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Sister Marilú Covani

Current ministry: Director of Worship, Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif.

Years in the Congregation: 27 years

Favorite music: Argentine folk music

Favorite recreation: movies

Favorite hobby: water color, clay

Favorite author: Graham Greene

Favorite hero: Bishop Dom Helder Camara, Brazil

Sister Marilú Saltzmann Covani was born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1939, and became a Sister of Providence in August 1987. In-between, Marilú, after earning a bachelor’s degree, started medical school in Rosario, Argentina. There she met and married Enrique Covani, a medical doctor. After living and working in Salta, Argentina, for five years, they moved to the U.S. in 1967 and lived in New York and Michigan while they continued their studies and work. They became parents to beloved son, Ricky. Ricky was only 9 years old when his father died and Marilú raised him to adulthood. She had thought about a religious vocation when she was young and before she got married but her life took another path. After her husband died, she continued working at a hospital in Michigan, and was involved in parish work. She met the Sisters of Providence at the beginning of her widowhood, and the experience reaffirmed her calling to religious life. Before entering she asked her son for his blessing, who by then had become a young father. Her formation period was an emotional time for both of them. Now she remains as present to her family as she does with her Congregation, and they are very happy with her choice.

Video: Sister Marilú talks a little about her experience in the Eucharistic Liturgy.

Heart for ministry

Sister Marilú has always had a heart for ministry. When she was a child and teenager, she was taught by the Italian Sisters of Mercy at Nuestra Sra de la Misericordia School, in Argentina. She was involved in mission and ministry through high school. “When I entered Medical School, I got involved in Catholic Action at the university. We went to the barrios, the poor areas and visited the clinic. I belonged also to a young adult parish ministry and again felt called.”

Marilu at work

Sister Marilú (left) talks with a staff member about education opportunities at the diocese.

God had other plans. Marilú got married and moved to an area in northern Argentina, by Bolivia, where there were migrants and indigenous people. Her husband and she took care of them, during surgeries and even helped deliver babies. She then got involved with the Franciscans missions. She learned a lot and loved the opportunities. When Marilú and her husband came to the States, they stayed involved in the Catholic Church, although it was hard at that time in Long Island to find Masses in Spanish. Little by little she became more bilingual. They moved to Michigan and she became involved in the St. Vincent de Paul parish in Pontiac.

After her husband died in 1977, Marilú became more involved in her parish ministry, and in Detroit, she met the Sisters of Providence. “I met Sister Susan Dinnin, who became a spiritual and ministry companion first and, later, a good friend. She invited me to gatherings of sisters and eventually to visit Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.” Sister Marilú felt at home with the Congregation and in her calling.

In 1989, as a mission novice, Sister Marilú asked for and was granted permission to move to southern California, where her family is located and she served as pastoral coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, San Gabriel Region, and later at the archdiocesan office of worship. During those years she obtained an master’s degree in religious studies.

By the time Sister Marilú moved to work in the pastoral center in the Diocese of San Bernardino in 1998, she had obtained 18 credit hours toward a master’s degree in clinical psychology. She had planned with the community support to open a house with Sister Carol Nolan and other sisters either in Mexico or on the border. “After I started here, in this Diocese, I realized I didn’t have to go to Mexico or the border, the ministry possibility was already here. Within the multi-cultural diocese, I feel very much at home. I like all the cultures here. Like the Vietnamese, and other Asian and Asian Pacific cultures they have their gifts and their ways and African-Americans and other people of African descend have their gifts , and on and on with many other cultures here. It is just a humbling and enriching experience.”

Since 1998, Sister Marilú Covani has served as director of worship at the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino. She assists Bishop Gerald Barnes, who Sister Marilú says is a “ very good bishop who is committed to the people,” and also the Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego, from Spain. She also works closely with Sister Paulina H. Hurtado, O.P., the associate director; Kathy Lindell, liturgical consultant; Anabelle Estrella, administrative secretary, Adriana Franco, liturgical formation and site coordinator and Chris Estrella, music assistant.
“Worship is important today because it is where our common faith and relationship with God is celebrated in the liturgy. Some people go to church because they are doing their duty or they are in trouble with God. It’s a gift of hope, peace and a call to mission to help people to ‘connect’ to understand and learn to fully participate in worship . We can reach many people through the Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy,” said Sister Marilú.

A worship director’s day

Sister Marilú attends 8 a.m. mass and then goes to her office. She opens her computer and reads and responds to her emails. “As the director of worship, I respond to all types of needs – calls about liturgical transitions, deacon ordination, or the need for and preparation of worship aids.” She works with 97 parishes, with the archdiocese reaching east to Arizona and ending with the Colorado River, going north towards Baker, and Nevada, and stretching southwest to Montclair and the Los Angeles Archdiocese. She has been in San Bernardino for 16 years, teaching and preparing classes and serving on committees. “We help new parishes – the building of new churches, and the renovation of others. It is a real challenge to respect all people, priests, parishioners and cultures as churches are renovated,” said Sister Marilu.

She organizes events including workshops, lectures, practical training and formation classes for parish ministers and clergy. Evening workshops range from reading music (a six-week class) and parish reader formation and training to similar classes in Spanish. These classes provide liturgical education and formation practices for parish liturgical and musical leaders and liturgical ministers. They help lead the faithful to an active participation in the Church.

She also stays close with her son and daughter-in-law, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson, visiting with them when she can. Her son and family were able to attend her 25th Silver Jubilee, which meant the world to her.

When asked how she got involved in worship ministry, Sister Marilú said, “I kind of was hooked.” She was working in hispanic ministry in Los Angeles and she served on an hispanic board for the archdiocese. “We were at a meeting and we were complaining that not enough was being done. The monsignor said, ‘We need to have a person who could work in the office that was bilingual and so we’re doing a national search’.” Sister Marilu said, “You know, in my country they say that ‘the best is the enemy of the good.’ You may just need to look for someone who is good, and has some liturgy knowledge that is willing to do it. He asked me, ‘Do you want the job?’” The rest is history and soon Sister Marilú was working in the office of worship in L.A.

Encouraging people to be shepherds

Sister Marilú’s favorite part of ministry is parish formation days. “It’s an opportunity for lay leaders to take classes … to take possession of their ministries. They are more sure of themselves. They feel more like shepherds than sheep.” She also said that she likes diocesan celebrations when she sees children participating.

She mentions that she’s had her times of discouragement with the Church. She said, “Nothing is perfect – the Church is human as much as divine. Since Pope Francis, there are less discouraging times. I really identify with his beliefs.”

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Sister Marilú is very close to Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence. She describes her as “my mother, my saint. She calls me and walks with me in my journey. I walk with Mary and Jesus and all these people around me: my sisters, the diocesan people and my family. Really, I am a happy religious, and very grateful to the ones who invited me and walked with me along these 28 years. ”

Sisters Diane Mason, at left, and Sister Marilu Covani join their table's discussion.

Sister Marilú Covani (center, right) joins the table discussion with associates and Sister Diane Mason (left), during the summer annual meeting.

Maintaining community while out on mission

The sisters in California stay in touch with one another and with associates. “We do things together, we talk by phone. Sister Cathy White and I work at the pastoral center. Sister Jeanette (Lucinio) stayed with me last night, from San Diego. Sister Martha (Rojo) and I visit each other.”

She also stays in close contact with Sisters Carol Nolan and Loretta Picucci with Providence in the Desert, in the Coachella Valley, and with Sister Mary Jo Piccione in the high desert. “We have all these different commitments that are very alive so our faith is kind of motivated and supported by what we do and the people we work with,” said Sister Marilú.

Video: Sister Marilú finds a lot of meaning in the Providence Associates.

She also credits the Providence Associates with helping her stay close to community. She has been a companion for Providence Associate Martha Langarica, and also spends time periodically with the associates in the area that meet sometimes at Providence in the Desert. “I am so pleased that we started the associates. It is a response to a call from God to us. They are very involved and full of life. They accompany us and we accompany them. It’s like symbiosis. More and more, we need to listen more to their wisdom. At times, we have a tendency to think that we are the ones that know. They bring something new and different. It’s like the combination of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and the motherhouse. It’s the same way between the associates and SPs. It’s a great thing.”

Read the original All Things Possible story of Sister Marilú Covani

View an article on pages 12-13 in a 2010 issue of HOPE magazine.

Sister Marilú’s Fun Facts

Favorite scripture passage: Isaiah 40 to Isaiah 52Favorite holiday: Advent timeFavorite quote: “Live simply so others may simply live.”Favorite actor: James DeanMy best friend says I’m: caring and thoughtful; stubbornFavorite saint: Theresa de AvilaFavorite sinner: Evita PeronFavorite book: “The Source” by James A. Michener and “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken FollettIf I weren’t an SP, I’d be: a medical doctor or maybe a full-time grandma

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Diane Weidenbenner

Diane Weidenbenner is the annual fund manager and donor relations for the Sisters of Providence Advancement Services office. She's also a Providence Associate.

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