OLVM nun folllows heart -- and sisters

Sister Guadalupe "Lupita" Aguilar Huanca made her final vows as a member of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters on July 22.
Sister Guadalupe "Lupita" Aguilar Huanca made her final vows as a member of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters on July 22. Photo provided.

Originally published Aug. 6, 2009.

Guadalupe "Lupita" Aguilar Huanca followed her heart - and her sisters - to Huntington.

For the time being, she makes her home on the wooded grounds of Victory Noll, the home base of a religious order of women known as Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters.

Huanca became a full member of the congregation on July 22, making her final vows a decade after entering the congregation as a postulant.

That makes her somewhat of a rarity at Victory Noll, where new members are few and far between.

The congregation, founded in Huntington in 1922, now has 123 members, says Sister Beatrice Haines, president of OLVM's leadership team. About half of those members are involved in active ministry, and only 16 sisters are 70 or younger.

That brings up the question of the long-term outlook for the congregation, something the sisters themselves are grappling with.

"Of course, we ponder that a lot," Haines says. "In the last 10 years, we've had just a few enter. One reason is that women have many more options today, especially in the church."

Those options are varied, and many encompass the services OLVM was founded to provide.

"Our community was founded to minister in a personal, non-institutional way," Haines explains.

And that's what attracted Huanca to the community.
She met the OLVM sisters at their mission in Bolivia, in a parish Huanca became involved with at the invitation of her brother.

"I liked what they were doing," Huanca says. "They worked with people in the parish, with people in jail, with human rights."

Huanca was particularly impressed with the work of one sister and began accompanying her on her visits to local jails.

"A lot of people, they knew her," Huanca says. "She was a very strong sister, working for the rights of people."

Eventually, she discussed with one of the sisters the possibility of joining them.

"She said, take three months," Huanca recalls. "If you want to come back, this house is open. If you don't, come visit us any time you want."

Huanca did come back and continued on the course that led to her final vows on July 22.

One thing that convinced her to join the congregation, she says, was "the openness of the sisters, accepting me the way I am."

Huanca's experience, though, Haines says, is not typical of the current members of the congregation.

"Many of them never met a Victory Noll sister," she says. "They responded to an ad in Our Sunday Visitor (a national Catholic newspaper). They were attracted by the fact that we worked with the poor. That we weren't school teachers."

Haines herself grew up in Goshen and attended a parish where Victory Noll sisters worked.

"My older sister entered the community before I did," she says.

Now, Victory Noll has a Web site it uses for recruitment purposes as well as a sister, based in Phoenix, AZ, who is designated as a vocation minister.

Recruitment efforts, though, aren't hard sell.

"I don't think you talk them into it," Haines says. "We believe it's God who calls. Our part is to make ourselves known and to invite. It's what happens in the heart of the person."

Huanca says she answered that call of the heart.

"I know I said yes to the Lord definitely," she says about making her final vows. "I am very, very happy."

In the Bolivia mission - which closed in 2007 because of what Haines says was a shortage of sisters - Huanca worked in the religious education field with special needs youngsters. She also spent a year working with special needs children at an OLVM mission in Chicago, and she may continue that work.

"I hear how I feel," Huanca says. "I can do it outside, but I was not happy outside. Something was in my heart. I listened and I don't want to do this by myself. I want to do this with my sisters."

"A sister's ministry is related to her own gifts, her own talents, her own desires," Haines says. "In the past they were assigned; now it's a dialogue with the leadership."

For now, Huanca will take some classes at Huntington University and work on improving her fluency in English.

Huanca plans to return to Bolivia to visit, but probably not to work.

"Maybe in the future," she says. "Who knows?

"I'm going the same way my sisters were going when they were young," says Huanca. "I can do it."

OLVM members met recently for a "contemplative dialogue" to discuss the future of the organization.

The question, Haines says, is, "How can we continue to partner with others to make it possible to continue our mission?"

The sisters are looking at instituting an associate membership, whose members would share the congregation's mission while continuing to live in their own homes with spouses and children. Another new aspect of the sisters' ministry, the Victory Noll Center, is in its beginning stages.

"Numerically, most of us are here," Haines says, referring to the OLVM headquarters at Victory Noll. "The younger members, they see their ministry continuing out where they are.

"What is God asking of us? We still have a vitality. We still have something to give. We want to do it."