After about five years of serving together in family ministry at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Sister Maristella and Sister Judith Maldonado are beginning new assignments in Puerto Rico. In this photo, they are shown with their dog Brindel at their convent near St. Martin’s. (CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)
After about five years of serving together in family ministry at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Sister Maristella and Sister Judith Maldonado are beginning new assignments in Puerto Rico. In this photo, they are shown with their dog Brindel at their convent near St. Martin’s. (CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)

As identical twin sisters, Sister Judith and Sister Maristella Maldonado not only look exactly alike, but as members of the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, they dress alike, wearing that order’s white habit and black veil with white trim.

And they also have the same outlook on life and approach to their faith, embodying what Pope Francis calls “the joy of the Gospel” in their ever-present smiles and happy demeanor.

“Being a witness of Christ, you cannot be sad!” said Sister Judith. That witness, she added, “is telling people there is hope. No matter what, if you have God in your life, you can be happy.”

Sister Maristella noted, “We were always like this, since we were small… We have enough people sad in our society… Thank God we had a mother who gave us inspiration to always be joyful.”

That spirit helped draw them to join the Dominican Sisters after their parents moved the family back to their native Puerto Rico, and the Maldonado twins were inspired by the faith, service to families, pride in Puerto Rican culture and sense of fun shown by those women religious.

“They were a happy community, always smiling,” said Sister Judith.

But the twin Dominican sisters did shed some tears recently, at an Aug. 5 farewell party at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg in their honor and in honor of Sister Cruz Vega, another member of their religious order. In recent years, the sisters had served together in family ministry at the Maryland parish, but they have received new assignments in Puerto Rico.

Sister Judith was chosen to serve as her religious community’s General Secretary and as a member of its General Council, and Sister Maristella was assigned to be director of the congregation’s family ministry and to assist her sister, the new General Secretary. Sister Cruz was named prioress of the order’s motherhouse and to assist at its Fatima Sanctuary.

At the farewell party at St. Martin’s, hundreds of people from different backgrounds and ages who reflected the parish’s multicultural community gathered in the school gym, where Father Richard Gancayco, the pastor, offered an opening prayer and then expressed thanks to the sisters.

Sister Maristella cried as the girls’ choir sang songs in their honor. Since she began serving in the parish in 2012, her ministry included coordinating that choir. She noted that she had known some of the girls since they were very young. “They grew up with me,” she said.

Sister Judith, who joined her sister at the parish one year after serving in family ministry at nearby St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg, was presented with an autographed soccer ball signed by the altar servers, whom she had worked with at St. Martin’s. “They cried, and I did, too,” she said.

The refreshments at the farewell reception included a white cake encircled by a rosary made of dark frosting, topped by three little figures appearing to wear nuns’ habits.

The three departing sisters have been succeeded at St. Martin’s by three other members of their religious community who will continue their family ministry at the parish: Sister Mariana de Jesús, Sister Esther Ortiz and Sister Inocencia Olmeda.

In a farewell letter to the people of St. Martin of Tours printed in the parish bulletin, Sister Judith wrote, “When you say YES to Jesus, nothing is the same. He will guide you wherever he wants. And with an open heart to do His will, we follow His steps.”

Sister Judith added that, “As missionaries, we leave our families to go wherever God asks us.” She noted that at St. Martin’s, “we found a family,” a family whom they will remember in their hearts, through love and through prayers. “Thanks for opening your hearts and lives to us,” she wrote.

On Aug. 8, the feast day of St. Dominic, who along with Our Lady is their community’s patron saint, Sister Judith and Sister Maristella reflected on their religious vocations and on their service at St. Martin of Tours. The sisters, who turned 51 in July, were joined by their dog Brindel, a Chihuahua mix named for his brownish fur who is their faithful companion at their convent, in their chapel and office. In three days, they and Brindel would fly to Puerto Rico for their new life there.

The twins noted that in one day they would mark the 32nd anniversary of their entering the Dominican Sisters. Asked about their greatest blessing as women religious, Sister Judith said, “the gift of the vocation that Jesus gave us,” and Sister Maristella added, “I think the greatest blessing as a sister is being called to serve and to love.”

As women religious, they chose personal mottos, with Sister Judith choosing, “Loving as God loves,” and Sister Maristella picking, “Happiness of God.” They said in their ministries, they have sought to bring God’s love and happiness to those whom they have served.

And Sister Judith pointed out that the motto of the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, “Bring Christ to the families and the families to Christ,” says everything about their order’s charism, and their service at St. Martin’s.

Sister Judith said working in the family ministry at St. Martin’s gave them the opportunity to become a part of the diverse parish family there, which includes recent immigrants and longtime residents. The parish’s 11 weekend Masses include five liturgies in Spanish for its large Latin American community, and a Mass in French for immigrants from Africa. Along with parishioners with family roots in Europe, St. Martin’s also has members from the Philippines.

“We serve everybody,” said Sister Judith. “…What I liked best was being with people, accompanying them in all their situations, being a family.”

The twin sisters, who are natives of Hartford, Connecticut, both have degrees in social work. Their family ministry at St. Martin’s Parish included preparing people for the sacraments of marriage and baptism, helping counsel youth, and assisting parents facing challenges in their immigration status, health, employment or with family issues. And in all their work, they encouraged people to put Christ at the center of their lives, a lesson their mother taught them long ago, the importance of primero Dios – “God first.”

And Sister Judith said those families they served taught them the importance of keeping a strong faith. “They keep faith in God and know God will help them,” she said. “They believe in God. God gives them strength, and they have faith, no matter what.”

For the past 15 years, Sister Judith and Sister Maristella have lived and worked together, and before moving to Gaithersburg, they were able to care for their sick mother, who died in 2011. Their ministry has included serving in parishes in Pennsylvania and then at St. Martin’s, and now on to their new assignments in Puerto Rico.

They were born on July 3, 1967 on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, whose name means twin, and for Sister Judith and Sister Maristella, their twin vocations are intertwined together, in lives of service to God and families, now in a new assignment, but with the same faith and joy.

Sister Judith noted that all the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima are their sisters, but it is special being a twin and serving with your sister.

Sister Maristella added, “She’s part of me, and I’m part of her.”