Past President, Maryknoll Sisters Congregation
Missionary & Co-Director, Pastoral Center of Santa Fe
Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Sr. Melinda Roper attended Michigan State University and then entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in Maryknoll,
New York. She served in various roles with the Maryknoll Sisters,
beginning with Sisters’ Novitiate at Topsfield, Massachusetts, from 1960-63. She then
taught at Colegio Monte Maria in Guatemala from 1963-65.
The following year, Sr. Melinda joined the Pastoral
Center in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, where she was involved in catechetical work.
She spent a year in Chiapas, Mexico, studying the dialect of the indigenous
peoples. In 1971, she earned her BA in theology from Loyola
University Chicago. Returning to Guatemala, she served as a staff member in
the Centro Apostólico in Huehuetenago.
After 14 years of serving in Central America, Sr. Melinda
was elected president of the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation, an office she held
from 1978 to 1984. Just two years into her role as president, on December 2, 1980, four U.S. churchwomen (among them, two Maryknoll sisters) were murdered in El Salvador. As National Catholic Reporter's Global Sisters Report describes in June 2017 article
, "[u]nder her leadership, the Maryknoll sisters fought for justice, for the churchwomen and for those they represented. At a time when Americans were mostly unaware of the U.S. role in training and financing right-wing death squads terrorizing much of Central America, the Maryknolls awakened the faith community in particular and the country in general. The churchwomen became a symbol for a system that was repressing and
killing tens of thousands of innocents, many simply for the profession
of their faith. Their deaths helped inspire Central American solidarity
groups throughout the U.S. and a sanctuary movement that gave shelter to
refugees fleeing the violence."
During her years as president, Sr. Melinda received various honorary
degrees, including the Doctor of Humane Letters from Loyola University Chicago,
Emmanuel College, Fordham University, Catholic University of America, Regis
College, New School of Research, and Albertus Magnus College.
In 1985, Sr. Melinda was assigned to the Vicariate of Darién,
Panama, where she remains in ministry today, 32 years later. In this tropical jungle region, she is engaged there with a team of Maryknoll Sisters who
live and work with indigenous, Afro-Darienitas and mestizo settlers. For many years, the
Sisters traveled to 38 different communities instructing Delegates of the
Word, catechists, teachers, and young mothers. Their main objective was the
formation of Ecclesial Basic Communities, small groups that pray and work for a
more just and compassionate world. Through the years the Sisters’ ministries
have evolved to be more ecological given their recognition of the importance of
the tropical rainforest to the survival and well-being of our planet. Much of
their ministry happens in Darién's Pastoral Center of Santa Fe, whose
purpose is for the human community to learn to live in harmony with the whole
community of life.
Keynote Presentation—"The Wind Blows Where It Will (John 3)"
We live in a curious moment in history. Although some would say that this is a wonderful time to be alive, many people live without simple luxuries, including electricity. Most of us who live with it don't understand much about what it really is , yet we use it at will, the the experience and illusion of control that it brings. We just have to pay the electric bill. How do our experience and the illusion of control play out in our lives as women and men; as persons of faith; in our religious practice; and as members of the Catholic Church? I have lived without electricity, and it is a wonderfully freeing experience. We live where day is day and night is night. I believe that the wind blows more freely without electricity—that is, without our illusion of control. I hope to share life experiences and questions as a woman in the church having learned full well that loving kindness, compassion, and beauty blow freely where they will and often not where we think to look for them.