The Santa Monica Angels
Diocese of Laredo, Texas
When students are hungry, learning is difficult. Meet the women feeding body and soul in Texas.
It all started with tacos, cookies and juice.
For ten years, Maria Jaime has been teaching religious education every Saturday at Santa Monica Mission in El Cenizo, a remote town in southern Texas on the banks of the Rio Grande in the Diocese of Laredo.
One day she noticed that the students attending class were mostly the children of immigrants whose families did not receive any kind of assistance.
Students would show up in class asking for food because their last meal had been the previous day, Friday at school.
When someone is hungry, little else matters. When students are hungry, learning is difficult.
When confronted with this situation, she and other volunteers decided to take matters into their own hands and started making food to pass out before class. This simple, yet profound act of love, turned into the feeding program that the Santa Monica Angels now provide to all children.
Mrs. Jaime, Angelica Cantu, Rosa Davila, Martha Arroyo and Norma Losoya comprise the Santa Monica Angels. They provide both spiritual and physical nourishment to 60 children. Their ministry is a blessing to the people of El Cenizo where they serve Santa Monica Mission as Religious Education Coordinators and volunteers.
Mrs. Jaime and her Angels coordinate the children’s religious education and youth activities, events, fundraisers and special outreach programs of evangelization and social service. Father Joel Perez, who has served the community as pastor since 2015, provides sacramental ministry to Santa Monica Mission.
The sacramental preparation program at Santa Monica Mission has no formal budget. Donations to the Diocese of Laredo provide nominal chapel expenses and limited funds for repairs to the facilities. Finding donations for food and snacks for the children has also become continuous in their ministry.
The Santa Monica Angels, under the leadership of Fr. Perez, are rich in faith and passion for their ministry and serve as examples of humility and selfless leadership. They work on behalf of the poor and use their own finances to make sure that the children of El Cenizo are fed before class while building relationships of trust with the immigrant families whom they serve.
They are always cheerful and positive, despite the economic and social challenges they face.
The success of the mission and ministry of the Diocese of Laredo on the U.S.-Mexico border
relies upon the missionary spirit of men and women like the Santa Monica Angels whose
priority is service to God and his people.
The 3,5000 residents of the isolated town of El Cenizo are primarily recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America. They struggle with desperate poverty and few employment opportunities. The children in particular are vulnerable in these challenging circumstances. Amidst this great scarcity, Santa Monica Mission, which serves about one third of the town’s population, resonates with spiritual abundance and unites families and neighbors. It has created a spirit of hope in this town.
The Santa Monica Angels are loved and respected by their community and their work in Santa
Monica Mission is well known throughout the Diocese of Laredo. Their love for their community
and dedication is an example for other diocesan ministry leaders. These Angels inspire
vocations of service through their kindness and the great joy with which they embrace
challenge and adversity.
“Serving people makes you want to be better every day,” said Maria Jaime.
“When you decide to be at the service of the Lord, you want to be a little more like Him every day, and everything changes. Serving Him, gives me a joy I cannot explain, but what I do know is that you must share it.”
Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo said, “The Santa Monica Angels are a model of stewardship, sacrifice and service for the people of Santa Monica Mission.
"Their dedication to the Lord’s mission in one of the poorest communities of our country will inspire the faithful in all corners of the nation to find ways to share their gifts of service and love.”
The bishop also mentioned that the Santa Monica Angels are volunteering to help recent immigrants, legally seeking asylum in the United States, once they are processed at the border, which is only 15 miles from this town.
Since 2002, Catholic Extension has given nearly $170,000 to Santa Monica Mission for religious education and salary support for priests and sisters.
The Lumen Christi Award is proudly presented by Catholic Extension, a non-profit that
provides grants to build the Catholic faith in the poorest areas of the United States.