Sister Esther Velasquez
While her sisters keep the traditional Divine Office back at home in Cottonwood, Sister Esther has created a rhythm of prayer that nourishes her life on mission in Spokane. She begins the day with scripture and sometimes a meditation on a saint, then attends 8 a.m. Mass at St. Aloysius Church on the Gonzaga University campus or noon mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral.
Throughout the day she finds many opportunities for meditation. She even considers her part-time work as a caregiver to a 95-year-old woman with dementia as a kind of prayer. “We search for the conversations that will bring her to the present.”
Sister Esther was selected for the work because of her calm demeanor. Through her interactions with assisted living residents as well as the people she has encountered in volunteer work at the food bank, her former parish of Our Lady of Fatima, and her recent work at St. Joseph Family Center, Sister Esther frequently hears that she radiates peace.
It is a peace that she credits to some very difficult times. “I am in my resurrection time,” she smiles, “after coming through a crucifixion time.” She is referring to a physical and mental breakdown that led to a diagnosis of clinical depression in 1985. Even more, she is referring to the struggle to live with depression amidst members of her own monastic community who did not yet understand mental illness. “With depression and experiencing extreme rejection, I’ve learned a lot,” she says, “and I’ve come back to a peaceful place.”
Her experience gives her a deep compassion for the homeless, who are often suffering from untreated mental illness. She also has a keen understanding of the near-homelessness of the elderly, disabled, addicted, and even herself. In all of her work she has sought to serve by “being there and loving them.” Her ministries have also been inspired by values of Benedictine hospitality and the constant call to prayer. “Being Benedictine has taught me how to pray all the time.”
Sister Esther has journeyed to wellness with the help of good therapists and doctors, friends that have included the Holy Names sisters in Spokane and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia as well as sisters in her own St. Gertrude’s community. She is active in three parish communities throughout the city and loves all the spiritual enrichment opportunities Spokane offers.
She was born in Gooding, Idaho, the fifth of seven children. “My parents were very oriented to service and community; they were wonderful role models.” After the family moved to Rupert when she was in sixth grade, Esther encountered the sisters of St. Gertrude’s during her catechism classes. “They made learning fun,” recalls Sister Esther. She wanted to enter St. Gertrude’s as a teenager but her father said no, allowing her to take more time to experience more of her life before making such a big decision. Soon after graduation the call returned. She was professed on August 6, 1966, at the age of 20. She celebrated her Golden Jubilee last year.
“I am excited and relieved I made it,” she smiles. “I know more about what I am committing to than I did 50 years ago. Despite the challenges of monastic life, I am still willing to renew and keep going and serve the Lord with all my being. Whatever happens in the future, God is with me.”