SOUTH BEND — Michelle Toepp was always interested in working with poor children.
“One reason I entered the Sisters of the Holy Cross was because it was an international congregation,” she said. “That was a pull for me. I also wanted to work with poor children and I knew that the congregation did that type of ministry since I taught with the sisters at Holy Cross Grade School in South Bend.”
Sister Michelle entered the congregation in 1984. After she made her first vows in 1987, she was sent to Los Angeles, Calif., to teach at St. Agnes, a grade school in the inner city staffed by the sisters. While living there, she earned a master’s degree in education and psychology with an emphasis on children. From Los Angeles she spent a year in Brazil having a multicultural experience.
“This was a chance for me to get to know our sisters and their ministries in another country and see if I was called to be a missionary,” said Sister Michelle. “And when I returned to the United States after that experience, I knew I wanted to live and minister in another country.”
She planned to return to Brazil, but God had another plan. She was asked to consider helping begin the congregation’s mission in Mexico. She said, “yes,” and has been in Mexico since 1996. Sister Michelle’s first 15 years were spent in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, and now she lives and works in San Ildefonso, a very rural area in the state of Queretaro.
Sister Michelle got her wish to work with children. When she was in Monterrey she worked with approximately 250 children each year who came from the different chapels in the parish of La Luz, where Holy Cross men and women minister together. At San Ildefonso, where she has been for a year and a half, she has touched the lives of 50 more children.
Her work with the children includes helping with homework, religious education, values and ecology. They also learn to play together, and learn about health and safety. She teaches the children discipline and responsibility, among other important lessons.
“What I like the most about teaching,” said Sister Michelle “is touching the lives of these children. I love working with them, and I learn so much from them. There is never a dull moment working with children. I love helping them discover so much about themselves, God, life and so much more.”
Sister Michelle is pleased that the ministry of the Sisters of the Holy Cross is growing in Mexico. She is helping expand the ministry beyond Monterrey, where the majority of the Holy Cross family is located, and new members are joining the congregation. There are four native sisters ministering in Mexico and one in the novitiate at Saint Mary’s.
Her deepest desire is that “hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will be able to spread out more and collaborate more with the Holy Cross men to reach out to even more poor people.”
Sister Michelle is the daughter of Marilyn and John Toepp, who are members of St. Matthew Cathedral Parish in South Bend.
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