Sister M. Augustine Kwitchen saw the disparity between the rich and the poor and sensed that the political scene, with the poor in the mountains being encouraged to demand land reform by the communists, was ready to erupt.
She, along with women religious from several congregations, responded to the need to educate the Peruvian Sisters (18 FT and 18 PT). She organized the library and taught English. The sisters even extended their outreach to high school students. The biggest challenge? Families and religious congregations needed the salaries of workers and couldn't spare members to attend school.
Sister M. Francella Stelmach served as a Clinical Nurse Supervisor for 45 RNS, LPNs and Aides. She traveled over several islands in a small boat and worked to improve care under very primitive conditions by also teaching graduate nurses.
Sister moved to the Truk School of Nursing / Trust Territory of Pacific Islands of Saipan, Mariana Islands. She believed in being with the people and embracing their culture and customs, even their diet. She gamely ate of one delicacy – bat, served whole. Learning how to crack it open she observed, "It wasn't the worst of the foods that came my way."
A broken leg brought her missionary time to an end. She was transported to an army hospital in Honolulu for treatment and rehab. It was only later that her "falling over my own feet" was properly diagnosed as the onset of Lou Gehrig's disease.
Sister Ruth Kuduk and Sister M. Evelyn spent time in Peru in response to a request to send nurses to work in a military hospital. They were excited about the possibility, but questions arose about the role of the Sisters, their ability to minister to the poor, and their connections to the Church of Peru.
These concerns together with the actual contract, which asked for a guarantee of eight nursing sisters, led the Leadership to deny the request seeing it as unfeasible.
Sister Marge Zacharias spent time in this very depressed area. Always an advocate for peace and justice, she worked to support and encourage the poor who lived in the over-crowded conditions of the 45 squatter camps in Recife. The camps were rat infested and lacked clean water. The government was quick to try to quiet voices calling for reform.
Sister Marge was part of the researchers and shapers of the Mission of Accompaniment. Once it came time to leave for the mission, she shared that it was easier to go than to stay because in Africa she only had to worry if she was going to eat.
She and Sister Julitta were part of the Mission Team that included a priest and lay worker. Their ministry was one of sharing the lives of the people. Each had a different role as part of the team and the outreach to the Tonga people.
During their orientation period they felt "adopted" by another congregation in the Franciscan family, the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, who allowed them to stay at their hospitals as they became familiar with the culture, the pace, the language and the life.
As they began to accompany the people Sister Julitta focused on the women's groups, learning from them and sharing her gifts. Sister Marge kept busy teaching pre-evangelization lessons for the little ones. Julie Wright, another member of the accompaniment team, worked with youth ministry and Fr. Paul was busy with sacramental ministry. Later Sister Julitta became the parish administrator at Kamative.
Life was much simpler in Zimbabwe and both of our Sisters spoke of learning patience from the people. "If you have something to eat, eat joyfully. But if not, you wait for the crops to grow."
Sister Jordan has a heart for the poor and vulnerable. In a letter she wrote, "Hunger is still our number one problem, the people are eating the harvest."
As a Maryknoll Associate she was given a cross and tried to witness it faithfully remembered the prayer spoken over the associates, "God, we ask you to bless these crosses so that those who wear them may be a clear sign of your love for the world."
Our presence in Haiti began with a question from Sister Marie Andrée. It developed by means of further research, raising awareness, discernment, and action.
We knew that establishing a foreign mission would be difficult. Joining efforts with another Congregation who had already established one would make our involvement possible. And so it began.
In 1998 Sister Marie Andrée visited Aquin and experienced first-hand the work of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady. Sister Fidelis Rubbo began her search as well, visiting Haiti with members of her parish and feeling the call to return herself. Sister Fidelis joined Sister Althea Jones and Sister Marie Clare Revelard in 2000.
Those early experiences involved being orientated, learning the language and helping the people. They meant being a missionary by being present to a family waiting for their child to be treated, being with them as they sat with a child in the hospice.
Other Sisters visited to provide support, to continue their own discernment, and to be present to the Haitian people. In 2002 Sister Fidelis began to work with the Franciscan Friars of the Central American Province and eventually became administrator of a clinic. She began to gather groups to discuss economic development possibilities which led to a focus on building cisterns and arranging for small loans for women vendors and small business owners.
She was instrumental in providing health vouchers and was busy with pastoral work and enculturation. Sister Fidelis' accounts led to action on our home front with our Sisters, lay partners and parishes in the U.S. working together to raise funds, awareness and ongoing support for the people of Haiti.
Sister Fidelis continued to receive visitors. Some of them brought medical expertise and supplies, other shared building supplies and know-how and still others gave energy to leadership formation. After asking countless times, "How will we ever meet this challenge?"
Hope continued to grow. The great faith and joy of the people was and is infectious. The new Guest House, a project supported by Sylvania Franciscan Health, invites volunteers and impacts the quality of life of everyday people. Collaborations grow stronger and Sister Fidelis and Sister Josephine Dybza look to continuing the journey as we develop a new relationship with the Franiscan Sisters from Aston, PA.
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