Reverend Mother Maria de Lourdes Felix was the Mother Superior of Colegio Juan Maria de Salvatierra in Tecate, Baja California, the boarding school I attended from ages 10 to 15. I believe she was from around Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.

Her religious order was the Hijas de la Purísima Virgen María, a strict teaching order influenced by the Rule of Saint Ignatius Loyola, the Spanish founder of the Jesuits. The only time the sisters could wear their beautiful habits and scapulars was inside the convent. Outdoors they wore plain black dresses and black shawls because at that time the Mexican government would not allow priests and nuns to wear religious garb on the streets.

My father put me in Colegio Salvatierra partly because he was a Spaniard embarrassed that I could not speak Spanish, and partly, I’m sure, because I was a brat that needed some straightening up. Mother Lourdes would not allow the few American girls there to speak English. We were “immersed” in Spanish and within six months I was able to insult a playmate with “Mexicana, patas dulces,” because by her tone of voice I figured she had insulted me by calling me “Gringa, patas saladas.” Mother Lourdes and another nun would occasionally take me shopping in San Diego, California so I could interpret for them. I never dreamed that interpreting and translating would end up being my life’s calling.

Mother Lourdes was a skilled business woman and director of a school that housed 30-40 boarders and 200 day students. and an avid photographer, especially of roses. She was a great organist and molded us girls into a fairly decent church choir. She taught us piano and all the business school classes. At the ripe old age of 15, Mother put me in charge of teaching Conversational English to the other business students.

Mother Lourdes was kind to us girls, but she could be very strict. One time I burst in when Mother was reprimanding Sister Ofelia, who did the laundry, because she had said she wanted to please Mother. Mother told her “You don’t do it to please me. You do it for the Lord.”

One time Mother Lourdes discovered me crying. She quoted the Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila and told me “Un santo triste es un triste santo.” [A saint who is sad is a sad saint.] I still remember that when I start to feel sorry for myself. Mother Lourdes taught us to be happy doing God’s Will, whatever that might be.

A fun memory of Mother Lourdes was on her saint’s day- Our Lady of Lourdes. The Sisters got us girls up early to serenade Mother with Las Mañanitas outside her window. AND SHE SNORED FOR US. Although she was a professional, she could be playful as well.

On Mexican holidays, the town of Tecate would have parades. Mother Lourdes would be out there marching on the sidelines with us. She had a policy that the top students would form an Honor Guard carrying the Mexican flag. One time, when it was my turn to carry the flag, the gym “professor” took the flag away from me because I was an American. Mother Lourdes energetically reproved him and ordered him to return the flag to me.

She encouraged us in reading literature and writing. I remember for her Saint’s day some of us wrote her a composition. When I read mine, telling her I loved her like a mother, she had tears streaming down her face. I had never seen her cry before.

I remember how hard it was for me to tell her that I was not going to become a nun. I wrote and told her I was going to get married. She was so gracious and kind reminding me that marriage was one of three beautiful and worthy vocations. She did not make me feel guilty. She had teased me before I graduated that I would go back to the United States and marry a “Protes” [Protestant]. I did.

I loved Mother Lourdes like a true mother. I had lived in many foster homes. This 5.5-year period was the longest I had ever stayed in any one home. I could go to her for advice any time I had something troubling me. She was a model woman and nun, devoted to her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. These vows did not keep her from achieving so much and instilling in us girls the desire and the skills to achieve our dreams. ¡VIVA LA MADRE LOURDES!