Greetings, dear friends! Today I offer you this brief article in honor and remembrance of a great lady, a holy daughter of God, Sister Olvido Galiana Grijelmo, who fully dedicated herself to God as a consecrated member of the Conceptionist Mission Sisters of Education for some 65 years, mainly in California, until her death on January 2nd, 2021. This Congregation in the Roman Catholic Church, commonly called the (Missionary) Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in California, was founded in Spain on February 22nd, 1892, by Sister María del Carmen (Carmen de Jesus) Sallés y Barangueras (b. April 9, 1848 – d. July 25, 1911). She was canonized a saint in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21st, 2012. Through her holy work as the foundress, she inspired Sister Olvido to become a member of her Congregation.
As such, here I want to briefly talk about the work of this holy foundress, Sister María del Carmen. After all, by her work, she would inform and influence Sister Olvido’s decision to join her Congregation. Sister Maria herself was a Dominican, a Sister of the Order of Preachers, in Spain. After being formed and educated spiritually and academically in the Dominican Congregation of the Annunciation to teach children and adolescents, she remained in the Congregation for about 20 years. During those years, as a Dominican, she witnessed firsthand the many social and moral problems that had developed in her day among children and adolescents, especially among girls of poor and working-class parents, who did not have the financial means or adequate public resources available to them in their society to help them, including education and childcare. Consequently, these parents would leave their sons and daughters unsupervised. Under these circumstances, they would walk the streets either alone or in small groups. Sister María del Carmen was primarily concerned about the problems that had developed among the girls due to the absence of such parental supervision and education. These problems for them included illiteracy, intellectual malformation, gender discrimination, alcohol abuse, rape, fornication and prostitution. They would begin during their childhood and continue during their adolescence and young adulthood.
For this reason, Sister María del Carmen eventually approached her Dominican Superiors, asking them for permission to establish a female Dominican congregation or apostolate that would be dedicated to the formation and education of girls, adolescent females and young women suffering from the problems just mentioned. She certainly had no intention of leaving the Order of Preachers or of founding a non-Dominican congregation, but after her Dominican Superiors denied her request, she and three of her Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation left the Order in 1892 to establish a congregation that would be similar to the Dominicans. As a result, they founded this congregation on the Dominican virtues of study (through faith and reason), contemplation and action, and teaching, but their apostolate would be especially dedicated to forming and educating young females intellectually, spiritually and morally. Moreover, this congregation would also be established under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Dominicans. In fact, in their love for St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, including the Dominican family, Sister María del Carmen and her Sisters originally named their congregation after St. Dominic himself. They called this congregation the Conceptionists of St. Dominic, but this name would not last. I imagine the Dominican authorities in Spain and Rome objected to this name after Sister María del Carmen and her Sisters formally left the Order of Preachers. In any case, they finally named their Congregation the Conceptionist Mission Sisters of Education. Their apostolate eventually developed to include the formation and education of boys and male adolescents. Through such ministry, they saved many children, adolescents and young adults from the social and moral problems of the day. On this basis, from the beginning, Sister María del Carmen and her Sisters founded this congregation to teach the youth to live virtuously as a holy people.
The holy work of Sister María and her Sisters in founding a teaching congregation, modeled after the Order of Preachers, for the formation and education of young people reveals the virtues that Sister Olvido desired for herself in a congregation of Sisters. First of all, in fidelity to her congregation, she loved the youth. The love she had for them in her heart inspired her to dedicate herself to them by being a model of holy virtue for them as a Sister. This was the same loving dedication that the foundress, Sister María del Carmen, had for the youth. Secondly, Sister Olvido practiced her love for children and adolescents by teaching them to be the holy people God created and redeemed them to be. In doing so, she formed them spiritually, intellectually and morally in fidelity to Sister María’s mission for the congregation. Finally, Sister Olvido’s decision to join a Marian congregation of Sisters reveals her love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Sister Olvido, including Sister María del Carmen, Catholics honor the Immaculate Mother of God by loving her as Christ loves her. This is a Marian love that Sister Olvido communicated to her students, throughout her life, as a daughter of Mary. On this basis, these three virtues would be the primary criteria that Sister Olvido would use in forming a prudential judgment to become a Missionary Sister of the Immaculate Conception.
Sister Olvido’s story begins in Northern Spain. She was born on April 22nd, 1938, in the small municipality of Ciadoncha in the Province of Burgos in the region of Castille and León. Her parents, Irenaeus and Elisha, in their love for God, for each other and for their four children, faithfully raised them as Roman Catholics. In their fidelity, they also supported them as farm laborers. Sister Olvido was the third oldest of the four children her parents had. She had a great love for them all, especially for her sister. They had such a loving relationship. Unfortunately, they lost their mother, Elisha, during childhood. As a result, they certainly suffered much because of her death, but in their suffering God would providentially bless and console them, especially through the holy vocation that Sister Olvido would receive from God. Indeed, by the grace of God, she would become a spiritual mother to them all in God’s providence.
As a young girl of 12 years of age, Sister Olvido, accompanied by her father, Irenaeus, visited the convent of the school of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Burgos, Spain, telling them: “I want to be a nun.” She certainly had already learned about them. In a sense, only after suffering the death of her mother at such a young age, did God help her understand that she could only fulfill the happiness she desired in her heart by a life of holiness as a Sister.
In God’s providence, He calls the members of His Body, the Church, to fulfill their call to happiness through various holy vocations in the Church. Indeed, He calls some Church members to the single life, others to Marriage and still others to religious life, consecrated virginity and Holy Orders. In fact, by calling them to these various vocations in the Church, God calls them to be holy as He is holy. In Scripture, hagiazo means to “sanctify” and hagio means “holy” or “sacred.” In this sense, by saying yes to God’s call to holiness, people are made holy or sacred in their vocations, beginning in Baptism, by the grace of God’s Holy One, Jesus Christ. In this sanctification, they are set apart from the profane to live their life for God in Christ Jesus. For this reason, they are called hagioi, or saints (holy ones). In Scripture and Tradition, this life of holiness alone will lead the members of the Church to the perfect happiness in Heaven they desire in their hearts. This is a desire for sainthood. In the case of Sister Olvido, God providentially called her to be set apart, to become a saint, a holy woman of God, through her holy desire to be a nun as a Missionary Sister of the Immaculate Conception. For this reason, she was certainly inspired by God as a young girl to fully offer herself to Him by telling the Sisters that she wanted to become a nun in their Congregation.
After witnessing Sister Olvido’s authenticity, her authentic desire for religious life, as a fruit of God’s grace at work in her, the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception readily accepted her at the school convent in Burgos as an aspirant on November 21st, 1950. This aspirancy was the first stage in her formation as a Sister. Yes, in a sense, she left all her family members behind, but she was never really alone. They all accompanied her in spirit, through the love they had for her, including her father, her brothers, her sister and especially her deceased mother. As she began this life as an aspirant, she believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary, her Immaculate Mother and Teacher in Heaven, was providentially guiding and forming her in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to be the religious Sister God created and redeemed her to be. Accordingly, from an early age she fully consecrated herself to Christ, through Blessed Mary, and remained faithful to that consecration throughout her vocation. After completing this first phase of her formation as an aspirant, she entered the postulancy in Marcilla, Spain on September 13th, 1954. This lasted 6 months until March 14th, 1955. The day after, on March 15th, she began her novitiate in Marcilla, and a year later, she made her first profession on March 16th, 1956. In this act, she professed her temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for 6 years as a Sister of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. During those 6 years, she studied in Segovia, Spain for her education in Teaching. Later, in Madrid, the capital of Spain, she completed her studies in Singing and Piano. At the end of this initial formation, Sister Olvido finally made her perpetual profession in Madrid on September 20th, 1961. In this act of profession, she consecrated herself perpetually to Christ, through the Virgin Mary, by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for life as a Missionary Sister of the Immaculate Conception.
As a Missionary Sister, she had to be prepared to leave Spain for a foreign country if she ever received such an assignment from her Superiors. As a result, only a month and a half after Sister Olvido made her perpetual profession in Madrid as a young member of her congregation, only 24 years old, her Superiors assigned her to California on November 3rd, 1961. She arrived in early 1962. After moving to California, she enrolled as a student of Fresno State University and graduated in Education, obtaining her credentials in Teaching and a Master’s degree in Psychology. This education would prepare her to teach children and adolescents in California for years. She would remain in California for 53 years and 8 months until she finally returned to Spain in June of 2016 at the age of 81. During those years, Sister Olvido lived in all four convents that her Congregation had in Central and Northern California. As a Sister, she faithfully and joyfully fulfilled all the virtues of this conventual religious life daily, including praying the Liturgy of the Hours in common, participating in the conventual Mass, loving her Sisters as herself in the communion of consecrated friendship; practicing chaste celibacy, poverty and obedience; and discharging prudently and charitably her canonical assignments as Secretary and Mother Superior in her Congregation’s convents for many years.
These four convents, located in Firebaugh, Madera, Clovis and San Francisco, all had Catholic schools. Throughout her teaching profession, Sister Olvido educated her students in these schools to be mature as disciples of Christ. Indeed, as a teacher, she had a desire for them to develop to full maturity in their discipleship through a life of holiness. In Catholic Tradition, such a holy life for people includes their natural and supernatural maturation in Christ through the grace of God. In this sense, by her teaching ministry, Sister Olvido’s students matured naturally and supernaturally as holy sons and daughter of God in their Christian discipleship. For this reason, in no time, she defined herself as a gifted and dedicated teacher who fully prepared herself for her classes every day in her desire to offer her students a great education that would hopefully form them in holiness by God’s grace. On the one hand, this education in holiness that she offered them involved teaching them to use natural reason in their study of the secular subjects she taught them, such as science, math, music, art, English and Spanish. As such, through her teaching, her students learned to mature naturally as rational persons. On the other hand, for Sister Olvido, teaching her students to be holy also involved forming them to use the theological virtue of faith in their study of the religious subjects she offered them, particularly Catholic faith and morals in Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium. This included teaching them about the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and the Sacraments. Moreover, in the great love that Sister developed for the Virgin Mary, throughout her life from childhood, she regularly communicated Marian doctrine to her students by her Marian piety. In doing so, she planted seeds in them that would develop in their hearts to help form them as holy sons and daughters of the Virgin Mary. Similarly, she also educated her students about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist by her Eucharistic piety in Mass and Adoration. Here she communicated to them her First and Greatest Love, Jesus Christ. Accordingly, through Sister’s teaching ministry in class and in her piety, her students learned to mature supernaturally as a holy people of faith by the grace of God. They learned from her that just as grace perfects nature in general, faith perfects reason in particular. In fact, as she formed them in holiness intellectually, by teaching them to use reason and faith in their studies, she also formed them morally as a people of virtue. After all, in Catholic Teaching, reason and faith in the human intellect inform the moral actions of the human will, particularly the actions to love God and neighbor. As a teacher, especially as a religious woman of faith and reason, fully dedicated to God, Sister Olvido loved God as her Greatest Good and her neighbors as herself, especially her students, including their parents and families. As a result, she made many friends in Firebaugh, Madera, Clovis and San Francisco during her nearly 54 years in Central and Northern California. They all loved her in life, and will certainly love her forever. On this basis, throughout all her years in California, Sister Olvido fulfilled her sacred ministry in education by teaching her students in the classroom, but she also became a teacher to all people in secular society, especially in the Church, through her holy life of virtue.
During Sister Olvido’s later years in California, including her last four and a half years in Spain, after returning in June of 2016, she suffered from poor health and eye problems. As difficult as this was for her, she spent her last months peacefully in the community of las Rozas, Madrid, offering her gratitude to God for the grace to be all the more dedicated to Him, especially in prayer, during her suffering. As her poor health continued to decline, she became bedridden to end a difficult year of 2020. Consequently, she was eventually moved to a hospital in Madrid, but after only 2 days there, God called her to Himself. She died on January 2nd, 2021, the first Saturday of the year.
As I recall the holy life of Sister Olvido, including her many years in California, I thank God for having her as a childhood teacher at St. Joseph School in Firebaugh from the late 70s to the early 80s. True, I never had her as my homeroom teacher, but she did teach me music through the first quarter of my 5th grade year. During those 5 years, besides Sister Olvido, I also had Sister Cruz, Sister Gloria and Sister Margarita as teachers. Sister Carmen and Sister Paulina also lived in the convent at St. Joseph School. They all certainly had received the gift of teaching from God. This was a gift they developed and perfected by their university education and their years of teaching in California. All the same, as gifted and prepared as they all were as teachers, I still had a difficult time learning from them. This, of course, was not their fault. They did not fail me in their teaching ministry. I failed myself as a student. I failed them. I alone was at fault here. I neither studied nor did I behave in class. I had no desire for school. I had no desire at all to use reason or faith to study and learn about secular and religious subjects academically. Consequently, having no desire for school, I behaved badly as a student. Indeed, I often verbally abused and disobeyed my teachers in class, especially Sister Gloria, Sister Cruz and Sister Margarita, but not Sister Olvido. As bad as I normally was in class, I never acted badly in Sister Olvido’s class. Of all my teachers at St. Joseph School, she alone inspired me to be good in class, not academically by her teaching, but personally or spiritually by her particular virtues, especially her piety. As such, I, at least, behaved in her class as a student.
In this sense, as bad as I generally was as a student, during those childhood years, I was certainly not a bad person. For all my difficulties, Sister Olvido still believed in me as a son of God. She still believed that God’s goodness was at work in me through the love I had for God, for Blessed Mary and for the people of God. I participated in Holy Mass every Sunday, prayed regularly and loved helping others, especially the poor. In fact, I first remember God calling me to be a priest at the age of 7 in 1978. I was in the first grade at St. Joseph School. Sister Gloria was my teacher that year. One day, after my father, a drug addict, had finally left my mother and my family and I for good, I heard some people (acquaintances in the neighborhood, not family members or friends) gossiping about me, claiming that someday I would end up in drugs just as my father. They based this presumption on the failures I had as a student academically and behaviorally at St. Joseph School. As a child, who was only 7 years old, that was difficult for me to hear. He was still my dad. I was angry at him, but I loved him. Consequently, later that night, moved by the Holy Spirit in my suffering, I offered a prayer to God. As I recall, my prayer included my sorrow for sin and my desire to help my father by becoming a saint in Heaven someday: “Dear Jesus, I am sorry for my sins. I am sorry for all my failures in school. As sinful as I am, I have no desire to become a drug addict as my father, as some people claim. I offer myself to you, Lord. I only desire to become great someday as a saint in Heaven. Hopefully, I can then help my father. I have heard the Sisters, especially Sister Olvido, talk about the greatness of the saints, including the great works they did in this life. I hope and pray, Lord, you will help me become great in Heaven someday.” Right after I offered this prayer to Jesus in my suffering, He said to me: “Be a priest. You will fulfill your desire for greatness in Heaven someday through the priesthood.” On hearing this interiorly in my heart, I received the gift of tears from the Holy Spirit. True, as a child, I was underdeveloped academically. I had a difficult time learning from class lectures and by reading. Still, does this mean that I was neither gifted intellectually nor contemplatively? Certainly not. I often raised my mind to contemplate the greatness of God, Blessed Mary, the saints and the perfect happiness of Heaven, especially during times of suffering. Is this not what suffering often does to the man of faith? Certainly. In suffering, he often raises his mind prayerfully to God in contemplation, desiring for himself the greatness of God and God’s holy people in the perfect beatitude of Heaven. In fact, my childhood prayer here, as I later learned, was really an intellectual act of prayerful contemplation, including the Word I received from God intellectually. Shortly thereafter, still only 7 years old, I was inspired by God to ask my maternal grandmother to teach me to pray the Rosary of Our Lady. After the Eucharist, this Marian devotion would become my greatest spiritual practice. As a result, I began praying the Rosary regularly. For this reason, as bad as I was, behaviorally and academically, as a student of St. Joseph School, Sister Olvido was right. The goodness of God was at work in me through my Catholic faith. He was at work in me preparing me to be the man He created and redeemed me to be. He alone would have the last Word as to who I would become in life. He alone, in the end, would determine my vocation, not the gossip from people in the neighborhood.
At the same time, for all the good at work in me as a Roman Catholic, I failed the first grade and did not develop adequately in my academics through the fifth grade as the Sisters had hoped. I had not yet formed the desire or virtue to become a good student, especially not in a classroom. Consequently, during the fall of my fifth-grade year in 1982, after determining that I would continue having a difficult time behaving and learning in the milieu of a classroom at St. Joseph School, the principal, Sister Paulina, in her patience and mercy as a faithful daughter of God, recommended to my mother and grandmother the only alternative left for me at St. Joseph School: private lessons. She offered to teach me privately at the convent. My mother and grandmother certainly appreciated this offer from Sister Paulina, but after much prayer, they decided that they would enroll me in Firebaugh Junior High School. They hoped that the resources available in public school would eventually help me develop academically as a student. On my last day at St. Joseph School, all the Sisters, especially Sister Olvido, promised me they would pray for me. At the time, I believed their prayers, including the prayers of my mother and grandmother, and others, would someday help me fulfill the work that God had begun in me as a Roman Catholic, the work of becoming a priest.
In the providence of God, all the prayers offered for me by the people of God, including my prayers, would eventually lead me to the Order of Preachers, also called the Dominicans, to study for the religious priesthood. This is an Order in the Church founded by a Spanish priest, St. Dominic de Guzman (b. August 8, 1170 – d. August 6, 1221), some 800 years ago in 1216 in Southern France. As a man inspired by God, he determined that the mission of the Order, under the maternal patronage of Our Lady of the Rosary, would be the spiritual and intellectual formation and education of men as holy friars and priests to preach the Truth for the salvation of all people, particularly the Albigensians. In this plan, friars would discharge the ministry of preaching as university professors, researchers, authors, campus ministers and itinerant preachers.
In contemplating God’s will for me in a vocation, I developed three desires for particular virtues as criteria that helped me prudentially judge that the Order of Preachers was, in fact, the Order that God was calling me to join. First of all, I formed a holy desire in my heart for reading and studying Truth (Veritas). The Order of Preachers was the first Order in the Church to define and develop a program of study for friars at the universities to prepare them for the holy work of preaching the Truth. I wanted this Truth for myself as never before. Secondly, I developed a desire to become an itinerant mission preacher as a Dominican friar. The virtue of itinerant ministry, practiced by St. Dominic, was modeled after the itinerancy of Jesus as a traveling preacher. In the Gospel, Jesus moves from place to place in preaching the Truth of God’s Word to the people. This is my ministry as an itinerant preacher. Finally, I also joined the Order of Preachers because of the love I formed in my heart for Our Lady of the Rosary, through the years, by praying her Rosary from childhood. According to Tradition, St. Dominic was the first person in the Church to receive the Rosary in an apparition from Our Lady in a forest near Toulouse, France in the early 13th century. After learning this many years ago, I was moved to become a son of Our Lady of the Rosary, a Marian priest, in the Order of Preachers. I thank God that my mother and grandmother helped form this Marian piety in me from childhood. On this basis, my desire for Truth, my desire to be an itinerant preacher and my love for Blessed Mary helped form me in Christ to become a Dominican friar.
After my ordination in 2015, after many years of study in the Order of Preachers, I visited Sister Olvido at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Clovis, California. When she saw me as a Dominican friar for the first time, she joyfully offered her gratitude to God for completing the holy work He had begun in me years earlier. He was, indeed, at work in me from childhood, just as she said, purifying and preparing me for my vocation, through my suffering in Christ, as a son of God. After thanking God for my vocation in the Order of Preachers, she proceeded to tell me that even though I had many difficulties as a student of St. Joseph School, academically and behaviorally, she still believed that God was at work in me during those years. She said God had a plan for me, but this plan was only fulfilled because I said yes to Him, just as she did years ago as a Sister of the Immaculate Conception. In the providence of God, during the 37 years the Sisters worked at St. Joseph School, I was, by the mercy of God, only the second student ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood, after Tony Monreal, but the first friar of the Order of Preachers. I thank God for my vocation. I thank Him for mercifully healing my father in Christ. I thank Him for inspiring His people to mercifully offer prayers on my behalf in their love for me, especially the prayers of my family, my friends and all the Sisters, in particular Sister Olvido. Thank you, Sister! May you rest in the peace of Christ’s love!
In Christ with Blessed Mary,
Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.