“Every life that is led very near to God is a life in which great sorrows and great joys meet, no close union with God is effected without real suffering, and that the fruit of suffering is joy.” –Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ
This quote from Janet Stuart leaped off the page as I contemplated how to pay tribute to my Associate friend and colleague, Sergio Vasquez, who has served on our United States – Canada Associates Leadership Team for the last two and a half years. Sergio announced that he was stepping away from his role as we entered the Advent Season in order to make more room for contemplation and to discern the movement of the Spirit in his life and his path as “A Son of Sophie.”
Our whole team received the news with great sorrow, for Sergio brought such passion, creativity and a deeply embodied spirituality to our team. I personally feel the charism of the Sacred Heart come alive when I am with Sergio. He can quote Madeleine Sophie, Janet Stuart, Philippine Duchesne (and so many of our living saints) because he is in a deep relationship with them as spiritual mothers and guides.
Sergio taught at Schools of the Sacred Heart - San Francisco, Convent & Stuart Hall, for 14 years and was instrumental in helping to create formation programs for Sacred Heart educators. After leaving the school, he then embraced ministry at Duchesne House for Volunteers in New Orleans, Louisiana, working with Bonnie Kearney, RSCJ, to host immersion and service programs for student groups. Sergio immersed himself in the history, people and culture of New Orleans. He became passionate about unmasking the very real scars and living legacy of enslavement, while also getting to know the vibrant community leaders and cultural traditions that manifested resistance and resilience.
When our leadership team held our meeting at Duchesne House in the Spring of 2019 Sergio planned a tour of the Whitney Plantation, an opportunity for each of us to more fully grasp the horrors of enslavement. He also took us to Congo Square to witness Sunday drumming circles, and he chased down a "Second Line" in a nearby neighborhood so we could experience this rich festive tradition. Sergio helped bring the broader Associates network into a relationship with the New Orleans community.
This past year, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, he helped lead a dialogue series hosted by our leadership team via Zoom. Sergio introduced us to Denise Graves, Ph.D., also known as Mama Denise, founder of Principal of Peace Ministry, LLC. She is an amazing New Orleans spiritual leader who dared to be vulnerable with us and share her own experience of living as a black woman, largely because of the trust she has with Sergio.
Sergio helped organize the Racial Justice Book Group the leadership team hosted in September of 2020. I was humbled in the process of collaborating with him, as he grappled with his own grief and anguish related to being a brown person and an immigrant who experiences systemic injustices and racial bias in his own life and community.
For me, this is a gift that Sergio brings. Sergio does not shy away from pain and from bearing witness to the pierced heart of Christ in this world. In fact, Sergio is one who takes to the streets, often getting “bruised, hurt and dirty,” in the words of Pope Francis, in his quest to walk with those who are suffering and marginalized.
Sergio has very often taken in the unhoused and accompanied them through thick and thin, their pain becoming his. He has shared their/his tears with us along the way. And yet, these sorrows only seem to expand Sergio’s heart and his love for people and life and his commitment to service.
This is why Janet Erskine Stuart’s quote is so fitting. I am convinced that Sergio does in fact lead his life very near to God. I trust that God is leading him into a period of preparation, a gestation period, and that Sergio will emerge from it birthing something new. I have every confidence that Sergio will establish new frontiers in living the mission and charism of the Sacred Heart. May we keep him in prayer during this time and share our love and gratitude for his service and witness.