From a very young age, Sister Dulce Maria felt very drawn to the Lord. Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, she was raised in a large traditional family with "Mom and Dad and six siblings," reports Sister Dulce.
She entered the order of the Mercedarian Sisters of Blessed Sacrament as a teenager. "I chose them for their joy and their love for the Blessed Sacrament. They were a teaching community. I loved their white habits and they were always so joyful and happy," recalls Sister. "The Lord showed me what it was like to live in a teaching community. As a young nun under the direction of my superior, Mother Noemi Ruiz, I had the privilege of working with truly exemplary Sisters most of whom later became superiors."
Sister Dulce earned a bachelor's, master's and a doctorate in education and administration. She did extensive studies in psychology and at one time thought that she might want to focus in that field, but opted for teaching. While she joined the Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Corpus Christi, her first assignment was in the heart of the Mojave Desert. She fluently speaks English and Spanish, and at times the Lord has lifted other language barriers so that Sister can communicate effectively with those visiting from other countries.
Sister left the Mojave Desert for her next assignment which brought her to St. Leo's Mission in Solana Beach, California for a summer. A summer turned into five years. Although she had been a teacher and a principal, nothing prepared her for what she would face in the Mexican-American mission community in Solana Beach. Sister remembers initially being unhappy. "I didn't like it. I didn't want to go. I just wanted to be a teacher. But in my prayer life, the Lord was telling me, 'This is where I want you to come.'"
Her Mission in Solana Beach
She soon learned that the Lord had plans for her. What she found in Solana Beach was a small town with tremendous needs. She got permission to stay there and began with a zero budget. Sister Dulce became an associate pastoral assistant and the priest, who was administering two parishes, told her 'make up your own budget – you are on your own.'
Besides preparing the residents for receiving the Sacraments, Sister also translated for the residents. "People there had very little food or clothing, no work, and some had no place to stay. In some cases, there were as many as eight families staying in one place. At times, women had been assaulted or raped while crossing the border," recalls Sister. "I found jobs, hospitals, doctors, apartments and made sure they had clothes and shelter," she shared. She also remembers, "The immigration officers and police were very nice to all the people, but there was a language barrier. There was a great need for us to continue and celebrate the Spanish culture." So, knowing the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Spanish people, Sister along with the people, made a nine-day novena with the special intention of opening a social center.
Through Sister's efforts and her concern for God's people, she was also able to help establish a clinic fully-staffed with doctors and nurses. Everything was getting organized. "Girls could go there for prenatal care; we found free food, clothing and shelter for the needy; we were allowed to use the parish's thrift store, where the people could go and get free clothing; and, this clinic was open to all of God's people, regardless of the faith they practiced" Sister explained.
St. Leo's Mission provided for the basic spiritual, physical and culture needs of the people. "We would even have a dance every now and then. Even though we had a few drug addicts hanging out, the people were helped. They said, 'We have a mother among us.'"
During the five years she was at St. Leo's, Sister said she put herself on the back burner. She would just work all the time sometimes going three days without sleep. "But God sustained me. When I got my gift, I was exhausted. I needed to rest a while. A vision sounds pretentious, but what really happened was while praying, I felt a tremendous pain. The Lord asked me 'What is wrong.' I said 'I am in terrible pain.' The Lord said, 'Show me your hands' and when I did my hands were transparent like glass and inside my hands were His hands, wounds and all. Then He told me 'Put your hands where it hurts.' When I placed my hands on the pain, it completely disappeared and I woke up. I thought I had been dreaming, but I realized now that it was a vision through which I received the invisible stigmata," Sister shared.
Sister Dulce did not want to initially accept the Lord's call. She felt that she didn't have time for this. She still had a mission to run. But the Lord's hands guided her. His hands and His wounds are in her hands. The Lord taught her little by little and she began to use her hands and prayers to help His people.
Sister is quick to emphasize that she doesn't like to be called a healer. "It is the Lord who is the healer. He has to be in the forefront. It's God's hands bringing His merciful love to others. I don't look into a crystal ball, but it is the Lord who sees pain. I'm being used as the instrument of God. It's like I'm able to see with my hands," she clarifies.
Her Baton Rouge Ministry
So how did Sister Dulce find her way to Baton Rouge? As she so frequently prays before the Blessed Sacrament, one day the Lord told her to trust and pray, wait and pray, and that He would send her a priest after His own heart. They had closed the school down where she was teaching in Barstow, California and she was sent by her order to San Antonio, Texas to rest. 'You will see a priest and I will say this is the one,' the Lord told her. Many priests came and one day Father Jeff Bayhi, a Baton Rouge diocesan priest came to see Sister and she asked the Lord if this was the one and he said, 'Yes.'
The Mercedarian Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament do not usually allow one of their nuns to move to a place where there is no established house, but understanding and believing in her God given gifts, they gave Sister Dulce permission and, she claims, "the privilege" to come to Baton Rouge without the order.
Sister Dulce came to Baton Rouge in April 2001. In that period, she has prayed with thousands of patients who have carried physical struggles from cancer, to the emotional burdens of the terminally ill, to the need for spiritual well being.
"Mine is not a healing ministry as much as it is a prayer ministry. I usually spend two hours, from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. in prayer at the convent before the Blessed Sacrament. I pray for my patients and for the community. I pray for their healing. I pray for the priests, nuns, deacons, laity leaders and the unborn," says Sister. After a rigorous day seeing patients in her ministry, Sister spends many hours on the phone receiving calls and praying with people who are sick and dying from around the country and internationally, as well as from local cancer patients or terminally ill who are in pain.
When she's not in prayer, she relaxes with her two pugs – Georgie Annie Rafael and "Boss" Barnabas Michael. "My pugs are my comfort and my joy," she says with a smile. Sister is known for her sense of humor. "Sometimes people think of me as a fat, frumpy, little nun. But, I'm really a very simple uncomplicated person who brings God's mercy and love to others. He has decided He's going to use me to bring His mercy, love and power to people. He used a very simple vessel to do a great work. I work very hard to be a faithful servant of the Lord," shares Sister. "It's through His grace and power that I accomplish what I do. I have no gifts. The one gift I have is that I was chosen and given the privilege to bring His love and mercy to His people."
"The Lord said that I will bless Baton Rouge and through Baton Rouge will come the world," Sister says. She began her ministry in Baton Rouge at a home near LSU. As her Ministry grew, she graciously accepted room at St. Agnes Catholic Church in the school gym. She was and continues to be very grateful to Msgr. Robert Berggreen for affording her the opportunity to see more people in need by providing this much needed space for her to work. Today, by the grace of God and in thanksgiving to Him, Sister visits with the sick and dying and those seeking spiritual growth at the Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.