For many years, Sister Ana Maria Gomez, SDS ministered as a licensed practical nurse to patients and residents of elder care facilities. She was working in an Arizona nursing home when a priest asked her to join him on prison visits to provide bilingual translation. That first visit sparked a passion for prison ministry that grew over the years. She began distributing the Eucharist to inmates and leading prayer services. Her work evolved into a “listening ministry” for prisoners who needed to talk to someone who deemed them worthy of forgiveness.
“I love this ministry,” said Sr. Ana Maria. “I went to the prisons to find Jesus and I saw Him in each prisoner’s eyes.”
Sr. Ana Maria was born in Charala Satander, Colombia, South America and given the name Susanna. She grew up one of eight children on the family farm in a very mountainous region. Transportation was a challenge so her family went to church only for special celebrations, and her mother taught the children at home. When the Sisters of Charity opened a school near their town, Susanna and two of her sisters stayed with aunts and uncles during the school year so they could attend.
Sr. Ana Maria’s decision to enter the Salvatorian Sisters’ community was influenced by her high school religion teacher, the late Father Robert Weber, SDS. He was one of the first Salvatorians to go to Colombia and her first acquaintance with a Salvatorian.
On July 17, 1948, Susanna entered the Salvatorian Sisters’ Congregation at age 19. She was among the first group of candidates to come to the U.S. for formation, along with Sisters Maria Elena Arias, Rosa Yepes and Carmen Pachon.
Susanna entered the novitiate on August 12, 1951 and received the religious name Ana Maria. She requested the name to honor her father’s devotion to St. Anne. She professed her first vows on August 13, 1952 and perpetual vows on August 13, 1958 in Milwaukee, Wis. The following year, Sr. Ana Maria became an American citizen.
In 2010, Sr. Ana Maria was honored as Religious Volunteer of the Year by the Arizona Department of Corrections. She was grateful to receive the award, but said the honor could never compare to the joy of her longtime prison ministry. She dedicated more than 23 years as a Sister of the Divine Savior to serving the spiritual needs of persons in federal, state and private prisons around Florence, Ariz. Sr. Ana Maria’s weekly prison visits fed a hunger for God that inmates experience as they reflect on lives devoid of hope, family and friends.
Sr. Ana Maria was professed 66 years as a Salvatorian Sister. She described her international Salvatorian Family of sisters, priests, brothers and Lay Salvatorian women and men as a very special gift. Asked how she would encourage young women to consider Salvatorian religious life, Sr. Ana Maria replied, “All I can say is come and see – you’ll find love and a bigger family.”