Note: Fending off nests of spiders and hunting in the jungle
were just a few of the unexpected experiences our Sisters had while
serving in Nicaragua. These and other stories are part of the
interview transcript that will will be online soon. If you'd like
to know when it's ready, contact email@example.com or
watch our Facebook
Preparing leaders: Deacons
Margarito Gonzalez and Santiago Masis were among the many who
benefited from the Sisters' ministries in Nicaragua from 1970 to
2004. Standing in front of Cristo Redentor Church are, from left,
Helen Crevier, Sister Agnes Fischer, Deacon Margarito, Sister Laura
Zelten, Deacon Santiago and Sister Maria Drzewiecki.
by Renae Bauer
They brought education to illiterate adults, health care to
women and infants, and faith development to more than 40,000 people
in a corner of the world known for political revolutions, poverty,
hurricanes and earthquakes.
This is the experience of nine Sisters of St. Francis of the
Holy Cross who from 1970 to 2004 ministered to the peasant people
in the Apostolic Vicariate (mission territory not yet a diocese) of
Bluefields, Nicaragua, a region most of which was barely accessible
except by mule or boat. Forget about cars, buses and paved
roads. The living was hard but incredibly joyful. Yes,
there were rats and rickety outhouses and even gunfire, but there
was something powerful and intangible there, too. There was a
deep connectedness to one another and to God.
"The greatest gifts were the people who were very open and
hungry for a lot of formation in their faith and education and
health … and very open to us," says Sister Maria Drzewiecki, who
was one of the first Bay Settlement Sisters to minister in
Nicaragua and was among the last to depart. "The other gift was the
solidity of the (Franciscan) Capuchins there and the harmonious
integration of Franciscan and pastoral values and plans."
Sister Maria along with Sister Agnes Fischer, Sister Laura
Zelten and Helen Crevier (a friend of the Community who as a Sister
served in Nicaragua from 1978 to 1989) were blessed to return there
in early December for the vicariate's 100th anniversary
celebration. Not only did they reunite with old friends and
celebrate the local Church's milestone but they also saw first-hand
how the ministries they initiated were flourishing under the care
of local people.
This Community's connection to Nicaragua began in the early
1960s when the Holy Father asked America's religious communities to
share 10 percent of their members with the Church in Latin America.
Taking the challenge seriously, Sister Mary Ellen Lowney, then
Superior General for this Community, contacted a friend, Father Dan
Kabat, OFM Cap., who was serving in Nicaragua. After learning more
about the great need for faith formation and leadership formation,
the Sisters asked Father Kabat to convey to his Bishop, Matthew
Neidheimer, the Community's interest in Nicaragua. In 1970
the first Sisters arrived in the Nicaraguan village of Muelle de
Instead of working in the traditional school or hospital
setting, Father Kabat asked the Sisters to work in the parish where
they could address women's pastoral needs, from preparing them and
their families for the Sacraments to teaching how to be effective
catechists, musicians, adult educators, and so on.
There was also a tremendous need for local people to become
teachers; however, most men and women willing to teach in rural
areas tested between the first- and fourth-grade reading level.
Year after year, through weekend and summer programs, the Sisters
helped them advance through the grades, eventually completing grade
school, then normal school before earning a teaching certificate,
Today, there are 630 teachers and about 18,000 students.
"They learned to read and when you learn to read, you can read
the Gospel. They've learned to dialogue about the Gospel and apply
it to their lives," says Sister Agnes, who ministered in Nicaragua
for 30 years.
Newborns and moms: Doña Silvia is
the administrator of the maternity house in Muelle de los Bueyes,
Nicaragua, which assists at-risk mothers in the surrounding area.
She is one of the first parish health promoters to complete the
regional training program supported by our Sisters.
Among the other changes: Muelle de los Bueyes is no longer
isolated. There are roads, cell phones and television from
Managua. There's even a local radio station operated by the parish,
Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer).
"It's a good station," says Sister Laura. "They broadcast
catechetical information as well as news and music, and you hear it
wherever you go."
There's also a new Cuban hospital and a much-needed maternity
house. "Infant mortality is down to nearly zero," says Sister
Laura. Doña Silvia, the administrator of Casa Materna, started as a
parish health promoter and kept pursuing her education because of
the Sisters. She went back to school, finished grade school
and eventually earned her high school degree, and "now she's
running this maternity house as well as in charge of the health
promoters in the parish," she added.
One thing that has not changed, and probably never will, is the
Sisters' connection to the Nicaraguan people. "It's not
something of our past or our history. The bond still exists," says
This story originally appeared in the Sisters' newsletter.
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