From Slovakia to Lacon, she seeks God’s will first

By: By Jennifer Willems

LACON — Many responsibilities go with being the provincial superior of the American Province of the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi, but Sister M. Loretta Matas, DSF, is finding just as many moments of joy in her new ministry.

Yes, she is responsible for the 13 Sisters entrusted to her care in the United States — nine of whom are in Lacon — but she thanks God for giving them to her.

“My joy is when they are happy,” Sister Loretta told The Catholic Post. “I am so thankful for the older Sisters — they started with nothing.”

Yes, she is president of St. Joseph’s Home of Lacon, which was founded by the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi in 1964. It is the largest employer in the area, providing work for 100 people, and a place of physical and spiritual support for about 85 patients at any given time.

“My joy is when the nursing home is doing well,” Sister Loretta said. “I am happy when the volunteers come to help us.”

Perhaps her greatest joy comes from knowing that it is not being Sister Loretta that matters most.

“I am not Sister Loretta. It is the congregation of Sisters,” she explained. “People say, ‘Oh, Sister was doing that’ or ‘I saw Sister.’ Sometimes we don’t know names.

“We are witnesses to this congregation — what we are doing, if we are good examples, if we are bringing people to the church or the opposite. Names are not important,” she said. “I am Sister from the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi.”

Growing up under the communist regime in Slovakia, Sister Loretta has seen firsthand the power such a witness can have.

REMAINING FAITHFUL
Born in Bardejov, a little town that is close to Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine, Sister Loretta was raised by devout parents who worked “underground” with the church.

“You know young people. They are looking for truth. I think I was one of them,” she said. “I was strong because my parents led me to be a faithful Catholic. We attended Mass every day. It was not a question.”

At school, she was getting a different message.

“They taught us we have to rely on ourselves — who we want to be, who we want to become,” Sister Loretta told The Post. The communists told the students that God didn’t exist but was something imagined by old people.

“I was divided. I think this strengthened my faith,” she said. “I questioned many times and I looked many times to my parents and other people. If God doesn’t exist, why are (the communists) so afraid of God? Why?”

While they were allowed to go to Mass, meetings were not permitted. Retreats and other gatherings took place under the guise of hiking or camping. It was during these events that she got to know priests and seminarians and the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi.

Accepting that she might have a vocation to consecrated life didn’t come easily for Sister Loretta, however.

“I wanted to serve as a lay person,” she said. “I wanted to have my money. I wanted to have my freedom.”

Trained as a lab technician, she had a good job in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital city. She remained involved with the underground church and credits the people she met with opening her heart and helping her to accept what God wanted for her life.

After spending hours in prayer and seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Loretta followed the Holy Spirit’s nudge: “Why don’t you try?”

“I was not thinking if I wanted to be a teacher or if I wanted to be a nurse. God showed me the religious people around me. God put me into the religious order I should go to,” she said. “If we want to do what God wants, we are giving everything — ‘OK, God. I am here. Tell me what I should do.'”

TRUSTING GOD
Sister Loretta entered the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 7, 1987. First vows followed on Aug. 15, 1990, and she professed perpetual vows four years later.

She worked as a lab technician in the biochemistry and hematology department of the congregation’s hospital in Slovakia for about 15 years before coming to the United States on Aug. 1, 2001. Knowing only one sentence in English — “I do not speak English” — she learned on the job at St. Joseph’s Home of Lacon.

After seven years, Sister Loretta was sent to the congregation’s St. Francis Hospital (now St. John’s St. Francis Hospital) in Mountain View, Mo. She worked in pastoral ministry and medical records for three years before returning to Lacon as provincial superior at the end of April.

Sister Loretta will serve as the provincial superior for the next three years, but isn’t looking beyond that. She has learned that letting go and asking God what his will is can make life “so much easier.”

“God knows what is good for us,” she said.

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