Interview on March 16, 2023 with Sister Joanna, who is studying child development, outside the Campus Services building at Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar.
Do you consider yourself religious?
Sr. Joanna: Yes. It’s a challenge, nowadays, to stand for your faith and for what you believe in so you don’t get carried away by what the world has to offer. But for me, being a sister has been a true blessing. It has also been a challenge to face my faith and to embrace it and to share with others that it is possible to live with God and to live in the world. Even sisters go to college. It’s possible to get your dreams done, even when you have God in it.
Why is your community sending you to college?
Sr. Joanna: We are in the world, so we have to get prepared to be able to teach. I’m going for child development, because that’s what I’m going to become, a teacher. In order to be that, I have to learn everything that the world has to offer, like curriculums. In order for us to be a part of the apostolate and give a better service, we have to have an education to help the children. It’s also required by the law for us to have our credits. You have to have a teaching credential.
Have your fellow students asked you about your faith?
Sr. Joanna: Oh, yeah, definitely. I have a lot of people come to me, “Oh, I didn’t know sisters come to school. I thought you guys just pray.” I’m like, “No, because there are two different things. I’m a sister, I’m not a nun.” A nun is usually in a cloister. They’re just in their convent and they don’t come out. A religious sister is an active sister. In my case, I’m an active religious sister, so I come out. So I do have a lot of students who are so surprised to see me. Even now, I walk around and students ask for a blessing. Some of them don’t even know who I am or why I’m dressed like this. Some do, some don’t. It’s been a nice experience, because I’m able to preach my faith freely and I’m not ashamed of it. And at least that little “good morning” or “God bless you” makes a difference even if they don’t see it, it makes a difference in somebody’s life.
If a student were to ask you who Jesus is, what would you say?
Sr. Joanna: That’s a little bit of a trick question, but I would say He’s our Redeemer, our Savior. Some of the students don’t believe because they grew up without the faith. So for them, Jesus would be just another character, part of history. But for us, as believers, for me, in my case, Jesus is my Savior. He’s my Redeemer. He’s the Person I look up to every morning, the Person that motivates me to be a better person and I know that my salvation is placed in His hands.
Why do you believe in God?
Sr. Joanna: It’s not just because I grew up in a Catholic family. Growing up and making my own decisions, believing in God means believing in something beyond, believing in the Person Who created me, believing in the Person Who invites me to be a better person. Believing in God is my everything. Who created us? We think we come from monkeys, but Who created them? Believing in God means believing in the Person Who created you and Who loves you no matter what and regardless of what you have done. That’s why I believe in God. Because He’s a Person Who doesn’t judge me, Who has always been there for me whenever everybody has not been there. That’s why I believe in God, in my Redeemer.
How do you explain to a student that some things are sins and how to determine what’s right and wrong?
Sr. Joanna: We all grew up with it. Since we were little, our parents were like, “Don’t do that. Yeah, this is good for you. Eat this. Don’t eat that.” We all grew up with right and wrong. So when a person asks me, “Why should I think I committed a sin?” Or, “Why should I go to confession? If it’s a priest there, he commits sins.” If you did something wrong and you think about it, and you know you have that little something in my heart, then you did wrong, you did sin. Sin doesn’t give you peace. You know deep in your heart that you did wrong. Sin takes away that relationship that you have with God. And sin makes you feel like the worst person on earth.
So I usually tell the youth, when you feel like you committed sin and you’re not sure that you did, just reflect, how does it make you feel right now? Something that you did wrong, maybe talk back to your mom, yell at them, steal something, maybe having sex without protection, whatever. How does it make you feel? The only Person Who can actually give you freedom is God. So even if you don’t believe in Him, when you do something right, you feel free. You feel like your conscience is ok.
How do you explain the Church’s teaching on sex outside of marriage to your fellow students?
Sr. Joanna: I believe that there’s a big commotion in all of that matter because our teenagers usually get together and don’t get married or they choose to become a different sex. We get the constant wrong of the Church because of the ignorance of certain people, even my own Catholic people. We are sometimes ignorant of the way we have to embrace. Jesus accepts everyone. Jesus said, “I came for the sinner.” And if that person is having relationships out of marriage, who are we to judge them? No, we have to encourage them to get married. We have to encourage them and understand the situation they’re living in. We have to teach them instead of judging them. We have to teach them the respect of their own bodies, to love themselves.
The key point here is love. If you love yourself, you’re going to respect your body. We always get the constant wrong, that the Church doesn’t agree with it, the Church condemned it, the Church thinks they’re sinners. No. God is merciful. We are His beloved children. And if our teenagers right now are doing all this sex and everything, the first thing we have to give them is love, instead of pointing fingers. And the Church does that. We just get it wrong. If you have love, you’re going to wait. We have to love them, not judge them, regardless of whether they’re having sex with another boyfriend, if they’re having sex with the same sex. Who are we to judge them? Jesus came for the sinner. He came for the sick.
What made you decide to become a sister?
Sr. Joanna: I grew up and my family didn’t go to church. Some of my family have different sexual orientations, like same-sex, whatever. But I grew up getting my sacraments as a Latino person. You must. It’s part of the tradition of the culture of Hispanic people. That was my case. Growing up, I felt the calling deeply, I felt my relationship with God deeply. Getting into high school, it was a totally different story. When I was a little girl, I thought I wanted to serve God, but in high school, I had my boyfriend, I was having fun. But then I went to a vocational retreat and I felt God’s calling very deep. I was planning on getting married. I already had the day and everything. I was already engaged. When I left my vocational retreat, I knew, “Ok, it’s not marriage. Who am I lying to?” I left my retreat and I entered the community that led the retreat, which was Missionary Servants of the Word. I was with them for two years. I felt my calling deeper and deeper. That’s when I met the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, where I am now. I’ve been a sister for five years. I just professed this past October. I just did my first vows and I don’t regret a single moment.
Watch the short video of Sister Joanna.