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Stories from a Month at Villa Maria del Mar

By Teresa Shields, SNJM

Until I volunteered at Villa Maria del Mar, I had no idea how its ministry of hospitality reaches so many individuals and groups. I spent time there this fall and last spring, helping with the recovery groups, faculties, seminarians, prison chaplains, prayer groups, Sisters, individual retreatants, quilters and others who keep the staff busy almost every day of the year. I want to share just a few stories from my time there in October.

One day, as I welcomed the Diocese of Oakland’s school superintendent and about 35 principals, I talked about the Villa’s history. At the end of my talk, Jocelyn Pierre-Villa staff with foundress cakeAntoine, who is principal of St. Bede’s, announced enthusiastically, “And don’t forget that Friday (Oct. 6) is the feast of Mother Marie Rose, who was the founder of the Holy Names Sisters!” Jocelyn cherishes the SNJM founding of her school, and she’s on fire with love for Mother Rose and the charism of our community. The next day she brought in a cake surrounded by strawberries – the symbol of SNJM ministries in California – which we shared with our kitchen staff at lunch.

Another time, an elderly couple sitting quietly at a table overlooking the beach was visited by Sister Cheryl Milner, director of the Villa. When Sister Cheryl asked them what brought them to the Villa, the husband said the visit was on his “bucket list.” His last visit had been a vacation with his mother in 1954, when he was 9 years old and the property was known as the Hotel Del Mar. When he searched online for Hotel Del Mar, the Villa’s website appeared. He was thrilled to come back to his childhood vacation spot and be able to spend a few days relaxing with his wife.

Toward the end of my stay, I welcomed three Daughters of Charity from St. Louis. As I learned their story, I found out that one of them, who had been in Province Leadership for the past 18 years, was going to Durand, MS with two other Sisters of Charity. They will continue the ministry of Sisters Paula Merrill, SCN, and Margaret Held, SSSF, who were murdered in their home in August 2016. One will be a social worker in the medical clinic there, another will minister to youth 18-24 who are not employed or in school, and the third will volunteer at the county correctional facility.

What a healing place of beauty and hospitality to all who come to the Villa! 

Sister Teresa Shields ministered for 30 years in the Mississippi Delta as an educator, advocate and fundraiser for community improvements. These days she is part of the Sisters of the Holy Names community in Seattle, WA. You can learn more about Villa Maria del Mar at www.villamariadelmar.org.

In the top photo: Jocelyn Pierre-Antoine and Sister Teresa enjoy a sunny day at the Villa in Santa Cruz, CA. In the lower photo: Sisters Cheryl and Teresa are surrounded by staff who later shared the cake topped with strawberries.