Translator of Writing of Pope Francis Has Strong Ties to Adrian Dominican Sisters

Marina Herrera, right, spends time with, from left, Sisters Susanne Hofweber, OP and Joanne “Jodie” Screes, OP during her November 2014 visit to Adrian.

July 27, 2020, Bronx, New York – A three-volume series of the homilies and speeches of Archbishop of Buenos Aires (1999-2013), Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) might at first glance seem far removed from Adrian, Michigan. Yet the three-volume set has a special connection to the Adrian Dominican Sisters: the works were translated from Spanish into English by Marina A. Herrera, PhD, a former Adrian Dominican Sister who remains a friend of many members of the Congregation.

Marina, a full-time translator and writer for various religious publishers, became involved in translating In Your Eyes I See My Words, through one of the many religious education publishers for which she works. Marina works closely with the publisher of Pflaum, whose wife also a religious education writer had attended school with Fredric Nachbaur, Director of Fordham University Press (FUP), and called her for some recommendations when FUP got the copyright from Rissoli Libri, publisher of the same content in Italian, but in one volume (2016). The director himself contacted Marina about the possibility of translating the volumes from Spanish to English.

Volume I was released in the fall of 2019 and Volume II in March 2020. At the time of the interview, Volume III was at the compositor.

“I usually translate English into Spanish,” said Marina, a native of the Dominican Republic whose first language is Spanish. While she prefers translating from English into Spanish, she feels more comfortable with theological vocabulary in English, the language of all her graduate work. It also helped that Bergoglio was very involved with the CELAM (Consejo Episcopal de Latinoamérica y el Caribe) conferences in Puebla (Mexico), Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), and Aparecida (Brazil), events that Marina studied and wrote about when they occurred. 

She completed the translation of the three-volume series by Archbishop Bergoglgio, with 360,000 words in two years, corresponding to two thirds of her output during that time. She works with an international team of translators who help her with the first draft of many documents, editing and proofreading. 

In an interview, Marina spoke of the art of translation. “Translation has been transformed by the digital revolution and the ease of consulting with people from across the world in very field,” she said, explaining that many tools have been created to make translation less time-consuming. Translation programs or CATS, (computer aided translations), far from being machine translators for example, keep in memory what has already been translated, helping to maintain consistency over long texts 

The accessibility of English translations of documents that Pope Francis cited also reduces the time it took to translate the three volumes. “I asked one of my collaborators who knows Spanish and English well to go through all the documents of the Church that the Pope quotes and to find them in English from the Vatican website,” Marina explained.

But translators still face a number of challenges. Marina spoke in particular of the challenges she faced in translating the works of Pope Francis. “The difficulty is [the Pope] is an incredible wordsmith and many of his innovations are entering the pastoral language,” she said. “But many have been translated into English by people who did not understand the pastoral context in which they arose, necessitating a compilation of many of these terms. One of these books is entitled A Pope Francis Lexicon (Liturgical Press, 2018).” 

Marina gave the example of Pope Francis’ use of the word Encuentro. “The Pope uses the word encuentro all the time…but what he’s really talking about is engagement, because encounter can be a violent confrontation,” she said. “At the time of the hearings for Kavanaugh [for his confirmation as Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court], the word used to describe the reason for the public hearing was sexual encounter. It seemed far from the meaning of encounter in the way that the pope was using it to bring about dialogue, engagement, and commitment.” 

Pope Francis’ frequent use of the language of sports – particularly soccer – has also been a challenge for Marina. “In the Dominican Republic where I was born, I didn’t have any soccer experience,” she said, adding that she learned about soccer from her daughter’s participation in the sport in the United States beginning in first grade. She consulted with her friends from Argentina to get the gist of what Pope Francis meant when he made references to soccer, a sport he and most Argentines are are dedicated fans. “People don’t realize the importance of not just translating literally when the intent was figurative,” she said. “That’s probably the hardest thing in translation.”

Marina’s connection to Argentina began in 1969 with her father, also a friend to the Congregation in the Dominican Republic. She visited there more than a dozen times and travelled from Patagonia and the Glacier Perito Moreno and Bariloche, to Misiones and Iguazu; Salta and Jujui, la Quebrada de Humahuaca and the Great Salt Flats at 11,320 above sea level. 

Marina said her work as a translator has taught her the importance of words. “When people use words that carry meaning, something miraculous happens.” The title of the volumes by Pope Francis – In Your Eyes I See My Words – expresses some of that miraculous power, she said. The title connotes “the deep, profound experience of looking at someone and seeing the person as person first – as someone with an experience different from mine and as someone with a gift from God totally different from mine.” 

Marina carries with her a rich background. After meeting the Adrian Dominican Sisters at Collegio Santo Domingo, she entered the Congregation in 1960 and remained in the community until 1979. She ministered as a coordinator of catechetical formation in one of the clusters of parishes in the southern part of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Sister Mary Francis Coleman – one of her teachers in the Dominican Republic – was in charge of selecting Sisters to go on to higher education. She recommended that Marina earn a theology degree. 

Marina attended Fordham University, where she earned her master’s degree and doctorate in theology in 1974. Her dissertation was A Critique of the Anthropology and Ecclesiology of the Theology of Liberation. She then taught at the State University of New York and co-chaired the Religion in the City program in Empire State College in Manhattan, a branch of SUNY for adults who work with mentors to complete their bachelor’s degrees. Marina went on to work for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., initiating the office of catechesis for a multicultural society in the Department of Education in 1976. She stayed in the Washington area after leaving the Congregation to teach at Washington Theological Union for about 10 years. She since became a full-time translator and writer for religious publishers.

Marina spoke of the influence of the Adrian Dominican Sisters throughout her life. “Adrian has been the shaper of my adult life and my desire to be a preacher and to be a teacher of religion,” she said. She describes herself as “Dominican to the Second Power, a Dominican twice: the Dominican Republic and the Adrian Dominicans.” She was educated in her early years by Spanish Carmelites and had attended several Jesuit retreats, but “when I first met the Adrian Dominican Sisters as teachers, I fell in love with the Dominicans. I knew that’s where I belonged.”