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Sister Lisa Marie Belz meets the challenge during challenging times

Posted August 17, 2021 in Articles
Author: Contributed by Sister Lisa Marie Belz

Sister Lisa Marie Belz meets the challenge during challenging times

When everything else shut down in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sister Lisa Marie Belz, a Scripture professor at St. Mary Seminary, kept up with her commitments both locally and abroad thanks to Zoom. Prior to the pandemic, she was already scheduled to give a series of monthly, day-long talks on Scripture to Spanish-speaking lay ecclesial ministers. When meeting in person became impossible, she developed those day-long talks into Spanish-language online Scripture courses, one given in the summer and another in the fall. She was also scheduled to go to Ecuador in July 2020 to give two retreats to women religious and then a week-long workshop to catechists in the Diocese of Sucumbíos, in Ecuador’s Amazon. Although it was no longer possible to go to Ecuador, diocesan officials in Sucumbíos asked her if she could still give their catechists conferences via Zoom. Sister Lisa Marie began on the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene (July 22), giving a talk about this saint to more than 80 Ecuadoran catechists who joined her via Zoom. Her talk was also broadcast via the local Sucumbíos radio station; it was heard by people from as far away as Colombia, Peru, and even Brazil. Then a Nicaraguan sister who had previously been on one of Sister’s retreats invited her to give a series of talks on women in Scripture to a women’s group in Managua, which she did throughout the summer of 2020. Sister Lisa Marie was then approached by the Cleveland diocesan catechetical office, who had heard through the Hispanic Ministry office about her online Scripture courses. They asked her to give a monthly online course on prayer from September through December via Zoom to Spanish-speaking catechists. When Sucumbíos contacted her again for a fall program, she gave the same online course on prayer to their catechists.         

All this was in addition to Sister Lisa Marie’s full-time ministry as a Scripture professor at St. Mary’s Seminary where she continues to teach graduate courses in both Testaments, as well as guide graduate students in their MA or DMin culminating projects. This year was especially gratifying when three graduate students whom she guided passed their final projects with honors.

Sister also is the chair of the Deutero-Pauline section of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), an international organization of biblical scholars. As chair, she organizes her section’s participation in the SBL’s annual meeting, attended by thousands of scholars from around the world. (The Deutero-Pauline section invites scholarly papers on those epistles that scholars believe were not written by St. Paul himself but by his disciples.) The most recent annual meeting was offered virtually; Sister Lisa Marie organized two remote two-hour sessions with scholars participating from Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. She is currently working on this year’s annual meeting in November, which will be both virtual and in-person, again with many international participants.

So once things opened up and the school year ended, what was Sister Lisa Marie up to during the summer of 2021? She finished writing the Scripture reflections for the September/October issue of Emmanuel Magazine. Then she gave two days of Scripture conferences via Zoom to students at the Pontifical University of Quito, Ecuador, June 7 and 8.  Nearly three hundred participants attended from twenty three countries! And at the end of June, Sister was a presenter at the St. Angela summer retreat for her Ursuline Sisters.

Sister Lisa Marie returned to her Cleveland Spanish-speaking lay ecclesial ministry friends with monthly day-long workshops on Scripture, but this time in person. She also “returned” to Sucumbíos via Zoom in July to give a week-long Scripture workshop to her catechist friends there, while she worked on transforming her Spanish-language Power Point talks on prayer into English language online videos for Cleveland’s catechetical office. During the summer, Sister has been involved with congregational work on two post-chapter committees and Mission and Heritage projects, and also worked on the planning team for the 2022 North American Ursuline Convocation. Late in summer she traveled to San Diego to give a weekend mission appeal for COAR.

Why does Sister Lisa Marie accept so many invitations, both locally and abroad? In short, “As a former missionary to El Salvador, I never stopped being a missionary! I am delighted to do ‘mission work’ without having to leave Pepper Pike.”

So what has Sister Lisa Marie been doing for fun? She’s developed a new course, an Introduction to Hebrew, which she will teach in the fall semester. A former Spanish teacher, Sister is still a foreign language teacher at heart, which makes her enormously excited about designing the new Hebrew course for St. Mary’s students. Although she had to cancel a trip to Israel last summer because of the pandemic, nonetheless, because there is so much good material available online these days, she was able to bring her students with her to Israel virtually and to have a “Hebrew party” with them every Monday night this fall semester. She has also taken up indoor gardening as a hobby, becoming an expert in caring for anthuriums, orchids, shamrocks, Christmas cacti and violets…plants discarded by others but which she adopted and has brought back to life!

Mazel tov, Sister Lisa Marie, and bendiciones, blessings, on your work on behalf of God’s people, both here in Cleveland and around the world!