this is what I spoke earlier, to maintain daily the relationship with the Lord and the openness to the Sisters and the world. Not to look at oneself but to look outward.

I will tell the Young Sisters that they may live with illusion, hope, but above all, they have to have patience with themselves and with the others. Many times it is not easy to enter and then integrate oneself with other persons who come with another journey, who have another way of living; this is the challenge of multiculturalism. I wish that they may value the Lord’s call to them, live happily through this call, through this predilection of the Lord for them and that this may be a stimulus that will help them to give the best of themselves.

To the Sisters who have already been in religious life for many years, I will say that they may not let themselves be carried away by work, by things...but that they always leave the space needed so that their relations with the others be humane, be full of mercy and that they may search ways to contribute and go out of themselves to contribute to the others. Many times we say that “I am alone” and that “I experience loneliness”; it is something experienced by all the people because each one is unique and has a difference that no one can understand; only the Lord, only God can understand it. But at times, we mayl not find ourselves alone, if we know to look outward and see all the concerns, difficulties and needs of the others; If we have this compassionate and merciful heart, it will prevent us from closing ourselves in our own loneliness.

And to the elderly Sisters, I will say not to be afraid. The step to the Lord is a beautiful step of maturity; sometimes they cannot realize the mission as they had done earlier, but there is another way to reach God and the others through prayer, through an attitude of fraternal love, through a smile or through listening. The witness of an elderly Sister who knows to listen, motivate, sympathize and accompany, is very important and now a days it is a needed mission because many persons do not have any one to run to and all of us need to be recognized by the other.

I will say that the Lord calls us in a different way at each moment of life but always safeguarding the illusion of the first love until the end. I think that each one in the stage in which she finds herself has to be faithful, and fidelity to this call and to this love that lasts forever, belongs to the Lord and not ours.

During these almost three years as Superior General, what has impacted you the most?

Throughout our life the wheat and the weeds are together. In the same way we have Positive things and also others which are not so positive; one of the negatives, I will say, is the suffering when one Sister decides to separate herself from us and especially when there is no real discernment. It is normal that a Young person after having seen religious life for some time decides and says that it is not her path. But there are other moments, yes, I believe that the Sisters lack discernment and let themselves be carried away by many other things which do not go along with the call of the Lord.

Along with this, then, there are also positive things like the creativity of the Sisters, the desire to live, the desire to help, the desire to form a real consistent fraternal life, the desire to make the Word of God known to others and to share it, the desire to search for the best and also the desire to work with the others. Many initiatives have been begun, or perhaps, we cannot say that they have been begun because already in the Congregation we have been taking initiatives to work together with other Congregations or Provinces. There, we have to explore a route, in which all of us are called to collaborate, to open ourselves to go beyond those limitations of our own Provinces and Structures and to acquire a greater awareness that we are a Congregation, a family, which extends far beyond those territorial distributions, and that it is in being able to work together in the field of the Lord that we have our strength.

And to conclude...would you express a desire?
I would like that the Congregation, each one of us, may be faithful to the intuition of Marie Poussepin, the desire she had that we form ourselves to be a community whose soul is charity. I also have the desire to celebrate the canonization of Marie Poussepin. Since few years, we have began the process; already in 1994 we had the joy of her beatification and at present we continue to hope for her canonization and I invite all to pray, change our lives and convert ourselves, because I am sure that if we do not live what she lived, we cannot present her as a model for the Church. It is a challenge for us to make alive her attitudes and all that she desired, so that she may be canonized. Let us pray so that the persons who work in the process of her canonization and examine the documents, find them well and that we may have this joy, let us hope, in a relatively short time. 

"I invite all to pray, change our lives and convert ourselves, because I am sure that if we do not live what she lived, we cannot present her as a model for the Church. It is a challenge for us to make alive her attitudes and all that she desired, so that she may be canonized."