When Sister Sara Marie Gomez was a small child playing with neighborhood children near her grandparents’ home in Pagosa Springs, Colo., she mentioned that she would like to become a sister some day.
“The mother of the kids said, ‘I bet you $5 you don’t do it,’” Sister Sara Marie said. “I never did collect it.”
Fortunately for the many children and adults served by Sister Sara Marie the past 47 years, she did decide to become an Ursuline Sister.
“If you could send a couple more like her, we’d love it,” said Orla Lybrook, principal at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Farmington, N.M., where Sister Sara Marie still teaches part time.
“She’s always available to do anything we want,” Lybrook said. Sister Sara Marie teaches religion Monday-Thursday and substitutes when she can in the school of 120 students, pre-K to fifth grade.
“She does religion class, but she’s in all the classes so we can have more of a religious presence,” Lybrook said. “All the kids know who she is.”
Sister Sara Marie spreads herself between Farmington, in northwestern New Mexico nestled between the San Juan and LaPlata mountains; Aztec, 13 miles away, where she is director of religious education at St. Joseph Parish; and Flora Vista, where she coordinates music and plays the organ at Holy Trinity Church, which was once a swimming pool.
There are 70-75 families at Holy Trinity, with children there attending CCD religious education at St. Joseph. She has 155-160 students in CCD, from pre-school through high school. She is also the environmentalist for the church, the coordinator of music, and teaches a couple of high school seniors religion.
“She’s got one big fault – she can’t say ‘no’ to anyone who asks her to do something,” said Sister Mary Evelyn Duvall, who ministered in New Mexico from 1973 until her retirement in 2007. “She’s always so generous. She’s a very self-giving person, and will always be there to help out.”
Sister Sara Marie’s generosity comes up in any conversation about her.
“She’s the most hospitable person I know, no matter how involved she is in her ministry or her family life,” said her longtime friend, Sister Vivian Bowles. “She’s at home with her Spanish culture, the Native American culture, and our Kentucky culture.”
Both her family and the people she ministers to are especially important to Sister Sara Marie, Sister Vivian said. “If you go to visit her, you meet all her aunts and cousins,” she said. “You’ll also stop by the church to listen to someone who knows only Sara can solve her problem, and you may visit a family in the hospital.”
Though born just across the Colorado border, Sister Sara Marie considers herself a New Mexico native, and is glad to be ministering to the people there.
“I like the multiculture of New Mexico, the traditions, the languages,” she said. “I have friends among the Navajo, Laguna, and Acoma. I’m related to so many people here.”
What Kentucky doesn’t know
Sister Sara Marie was born Maria Evelyn Gomez, the oldest of five children to Lila and Chris Gomez, who were homesteaders in Gobernador, N.M.
“My dad and his brothers and sisters went to school with the Ursuline Sisters at Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow,” the academy the sisters founded not far from Farmington. “I was used to seeing Ursuline Sisters, they’d come to our fiestas,” Sister Sara Marie said. “They weren’t supposed to, but what Kentucky doesn’t know won’t hurt them.”
She grew up “out in the boonies,” listening to “The Cisco Kid” and “Dragnet” on the radio, she said. “We used to play on the canyon rocks. My family raised sheep when I was born.”