Remembrance of the Life of Sister Guadalupe ‘Lupe’ (formerly Sister Mary Aloysius) Arciniega SL
Lupe started her ministry many years ago as a teacher and had educated people in many more ways than in the classroom. Over the course of nearly 69 years as a Sister of Loretto, Lupe’s commitment to service and education had taken her from her hometown of El Paso, Texas, to working with Cesar Chavez in California, projects in Wyoming, overseas work in Latin America and migrant farm assistance in Alabama. Lupe had called Kentucky home since 1985.
Lupe was born in the middle of the depression in El Paso and baptized Maria Guadalupe Arciniega. She was the seventh child of Mexican-born parents, Paz Vela and Rufino Arciniega. Lupe was a storyteller, so I’ve chosen to highlight important parts of her life with stories she told about herself in a 2012 interview:
“I was taught by the Sisters of Loretto since I was 3 years old [when my father left our family and] my mother had to go to work. There were no daycares around in 1939. The Sisters of Loretto taught in the parish school, half a block from where we lived; my siblings were all there. So, my mother went to the pastor and said, ‘I have this problem, what am I going to do with my 3-year-old?’ The pastor said, ‘Why don’t you talk to Sister Lucia? She’s principal there.’ My mother talked to Sister Lucia who said, ‘Sure she can come here, and be in kindergarten.’ So, at 3 years old, I started kindergarten, and I have vague memories. One memory I have, I just left the room, and I went up the steps. My sister that I was close to was in the fifth grade. I walked into the classroom; she just moved over, and I sat next to her – I must have done this frequently because nobody paid attention to me.
“And then after school — there was no afternoon [kindergarten] — I went to the cook. The parish was big, three priests there, and they had a full-time cook. So I went to the kitchen and stayed there until my siblings got out of school. [While] she was cooking I went outside and made mud pies. And I sold them to the priests. They gave me a nickel.”
With another story from her childhood, Lupe gives us some insight into the origins of her ministerial vocation:
“Every Saturday … my mother would give me 5 cents, and I would run to the store to buy candy. The store was a block from our house. … On the way, right in front of the church … I passed this beggar. And [then I was in the] store on the corner. I was looking at the candy counter and … out of the blue, I remembered that beggar. And I said, ‘I’m going to take my money to him.’ So, I left the store and [found him]. He was tall, I was short. He looked down, and I motioned [I had] something for him and then he opened his hand and I recall the dirt there in his hand … as I gave him that money. I don’t know what he said. I did my part, and I went home skipping. Very happy. Because my mother had said, ‘You know God rewards a hundredfold. Anything you do in His name.’ So, a hundredfold. I wondered if I’d get back a dollar. I wondered if I’d get back five dollars. I was happy. I made an investment, an investment of my life to helping the poor — when I was 7 years old it started. So that’s the story. I enjoy thinking about it because it was the grace of God, which has continued through my whole life.”
In the same interview, Lupe talked about bridging her Hispanic culture and the Loretto culture:
“I came here in September of 1954. And have been happy ever since. And something interesting: Coming from home, we spoke only Spanish. There was English, we subscribed to the English newspaper. But coming here, there was a lot of change — food, and the culture — before I came here, I never went to confession in English! I thought the difficulties were because novitiate life was hard. But it was the culture.
“And even now, you know: I was in South America 10 and a half years, then in the Southwest, 10 years [and though] I’m very much part of Loretto, but still, there’s that culture. I’ve been here at the Motherhouse in Kentucky since October of 1985, and I’ve worked a lot with the Hispanics. So that’s half of my life is with Hispanics, and then the other half with the Sisters. So, I’m enculturated. I’m part of this, and I can use English and Spanish. A lot of the Sisters [are interested in] what I do, but still, there’s part of me that feels … more like home with the Hispanic families. Really feels good. And also, Loretto is my family too, a wonderful family. And I’m very, very happy.
“Before I came here, I was working in Baldwin County, Ala. It was a huge county, and I thought I could do it all. So, in this black community in northern Baldwin County…, an African-American woman says, “Every time Sister Lupe comes, she brings us good news.” And, that kind of stayed with me. That’s what I try to do, you know, bring good news to those that need it. … I get inspired by the people; I take my cues from them. … I’m an advocate for the Hispanic and poor here in Kentucky. That’s what I want put on my tombstone.”
Loretto Sister Guadalupe “Lupe” (formerly Sister Mary Aloysius) Arciniega died Nov. 10, at age 87. Sister Lupe’s funeral Mass was celebrated Nov. 18 in the Church of the Seven Dolors at Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky. The celebrant was Rev. Trumie Culpepper Elliott. Please keep Lupe, her family and all who loved her in your prayers. May she rest in peace.