Denniston recalls Sister Sara Marie sharing her southwestern cooking skills, and her hospitality, with everyone.
“I recall that she invited an old man who had no family to join us at the convent for Thanksgiving dinner,” Denniston said. “The old man was so grateful that he brought a bottle of homemade dandelion wine as a gift. It pretty much tasted like diesel fuel. But Sara Marie, in her diplomatic and hospitable manner, said, ‘This wine is so special that we’ll save the rest of the bottle for future special occasions.’”
Sister Mary Angela Matthews lived with Sister Sara Marie in Marion County, and recalled her fondness for watching westerns on TV.
“It wasn’t until I got to New Mexico that I understood, all the scenery was like being home to her,” Sister Mary Angela said. “She used to say, ‘The skies are bluer in New Mexico,’ and I’d say, ‘Oh, blue is blue.’ After I got out there, I had to retract that.”
Back to New Mexico
Sister Sara Marie was advised to take a break from teaching special education every five years, so in 1972, she spent a year teaching second grade at Sacred Heart School in Farmington. “It was great to be back in New Mexico, I got to see my parents,” she said. “Sister Michael Ann (Monaghan) taught first grade. We liked to walk in the snow to go to the library. She was a really good teacher.”
She returned to Marion County in 1973, this time at the junior high school for three years, and the high school for her last year. The high school environment was not to her liking, so in 1977, she returned to New Mexico in the small community of San Fidel, about a half hour west of Albuquerque, where she was reunited with Sister Michael Ann.
“We were a great team,” Sister Michael Ann said. They were told to work out which one would be the principal in San Fidel. “Instead, we taught as a team,” Sister Michael Ann said. “I was principal in name, but she did the music.
“She’s very supporting and generous with her time,” Sister Michael Ann said. “She had a great rapport with the students and parents.”
Sister Sara Marie enjoyed everything about her time in San Fidel. “It was three hours away from my parents, but my mom visited me a lot,” she said. She taught Native American children from Laguna and Acoma pueblos, Hispanic students and a few whites.
In 1983, she volunteered to go where the need was greatest, and ended up at Mary Carrico School in the small community of Knottsville, just outside of Owensboro, Ky. Soon after, she began to have health problems, and took some time off. From 1984-89, she taught second grade at Cathedral School in Owensboro, then spent a year at Angela Merici School in Owensboro before deciding to leave the classroom and return to Aztec, N.M., as a pastoral minister at St. Joseph Parish.
“I was excited about it, the president of the parish board begged me to apply,” she said. “Sister Mary Edgar Warren and I were the first to come in that capacity.” She was director of religious education and in charge of music, and the two worked together for three years. Sister Mary Edgar’s parents were among the first Daviess County natives to move to “Kentucky Mesa” in New Mexico.
Sister Sara Marie returned to the classroom in 1997 at Sacred Heart School in Farmington, so she could be near her mother in Aztec, who was ill. “My brother asked me if I would stay with my mother,” she said. Lila Gomez died Nov. 3, 2002, but Sister Sara Marie remained in the family home as a companion for her father, Chris. He died Dec. 29, 2008.
Since 2002, she’s been in her current role at the two churches. She says the Rosary with young children through high school students at the beginning of CCD class.
“The priests said it was hard to give penance because some kids don’t know the prayers,” she said.
Sister Michele, now congregational leader for the Ursuline Sisters, is proud of the woman her friend has become.
“Sara Marie has developed her leadership skills and seems fearless in running her parish programs the way they ought to be run,” Sister Michele said. “She’s an excellent teacher, with good discipline in the classroom. She’s compassionate, hospitable, and so generous that she apologizes if she comes to see you and does not have a gift. And everyone who comes to Sara’s house can depend on being well fed; she is famous for her sopapillas, biscochitos, and dried fruit pies, not to mention her chili.”
The nearest Ursuline Sister to her is more than two hours away, but Sister Sara Marie at times visits with Sister Ana Lopez, OSF, a Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate Conception, who along with two other Franciscan sisters live near Sacred Heart in Farmington.
In her spare time, Sister Sara Marie likes to watch “CSI,” mysteries, and play cards. She’s happy she followed through on her childhood plan to become a sister.
“I think it’s marvelous how God works with you,” she said. “It’s been 47 years, I don’t know where the time has gone.”
By Dan Heckel