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Houston-area nuns maintaining careers while answering religious calling

Thursday, December 27, 2012

This time of year we pay particular attention to the work done for those less fortunate, and that led us to three women who work in medicine, law and social work. What do they have in common? The road they took to get there.

They are three women who say they were called to do the work they do, but they didn't necessarily follow the traditional path to get there.

Every day, Dr. Ricca Dimalibot sees dozens of uninsured patients at the Point of Light Clinic in Dickinson.

Thirty miles away in downtown Houston, Attorney Veronica Scheuler prepares for another day in court. She represents dozens of immigrant families in need of legal assistance.

And Maureen O'Connell is walking women through new beginnings. She works at Angela House, a facility for women who have just gotten out of prison.

"I think for me, the thing that is most rewarding is seeing women come into their own," she said.

The social worker has seen all aspects of the criminal justice system, starting as a Chicago police officer in the 1960s.

"People were very shocked to see two women in uniform in a police car," she said.

But that was just one life decision that surprised those around her. Trading in her officer title for that of sister was yet another.

"It was interesting because when I told my partners that I was going to enter the convent they were just, well why?" Sr. Maureen said.

That's where she has a lot in common with the attorney who wears a habit on her head and the doctor who is often asked about the medal around her neck.

"People don't probably expect to see a nun when they see a doctor," Sr. Ricca said.

And not every little girl expects to grow up and become a nun.

"When I was starting out in life, I certainly didn't think that was my calling," Sr. Maureen said.

As a young girl, Sr. Ricca thought she'd follow right in the footsteps of her father and brother, who were physicians in the Philippines.

"I thought I would end up very rich," she said. "I wasn't thinking about religious life at all. As a matter of fact, my mother told me don't become a sister."

Their decisions have raised eyebrows.

"Are you really going to give up a six-figure salary or a house, a family, having children?" Sr. Ricca said.

"Why did you enter religious life? Did you have a big disappointment in life? And I just laughed because that's not it at all," Sr. Veronica said.

It's also made them smile at the old stereotypes.

"I think we still live with the 'Sound of Music' and the flying nun," Sr. Maureen said.

"There's this old-fashioned idea that you're locked up in a convent somewhere pining away, and that's not true at all," Sr. Veronica said.

Sr. Veronica's journey began as a college student at Pitt when she saw the young man in court who stole her purse.

"I had a sense of wanting to help," she said.

It led her to her first job as a corrections officer, then attorney and nun.

"It's really a challenging and vital call for those to whom it's given," Sr. Veronica said.

"I think there is the misconception that religious life is so stifling," Sr. Ricca said.

But try suggesting that after she's helped 5,000 patients this year.

"I did not sacrifice anything. As a matter of fact, I widened my net," Sr. Ricca said.

The work of Catholic Charities involves more than a dozen outreach programs. And while we may pay more attention to what they do during the holidays, their work is every day of the year.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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