Sr. Maria Elena Arias, SDS celebrates 65 years of vowed religious life in 2015. She taught 32 years at Escuela Vieau School, the first bilingual elementary school in Milwaukee. She officially retired in 2000, but Sr. Maria Elena couldn’t turn off her compassion for the needs of Vieau School families from the Hispanic community. Today, she continues to connect with families through Vieau to help them make Milwaukee their home. She translates for them, and helps them find work, housing, and needed services through Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul Society.
These families trust Sr. Maria Elena because she is a sister and, being born and raised in Colombia, she’s fluent in Spanish and English. Sr. Maria Elena loves her ministry and says, “These families do more for me than I can do for them. They need help, and I feel needed.” Like many elder sisters, Sr. Maria Elena has adapted her beloved ministry over time.
Sr. Maria Elena looks back on her mother as a big influence on her vocation. She shares a story about her mother’s generosity toward orphaned children in her home town of Bogotá. Sr. Maria Elena vividly remembers coming home from school at age 6 or 7, and seeing a little girl on the street wearing a brightly colored dress that fit her perfectly. She thought to herself, “What are you doing with my dress?” and then ran home to ask her mom, “Why does she have my dress?” Her mother’s reply was simple but held a lifelong lesson about compassion. “You have everything you need and this little girl needs a dress.” Sr. Maria Elena remembers to this day how she felt and her mom’s generous heart.
Sr. Maria Elena says she always felt loved as a child and dreamed of becoming a teacher. She realized her dream after getting to know Salvatorian priests with the Society of the Divine Savior at her school in Colombia. In 1948, she came to the U.S. to enter the Sisters of the Divine Savior. She loves being a sister and shares her favorite Scripture passage from the Gospel of John, saying simply, “God is love.” Sharing that love with Vieau School families long after retiring from her paid ministry still brings great joy to Sr. Maria Elena’s heart.