Two Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity celebrate anniversaries

Denver Catholic Staff

This year, the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity (Marycrest) are celebrating the 40th jubilee of Sister Leandra Schaller and the anniversary of Sister Alicia Cuarón taking her final Profession of Vows.

A native of St. Louis, Mo., Sister Schaller is the daughter of the late Leona Lankau Schaller and Charles Schaller. After attending Northern Arizona University and Fontbonne University, Sister Schaller earned her Doctorate at the University of Missouri before entering the community in 1977. She began teaching at NAU in 1970 and retired from teaching in 2013.  She served 29 years at several schools in the Denver area which included Regis Jesuit, Mullen, and Holy Family High Schools. Her fields of service were science, math and guidance and counseling.

Her favorite parts of religious life are prayer, private and in community, service and mutual support. Her hobbies include camping, reading and piano.  When she was completing her dissertation at the University of Missouri, Columbia, a sister from the community was campus minister.  She first thought of being a sister in the sixth grade. As the years rolled by, she continued her education and it was not until meeting this sister that she began to pursue the idea of Religious Life in earnest.

“God has a way of accepting us and loving us where we are, and God’s time is not always ours,” she said.

Alicia Valladolid Cuarón was born on March 1, 1939 in Oxnard, California. Her parents, Rosendo Alfaro and Guadalupe Valladolid (Pérez) had immigrated to the United States from Mexico during the time of the Cristero movement. She grew up in El Paso, Texas with her five siblings, four sisters and a brother.

Alicia moved to Colorado in the early 1970s. In 1972, she earned her M.A. in education from the University of Texas at El Paso and an Ed.D. at the University of Northern Colorado in1975. She was very successful in her career, got married and had a daughter Alexis Cuarón Anderten, but in 1992 she made a decision that changed her life.

“I had accomplished a lot professionally, more than I ever thought possible, but I felt a need to re-examine the direction my life was taking,” Sister Cuarón said. “The idea of entering a religious community had never entered my mind, but when God called, I answered ‘Here I am Lord, You have called me’ and I made the decision at the age of 53 to enter The Sisters of St Francis of Penance and Christian Charity.”

Alicia left her business career and entered the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity in Denver. On July 25, 1998 Sister Alicia Cuarón took her final Profession of Vows at St. Joseph’s Redemptorist parish. There she established the Bienestar Family Services Center in the former St. Joseph High School to provide adult education, career training and support services for new immigrant families. In 2003, Sister Cuarón co-founded the Latina Safehouse to support domestic violence services for Spanish speaking immigrant women.

In 2004, Sister Cuarón moved the Bienestar Family Center to Centro San Juan Diego, the Hispanic ministry of the Archdiocese of Denver. She served as director of Bienestar from 2004 to 2014. Based on her upbringing as a first generation Mexican-American, Sister Cuarón’s life-long mission has focused on the empowerment of Spanish speaking immigrants and women. This mission has been her spiritual and personal priority. To further advance the mission, Sister Cuarón and Centro San Juan Diego partnered to establish The Sister Alicia Cuarón Education Fund. This fund will continue her legacy of providing educational programs and services for Spanish-speaking immigrant families.

COMING UP: Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund honors CSJD’s Family Services program

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In April 2018, Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) and Boston College’s Center for Social Innovation identified Centro San Juan Diego as one of 64 “innovative and solutions-oriented ministries globally that are accompanying and aiding refugees and migrants.” For the Archdiocese of Denver, it is an honor for Centro to be recognized by such a prestigious donor organization on a global level for its programs that integrate Hispanics into society in the United States.

From 1990 to 2010, the Hispanic population in Colorado jumped from 13 percent to 21 percent and continues to grow. Responding to the influx of Hispanic immigrants in Denver and throughout northern Colorado, representatives from the Hispanic Office of the Archdiocese of Denver met in early 2003 with parish and community leaders to discuss the pastoral and social needs in the Hispanic community.  There were multiple needs identified, including spiritual and educational.

This year, Centro will witness a two-fold blessing. 2018 marks the 15th anniversary of Centro’s highly-applauded continuum of services to Hispanics, and coinciding with that, Centro is announcing the formation of the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund. The fund is being established to honor the legacy of Sister Alicia V. Cuarón, founder of Centro San Juan Diego’s Family Services program, formerly known as Bienestar Family Services. Visualizing, implementing, developing and institutionalizing efforts to help immigrants transition into mainstream society has always been at the center of Sister Alicia’s mission.

In 1992, after a successful education and business career, Sister Alicia was called to religious life and entered the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity at Marycrest. She was one of the first Latinas in Colorado and in her family to earn a doctorate. Based on her upbringing as a first generation Mexican-American, Sister Alicia has focused on empowerment of immigrants and other Spanish-speaking individuals through leadership development, education and community services. Sister Alicia, whose parents migrated from Mexico in the 1920s, witnessed firsthand the struggles immigrants endure, especially regarding education.  “Nothing,” she says, “is more important than an education and knowing, with pride, your history, culture and heritage.”

Centro is Colorado’s leading resource center for education within the Hispanic community. Today, nearly 1.1 million Hispanics live in Colorado. More than 66 percent of Catholics within the Archdiocese of Denver are Hispanic, with 33 percent of all parishes celebrating Mass in Spanish. An example of how Centro is leading the way toward growing opportunities for the work force and successful integration is the existing online bachelor’s and master’s degree program offered through an international collaboration with a Mexican university, Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). Centro’s adult education courses currently serve nearly 5,000 Hispanics annually.

Through their participation in various programs, former students have reached unimaginable heights in their careers, and Hispanic families have become communities of faith, hope and love through their involvement in educational and leadership classes. Given this astounding potential, the introduction of the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund is most opportune. For as Sister Alicia recently asserted, “You will never realize the ripple effect of your gift.  When you help one person, you also help their family and their relatives; you ultimately improve the whole of American society.  For certain, the benefits of an education stay with you for life.”

Juan Carlos Reyes, Director of Centro, reaffirms Sister Alicia’s sentiments by stating, “It is my desire to help Centro move forward, to continue its great legacy thus far and to make sure Centro continues to be a place of hope and opportunity.  My personal goal is to build upon the foundation of success and accomplishments that was laid by Sister Alicia.”

As a former student, Reyes can attest to the difference Centro can make in the future of the Hispanic community in Colorado.

“Centro’s mission and work would not be possible without the support of generous donors who recognize that not only the Church, but all of us should invest in the Hispanic community,” he said.

Looking ahead, Centro remains committed to enriching many more lives. “Centro San Juan Diego has become an outstanding educational center in our country,” Sister Alicia said. “The dream would be to replicate the Centro model for other dioceses in the United States to improve more lives.”

As Director of Centro, one of Reyes’ goals is to extend the reach of services to where they are needed most, including the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains, “I am excited to continue this momentum and work with you to build a strong community where Hispanics can enjoy full participation.”

To donate to the Sister Alicia V. Cuarón Education Fund, visit centrosanjuandiego.org/donate or call 303-867-0614.