GAITHERSBURG, Md. — 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 become Dominicans 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 51-year-old twin Dominican sisters, religious for 32 years, did shed some tears recently, at a Sunday, Aug. 5 farewell party at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg to honor them and Sister Cruz Vega, another member of their religious order. The sisters have received new assignments in Puerto Rico.
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: “As missionaries, we leave our families to go wherever God asks us.” She noted that at St. Martin, “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 Wednesday, Aug. 8, the feast day of St. Dominic, who along with Mary, is their community’s patron saint, Sister Judith and Sister Maristella spoke to the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper.
As women religious, they chose personal mottos. Sister Judith’s is “Loving as God loves,” and Sister Maristella’s is “Happiness of God.” They said in their ministries, they have sought to bring God’s love and happiness to those whom they have served.
The twin sisters, natives of Hartford, Connecticut, both have degrees in social work. Their family ministry at St. Martin 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.”)
Sister Judith and Sister Maristella have lived and worked together for the past 15 years. Before moving to Gaithersburg, they were able to care for their sick mother, who died in 2011.
For Sister Judith and Sister Maristella, their twin vocations are intertwined together, in lives of service to God and families and 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 sibling.
Sister Maristella added, “She’s part of me, and I’m part of her.”