Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spokane Diocese honors Sisters Immaculata Burke, Marie Tolle for service in Guatemala mission

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the Nov. 11, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Laurene Nauditt, Sister Marie Tolle, Sister Immaculata Burke

Sisters Marie Tolle (center) and Immaculata Burke (right) visit with principal Laurene Nauditt during the Sisters’ visit to St. Mary School, Spokane Valley, last month. The Sisters used the photo boards to show sutdents some of the clinical, pastoral, and other activities they have participated in during their 33 years of service in the Spokane Diocese’s Guatemala mission. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

When Pope John XXIII asked for support of the Latin American Church in 1958, Bishop Bernard Topel responded on behalf of the Diocese of Spokane. After some consultation with Maryknoll missionaries, Bishop Topel committed the Diocese to serve the indigenous Indians of Mayan descent in the remote mountains of Northern Guatemala.

In the early 1960s, the thousands of impoverished Indians living in the Guatemala Highlands were largely illiterate. They lived in dirt-floored huts with no water or electricity. Their diet was corn, with possibly a few beans. Food often ran out before the next crop was ready; malnutrition was common.

The Quiché-speaking natives were truly second-class citizens in their own country. Their ancestors had been driven farther and farther up the volcanic slopes of the mountains since the Spanish invaded their land 450 years earlier. Schools and medical services were not available to them. Lifespan was only about 30 years, and nearly half of the children could be expected to die by the age of five.

Although the Sololá region still ranks among the poorest in the country, much has changed in the intervening 44 years. Schools have been constructed and staffed, clinics opened, and pastoral instruction extended to remote areas. This was accomplished through the efforts of many priests, Religious, and lay volunteers. Support for this came from the people of the Diocese of Spokane.

Two individuals who were (and remain) at the forefront of these challenging missionary efforts in Guatemala were honored last month in Spokane by the people they have represented for over 30 years. Sisters Immaculata Burke and Marie Tolle, Sisters of Charity of New York, accepted assignments in the Highlands of Guatemala in 1971. Their inspirational impact on the lives of the people has been immeasurable.

Sister Immaculata, a nurse, took on responsibility for health care activities. She quickly initiated programs of vaccination and training for health care promoters. Now, after 33 years of dedicated work, she has a native physician, professionally trained staff, and local clinics in four villages.

Sister Marie moved quickly into educating youngsters in their faith, training local catechists, and initiating adult programs. Her work has brought life-supporting skills and improved self-esteem to countless native women.

During their visit to the diocese last month, Spokane parishioners took the opportunity to welcome the Sisters with numerous receptions, meetings, and gatherings at supporting parishes. During their first weekend they attended seven Masses and receptions in Pasco and Walla Walla. They returned to Spokane for meetings and a citywide potluck at St. Thomas More Parish. Their full schedule included Masses and receptions at Assumption and St. Thomas More parishes in Spokane.

A highlight of the trip for Sisters Marie and Immaculata was a Friday morning visit to St. Mary School in Spokane Valley. Principal Laurene Nauditt, who seemed to know the name of every child in school, escorted them from class to class.

A kindergarten student, whose father was a dentist, told the Sisters her “daddy could go to Guatemala to help, but don’t keep him too long.” Another youngster wanted to know if Sister Immaculata ever went to school, and if so, where? A fifth grader inquired about religious beliefs of the natives before the Sisters arrived in Central America.

Spokane Bishop William Skylstad was in Rome during the Sister’s visit, but conveyed the appreciation of the Diocese of Spokane in a plaque that was presented to them. The citation read:

The people of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane express their joy and heartfelt thanksgiving to Sr. Immaculata Burke and Sr. Marie Tolle for your many years of service to the people of the Solola Diocese in Guatemala on behalf of Catholics in Eastern Washington.

Our love for those in need in Guatemala is made visible by the medical and pastoral efforts that you have put forth and the example you give. I commend you on behalf of the people of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane. We are grateful to the Lord Jesus for the spirit of service that he has placed in you and for your willingness to be his hands in this mission. May his peace be with you.

(signed) Bishop William Skylstad, Catholic Diocese of Spokane

(Jerry Monks is a member of the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)

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