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​Sister Yolanda Tarango: A life of changes and challenges

December 17, 2020 | posted by Today's Catholic newspaper

Topics: Vocations


Sister Yolanda Tarango: A life of changes and challenges

Sister Yolanda Tarango, CCVI, considers herself a child of the Second Vatican Council and was influenced by it in the paths her life has taken. “Things were changing,” she recalls of those days in the 1960s, “and there was, during that whole period, a real sense of excitement and hope about the church and church service.”

Growing up in Ysleta, founded in 1680 by the Tiguas and Spaniards who fled the Pueblo Revolt, the old mission church had been her family’s parish church for many generations. Family and social life revolved around it, and she was active in church clubs and activities, many involving social service projects.

“Those were the years Vatican II was in session,” she notes. Extension volunteers were sent to teach in Catholic schools in the South and Southwest, introducing students to the council’s documents. Folk-style music was making its way into churches and Sister Yolanda was part of a student group earnestly lobbying reluctant parish priests to allow the guitar at Mass.

Although attending a high school taught by nuns from Mexico, she worked in the summers with the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word (her grade school teachers), helped prepare children for First Communion and teaching them their prayers. Drawn to their way of life, she had already planned to attend Incarnate Word College (later, University of the Incarnate Word) in San Antonio, so after graduation in 1966, left to explore a religious vocation with them. She rationalized that if she discovered it was not for her after all, she would at least have begun her college education in the right place.

The congregation had held a chapter that summer, electing a new general superior. “She was a really strong and wise leader,” recalls Sister Yolanda, and she announced that if they were going to “live Vatican II,” they needed to start with a new plan. “You are the future of religious life,” she told the new class, removing the former formation personnel and bringing in new novitiate, postulant and vocation directors.

“That was a really privileged time,” Sister Yolanda remembers, “because we learned to deal with change from the very beginning because it was a changing scene and we were participants in bringing that change about.” While the old rules were supposedly thrown out, concessions had to be made at times, such as the traditional silence, because, as Sister Yolanda puts it, living at the motherhouse, they were “driving everybody else crazy.”

There was a one-year novitiate now instead of two and the young women attended IWC classes in a uniform consisting of long black jumper, white shirt, black socks and string bow tie, but no veil. When entering the novitiate in the past, novices had worn bridal gowns, but the class did not care for the concept and got approval to enter wearing the old habit and it was a wonderful experience. They did wear a bridal veil, which the bishop would remove and replaced with the old-style headpiece. Among other changes, vows were now made for three years, after which one applied to make final vows individually, when ready, which did not have to be at the motherhouse.

Another change through Vatican II and the Priestly Formation Conference was emphasis on education for sisters and their being able to attend different universities. As one of the youngest, Sister Yolanda was allowed to earn her degree in elementary education at UIW before being sent on mission to St. Louis, where she was soon told “the Incarnate Word would like you to serve him in Dallas.” Someone had taken ill and she found herself taking their place to help transition a former orphanage for dependent neglected children into a diocesan center for emotionally disturbed children. She was there four years and calls it “a wonderful challenge.”

Her time in Dallas coincided with the rise of the Chicano Movement and its advocating for education. Influenced by this, two Hispanic sisters who were educators felt called to use their education for their own people and organized a meeting in Houston in 1971 of 50 Hispanic sisters to form Las Hermanas, the name meaning “sisters” and denoting this type of relationsip. They were, says Sister Yolanda, “one of the biggest influences in my life.”

When she heard they were holding a conference in Santa Fe ten months later, she arranged her trip home that year to accommodate the conference. It was a consciousness-raising experience for her similar to that of the Feminist Movement, but in Las Hermanas, it was sisters realizing they were not alone in the racism they were experiencing, such as Hispanic sisters working in hospitals not allowed to speak Spanish to maintenance people.

“None of us, I think,” says Sister Yolanda, “were working with Hispanic people and most of us were teaching in middle class Anglo schools.” There was also concern for the children of migrant workers falling behind in school and catechesis, and the need to be able to advocate for and with Hispanics in general for such things as more Spanish Masses and more priests who understood Spanish. Attendees returned to their congregations with the mandate of insisting on working with their own people.

Sister Yolanda still needed another mission before taking final vows and was sent to Amarillo, but had been elected secretary of the Texas Catholic Conference in Dallas, and its director asked the bishop of Amarillo to find her a diocesan job there so she could continue her TCC office. As a result, she was hired as youth director for Amarillo and Lubbock for a year, leading to her then being asked to join the Youth Ministry Office full-time in El Paso, of which Ysleta, her hometown, is a suburb. She served five years there in youth and young adult ministry and her final vows were made at the old Mission Ysleta church.