Sister Barba spreads the joy of religious life

Missionary Catechist of Divine Providence Sister Mary Lou Barba will soon celebrate her 45th anniversary as a religious sister. (Photo courtesy Emmaus Parish)

By Peggy Moraczewski
Correspondent

An effervescent Sister Mary Lou Barba recently said, “It is a joyful thing to have a religious life!” She speaks from experience as she prepares to celebrate her 45th anniversary as a religious sister of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence (MCDP) this year.
Blessed to grow up in a Catholic family, Sister Mary Lou said, “Faith was always relational to me.” Surrounded by family, grandparents and neighbors who felt like family, life was simple. Her father walked three blocks to work at the railroad, her parents did not own a car until she was in high school, the children walked to school and on Christmas Eve, her family walked from home to home in the neighborhood praying the rosary and eating tamales (Las Posadas).
This reflection on early family life links with one of her favorite Pope Francis quotes, “The life of a family is filled with beautiful moments … But if love is missing, joy is missing, nothing is fun. Jesus always gives us that love: he is its endless source.” Sister Mary Lou radiates the love and joy of which Pope Francis speaks.
Currently, Sister Mary Lou works as the Children’s Faith Formation Director at Emmaus Parish in Lakeway; a role that allows her to fulfill part of her religious calling. For her, it is a calling that dates back to first grade when young Mary Louise observed the Sisters of the Incarnate Word in her religious education classes and thought, “I can do that!” 
Mary Louise attended public schools in San Antonio, and she faithfully attended religious education classes and was taught by three different orders of religious sisters over the years. The religious sisters had a tremendous impact on her and, a still somewhat mischievous Sister Mary Lou, shared memories of running away to the convent as a sixth grader (quickly returned to her parents by the nuns), and of questioning why her grandmother always prayed to have a priest in the family. Mary Louise wondered, “Why not a nun?”
At Fox Tech High School she studied accounting, participated on the Pep Squad and was vice president of the parish youth group. However, during those busy years, it was the MCDP sisters who left an indelible mark on her heart. They taught her high school religious education classes and offered retreats for students, which were encounters that Mary Louise never wanted to end. She entered the convent following high school graduation and three years later took her first vows, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Her earliest position was as the assistant director of religious education at St. Mary Parish in Lockhart. 
Over the years, Sister Mary Lou held multiple positions within the MCDP congregation, including Superior General. She has represented the MCDPs in Rome, Brazil, France and most of the states in the U.S., but says, “My favorite place is the Diocese of Austin.” 
In addition to her primary job at Emmaus Parish, since early 2012, she has served as director of the Office for Religious in the Diocese of Austin. This was a position that she had secretly wanted for more than a decade. With a smile on her face, she said, “Here I am!” 
Sister Mary Lou holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies with a minor in Philosophy from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio (1977) and a master’s degree in Human Services, Administration and Pastoral Studies from St. Edward’s University in Austin (1990). 
Possibly the greatest challenge of her lifetime presented itself when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. She recalls looking at the crucifix on her hospital room wall and thinking, “I am going to tackle this with God’s help. I tried to stay open to God’s grace. It is a daily challenge to be a balanced person, here for God,” she said. 
She finds inspiration in her community prayer time and through the Mass. She considers the Eucharist, adoration, the rosary and her religious community her most precious treasures. Reflecting daily on her vows, her love of the Blessed Mother and praying Marian devotions all help her be that “balanced person, here for God.” God is her source of joy, a joy which she shares on a daily basis.
Pope Francis has proclaimed 2015 a Year of Consecrated Life. Bishop Joe Vásquez will celebrate Mass for the World Celebration of Consecrated Life on Jan. 31 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin. Sister Mary Lou encourages everyone to attend, to witness and to pray for all religious. 
For more information on the Year for Consecrated Life, visit www.austindiocese.org/ycl.

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