Sister Mary sat across from me at our booth in the Little Fiesta Mexican Restaurant on a recent late November afternoon. We first met over two decades ago when she registered for my evening Spanish Conversation class. When I was informed that the “Mother Superior” was sitting among my students, my thoughts time-traveled back to being an elementary-aged child hearing about nuns warning little girls not to wear patent leather shoes – because they reflected… up your dress!

Jan’s Sunday shoes from when she was 4 years old

Clearly, I needed to update my database. I have three Franciscan Sisters to thank for my re-education formation. All of them brought into my life through Spanish.

First came Sister Donna. While teaching at Central Lakes College, Sister Donna was recommended as a contact when I planned a field trip for students to the Long Prairie Mariachi Mass for the Virgen de Guadalupe service in December. She saw my timid group enter the church, swooped us over to the “good” seats for best view of the band and later, guided us to the potluck serving line in the basement. There were no casseroles that day. The aromas brought enchiladas, pozole and tamales to our plates, with tamarind juice to wash it down before the Tres Leches Cake for dessert. Food – the bridge between cultures!


Quilting is one of Sister Mary’s many talents

Sister Mary is my second personal friendship with a Franciscan. Since her time in class, she continued her Spanish studies and, in the auspice of her leadership role at the convent, continued the relationship with Latin America through a new mission in San Rafael and Saltillo, Mexico. We began to meet monthly at Little Fiesta. COVID put a two-year haitus on our lunches, so this day was a celebration of reconnecting over refrieds and rice.

“Oh, dear, how long has it been?” Mary queried.

“Too, long,” I sighed, plunking myself down across from her.

Long ago, Mary explained to me that the “Mother Superior” of the Franciscan tradition consisted in a five-year leadership role, thus calming my trepidations regarding her “rank”. These Sisters live in a community of dedicated women, each manifesting their personal gifts with the support of their faith and mutual mission. I fondly call them Wild Women. Their back stories include harboring Sanctuary refugees, filling water containers along the borderland deserts, traipsing through the Andes to work with the Aymara, for starters. . . what a treasure trove of unassuming activists. But, I digress. Today, Mary would dust off her talents as a psychologist!

“What’s up?” Mary looked at me with her face filled with compassionate concern. “I understand your trip to Mexico was unexpectedly elongated by three days!”

I immediately broke the promise I had made to self to leave all the angst of the previous months at home. The stress and frustrations flowed out before I even got my jacket off.

The waiter, with his pen poised over his pad, patiently waited for a pause in my rant. (What about that for alliteration?!)

He grinned when I ordered in Spanish. That felt good. When we accepted the steaming hot plates, Mary checked to make sure there wasn’t any cilantro. I stirred the melted cheese into my refried beans. It was her turn to talk.

“After a lifetime of searching for my family’s roots, a cousin recently took a DNA test. Miracle of miracles, I had taken one, too.  He found me and invited my sisters and me to Germany. We were greeted like long-lost family – which we were! He took us through villages, to the church where my grandfather was baptized, to family houses! Imagine the timing to have this come together, starting with the DNA test! The mystery of my family name was solved. Incredible!”

“Ah, Mary,” I shook my head. “What miracles have brought us to this table?”

“Do you ever think about the events that brought us together? The choices to pursue our connections instead of walking away? Think of the people in our lives because we continued!” I looked over and saw the sparkle in her eyes.

“Because of Sister Donna, I am writing to Ana, a Cuban woman on death row in Florida. How do you whine to a prisoner about being stranded in Mexico in a lovely hotel?” I asked. “How do I write about the upcoming Christmas brunches and special theater productions to a woman locked up for thirty-five years? Ana buys her own toilet paper from the meager wages they pay her for mowing! She has faith that one day she will have justice and be freed.”

Sister Adela, at age 93, still actively interacts with Spanish speaking immigrants

“Then, there is Sister Adela,” I continued, “She spent three days in the hospital last week. Dehydration and dizziness. She used to email me back in the 1980s about immigrants!”

Sister Adela, longtime friend of Donna, is now one of the last of that generation. Her stories include working in the Altiplano of Peru, travels to China, her stint on the Mexican border and working for “traveling peoples” – gypsies, circus workers and race car drivers – all fascinating tidbits of her life, now invisible inside this amazing woman in a wheelchair.

Now it was Mary’s turn to sigh. “Yes, when I go to the convent now, I have a lot of friends in the cemetery. It is sad to know those great conversations are ended. As the Sisters age out, we are making monumental shifts for the future. Thankfully, we have funds put aside for the San Rafael and Saltillo missions.”  We exchanged a grateful smile.

It was time to leave. Traditionally, we close our lunches by drawing an angel card. Yes, angel cards and a thought for the road.

“This morning,” Mary shared, “I drew the card to listen.” She grinned.

“Well, you certainly got to do a lot of listening to me today! You are a gift!”

“Your turn,” she said pushing the box of cards across the table. I held the deck to my heart and took a deep breath, then released the tension, sorrow, the intensity of the months. Concentrating on gratitude, I spread the cards on the table, let my hand hover and then drew: 


Our eyes widened as we both let out a mini-indoor YELP!  Yes, it is the season of MIRACLES. 

Stepping outside, we hugged a farewell, promising to notice the Miracles.

    The first one we counted was our friendship.

By the way: I confess that my first hope for a miracle was to have DELTA reimburse me the $1,926 (yes, that much) for the one-way ticket home, but that seemed less lofty than something like friendship! I was, I must say, just grateful to be home.

Yet, three days after drawing this Miracle card, Karen, my travel agent, obtained a total refund. Glory be. I’m counting that as another miracle and Karen as one of the angels!

A parting thought… 

Notice a mini-miracle? From a snowflake, to babies, to clean bedrooms, to how you came to this day! Take a moment to share your miracle comment here, so we can go into the season, focusing on miracles and spreading their joy!