Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay, WI

Return to Nicaragua brings tears of joy as faith thrives

Sisters taught and trained local people   to be leaders of their churches & schools

by Renae Bauer

It’s not often in life we see the fruits of the spiritual seeds we’ve planted. Most of the time, we do what God asks of us then trust God to take it from there.

But in January, Sisters Agnes Fischer and Laura Zelten returned to their mission in Muelle de los Bueyes, Nicaragua, to celebrate the harvest: former student and co-worker Luis Antonio was ordained a priest on Feb. 4.

The Community’s first connection to Luis was through Sister Maria Drzewiecki, who served in Nicaragua from 1970 to 1998. She was Luis’ remote teacher, meaning she supplied educational materials to Luis and other children who lived in “the bush” or remote mountain locations where schools didn’t exist and teachers didn’t tread. The Nicaraguan Revolution was raging and teachers were among the targeted.

Supporting seminary studies

With help from the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, Luis eventually enrolled at the Colegio Madre de Divino Pastor (Mother of the Divine Shepherd School) and then San Pio X Minor Seminary, both in Bluefields, Nicaragua. Luis withdrew from seminary but with a bachelor’s degree in education he worked side by side with Sister Agnes at the Pastoral Institute for Laity in Bluefields. There, they coordinated formation courses for parish ministers. Luis also ministered for nearly 10 years at Parroquia Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer Parish) in Muelle.

A few years ago, Luis returned to seminary, and when he did Sister Agnes said to Sister Laura: “In four years he’s going to be ordained. We have to start budgeting” for the trip to Nicaragua.

Arriving nearly a week before Luis’ ordination allowed the Sisters to reconnect with Luis and dozens of people with whom they ministered and loved.

Serving through war and hurricanes

“Most of the time we were there we had tears. It was just unbelievable, the feeling of love, the commitment to the community, the commitment to serving the Church,” says Sister Laura, who served in Nicaragua from 1989 to 1997. “I think there is such a great love between the Sisters and the people because we were there with them through it all -- including a war and two hurricanes.”

Sister Agnes quickly clarifies: “And when Laura says ‘we’ she means the Capuchins, us, and other Sisters who were there from other communities -- all of the people working together in the diocese with the Bishops.”

Sister Laura continues: “What was so rich about our ministry is that it was international. We were connected with other missionaries without having UNICEF or the Peace Corps. It wasn’t any of that. It was the Church. It was the people of God.”

Through the generations

Both Sisters were pleased to see that the adults and children they taught and worked with are still active in the Church, often as leaders.

For example, a little girl named Martha is now grown up and caring for a chapel on the land she and her husband farm. The chapel is the worship site for many people in the surrounding bush. “Sunday is the day for church,” says Sister Agnes, who served in Nicaragua the longest, from 1970 to 1998. The people gather for the Liturgy of the Word since there is no pastor and then have catechism.

“I think that’s the difference between the Church in the United States and the Church in Nicaragua,” says Sister Laura. “The people are carrying the faith and they’re not waiting for it to come top-down. It’s growing organically.”

And grown it has. “It’s the second generation now that’s doing it,” says Sister Agnes. “We’d meet these young people and ask ‘Who are your grandparents?’ because it’s their grandparents we worked with,” she laughs.

“Our trip wasn’t so much about going back as it was looking at the future and how the Church now is in the hands of the Nicaraguans and it’s doing well,” says Sister Laura. “These are the fruits of our work as a Community – not just Laura, Aggie and Maria – because we were supported by our Sisters. They empowered us to go and serve people in another country.”

BEFORE ORDINATION,  Luis Antonio is presented with a gift from the Sisters of  St. Francis of the Holy Cross. It is a handstitched outline of Nicaragua and Wisconsin with Muelle de los Bueyes  and Green Bay overlapping.

SISTER LAURA ZELTEN,  right, is reunited with former student Sister Dulce Maria, CSA.

FRANCIS AND GUBBIO:  Sister Agnes Fischer and Deacon Margarito visit Cristo Redentor  Church, which was recently built in Muelle do los Bueyes. The enormous front doors are made of native woods and depict St. Francis of Assisi and brother wolf, Gubbio, a story of repentance and forgiveness.

SISTER AGNES FISCHER  and the streets of Muelle de los Bueyes, Nicaragua.


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