When Carmen Cruz first heard about her sister leaving the family to become part of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur’s Western Region, she said she “flipped out.” 

Not because she didn’t want Sister Yolanda Cruz to pursue her faith as a Catholic but because Carmen would miss the big sister who had a large impact on her childhood.

“I have to say it was very hard for me, because I was very attached to her. She practically raised me,” Carmen said, “and she kept saying, ‘You just have to meet them, you just have to meet them’ — and then I met them.” 

After meeting Yolanda’s sisters in faith, Carmen’s worries subsided. She became fascinated with the stories about the religious order’s missionary work and started to befriend other sisters in the order, Carmen said. She moved from New Jersey to Fort Worth in 2020 to support Yolanda’s religious life by attending prayers and vigils together. 

Carmen and Yolanda recounted their memories and shared the impact the congregation had on their relationship as they celebrated the order’s 150 years of service in Texas. Over 300 people attended the service at Nolan Catholic High School’s gymnasium Nov. 12. 

“I adore them. They’re home to me. I literally bought my house to be with them,” Carmen said. “Every chance I get, I’m there.” 

The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur is a Catholic religious order founded in Belgium in 1819, according to the order’s website. The order came to the United States in 1863 and the western province of the Sisters of St. Mary was established in 1921. 

The sisters are known for founding or co-founding schools throughout Central and North Texas, including Nolan Catholic High School. In the 1950s, the order also founded Our Lady of Victory Elementary School, Fort Worth’s first fully integrated school, public or private. 

Sister Patricia Ridgley serves on the regional leadership team for the congregation and provided the welcome and history of the order during the celebration. In addition to saluting the sisters’ local impact, Ridgley spoke about their previous missionary work overseas. 

In the past, sisters like Yolanda would travel to countries such as Brazil to build schools and care for the sick. Now, sisters who are based in those countries staff the schools, clinics and pastoral services, according to the order’s website.

“Perhaps some of you have had occasion to meet our sisters visiting from Europe or Africa or Brazil. So even though we’re firmly rooted in Texas, we are also a part of a larger group. And those, that larger group, helps us to have deeper and longer roots,” Ridgley said. 

Nolan Catholic High School’s gym walls were decorated with pictures of the sisters throughout history and the schools the congregation founded or co-founded in Texas. After the event, Carmen and Yolanda joined other attendees to look at the photos and share memories about the order. 

“I’m just really proud of my sister and what she has accomplished and all that she has done,” Carmen Cruz said, “and I’m grateful that through her I’ve got this amazing extended family.” 

Marissa Geene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter @marissaygreene. 

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Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member and covers faith in Tarrant County for the Fort Worth Report. Greene got her start in journalism at Austin Community College, where she spearheaded the...