At home in Hargill

Church sees four decades of service from matriarch

The Valley Catholic

HARGILL — “Isn’t it amazing how God works in each person’s life?” mused Maria Abelina Rodriguez, 90, the oldest member of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in Hargill.

“Can you believe there was a time I didn’t want to come to this church? When I was content to just go to Mass, sit in the pews and go home?”

Rodriguez was 22 when she moved to the small community of Hargill from Villa de la Paz, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. She attended Mass at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church a few times, but says she didn’t feel comfortable.

“This is a very small town,” Rodriguez said. “I always had the feeling people at church were criticizing me, thinking, ‘who does she think she is?’”

She and one of her friends started making the 30-mile drive each way to go to Mass at the popular San Juan Shrine.

“We were young, we loved taking that little road trip every week,” said Rodriguez, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. “We loved going to the Shrine. We thought it was so much more exciting than our little church here in Hargill.”

Over the years, Rodriguez became friendly with the priests at the San Juan Shrine. In the late 1970s, one of them said something surprising.

“He said, ‘I like seeing you here every Sunday, but you are missed at your home church. Why don’t you go there? Why don’t you volunteer there?’” she recalled. “But I was not interested in going to the church in Hargill and I definitely was not interested in serving.”

Eventually, Rodriguez met Sister Emily Morgan, a Sister of Mercy, and Sister Ninfa Garza of the Missionaries of Jesus.

“They got me involved in Comunidades de Base and convinced me to start serving my own community,” she said. “I really didn’t want to, but God was working on me.”

The following Holy Thursday, she was planning to go to the San Juan Shrine, but her car wouldn’t start, so she reluctantly attended Mass in Hargill.

Both the priest and one of the older ladies of the church encouraged Rodriguez to get involved at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church, which is currently a mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Raymondville.

“The church needed someone to care for the linens and decorate the church,” she said.
Rodriguez said she had “no idea” how to decorate a church or what caring for the altar linens entailed.

“My first manteles for the altar were made out of flat bed sheets,” she said with a chuckle.

“Now she’s a pro,” said Diana Lerma, a fellow parishioner and the coordinator for the religious education program at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church.

Today, the woman who was hesitant to go to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church years ago is now “the matriarch of our church,” said Ray Dell McClaugherty, and an active member of the church community.

“She has been a great mentor and teacher to many of us,” he said.

Lerma said “Doña Maria” sets up the church for Sunday Mass, funerals and other liturgies and enjoys teaching others “how to do things properly.”

“She always says, ‘You need to learn, ‘porque yo ya voy pa’ fuera,’” (I’m on my way out) Lerma said. “If we need something, we go to her for advice.”

Every Sunday, Rodriguez sits in her regular spot in the front row of the church, ready to listen to God’s Word and ready to serve wherever she is needed.

“I’m super happy here,” she said. “This is my home.”

The Valley Catholic
700 N. Virgen de San Juan Blvd.
San Juan, TX 78589

Phone: (956) 781-5323
Fax: (956) 784-5082
Publisher: Bishop Daniel E. Flores
Editor: Brenda Nettles Riojas