Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Spokane family’s visit to Guatemala mission will have life-long impact
by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff
(From the April 7, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Left: Anne Buckley-Jones meets one of Sololá’s younger residents.
Greg and Ann Buckley-Jones have been financially supporting the medical clinics in the Spokane Diocese’ Sister Diocese of Sololá, Guatamala, for nearly 20 years. They always thought it would be nice to visit, but it never seemed to be the right time.
The right time came very suddenly this past fall when Sister Immaculata Burke, the Health Care Coordinator for the Diocese of Sololá, came to visit Spokane. “So, when are you coming to visit me?” the elderly Sister of Charity asked the couple in her Irish brogue. Her tone implied that a negative answer was not to be accepted. So, the couple set about making their dream of a trip to Guatamala a reality.
On Feb. 17, the couple and their two children, Katie, 15, and Tony, 11, departed from the Spokane airport for Guatamala. They landed in Guatamala City and found a driver to take them to Sololá and Sister Immaculata.
Katie Buckley-Jones visits Sololá’s preschool classroom.
It took the family all of about five minutes to discover that Guatamala is nothing like the United States. Their driver wove in and out of traffic that flowed jerkily with little heed for traffic laws or signals. As they wound and zigzagged their way through the mountainous terrain to Sololá, the driver swerved around buses, coming within inches of sheer drop-offs with no guard rails.
When they finally arrived safely in Sololá after a somewhat harrowing journey, they headed immediately to the nearest medical clinic, located just behind the small house Sister Immaculata shares with Sister Marie Tolle, where Sister Immaculata and Dr. Jose Vasquez work tirelessly to solve the medical ails of the small and primitive community.
Sister Immaculata and Sister Marie minister to the people of Sololá, a diocese of 29 parishes. The Sisters work closely with the Adopt-A-Family program, established in 1984 by Jerry and Clara Monks of Spokane. Through AAF, Spokane-area sponsors help Guatemala families get the skills and resources they need to become self-sufficient.
Sister Immaculata has been in the Sololá Diocese for 34 years. A registered nurse, she is the first person the locals go to for any health emergency – from the birth of a child or a common cold to injuries sustained while working in the fields or vaccinations against dangerous illnesses like the measles.
Right: Dr. Jose Vasquez and Sister Marie Tolle minister through medical care in Sololá’s clinic.
Sister Marie has spent the last 24 years in Sololá training catechists and providing pastoral ministries. Both Sisters work with many of the same people and assist with other mission-based programs in the diocese.
When the Buckley-Jones family came to Sololá, they brought with them medical supplies for the clinics, small toys for the children and hearts eager to learn more about the community they had been supporting for 20 years. They were not disappointed.
They attended a well-baby clinic, communicating and playing with the women and children waiting for their exams, and watched Sister Immaculata and Dr. Vasquez check baby after baby, administering immunizations and handing out pamphlets on proper infant nutrition and hygiene.
The family also toured the many organizations sponsored by individuals and parishes in the Spokane Diocese that have helped the community’s economy and quality of life.
One stop on their tour was the trout pond operation, where the local people grow and harvest Washington Rainbow Trout for sale. They also visited the local mission-based pre-school, where young children are encouraged along the early path of learning. The community center is also funded by individuals in Spokane, and offers classes, Bible studies, and a sewing room.
The Buckley-Joneses held babies and laughed with adults. Tony played soccer with other kids about his age and handed out toys to the younger ones.
The family stayed with Sister Immaculata and Sister Marie, experiencing first-hand the primitive and simple conditions under which the two Sisters choose to live while they carry out their ministry.
“It was such an inspirational trip,” said Ann. “It was a response to a call of faith.”
“The Sisters are long-term committed to the people and to changing their own lives in order to serve them,” said Greg.
The family learned a lot about themselves and their Catholic faith, as well.
“I really became aware that my life is worth no more or not less than anybody else,” said Ann. “I think all of us would stand to be educated or re-awakened to another way to imagine reality.”
The Buckley-Jones said their children really benefited from the trip, as well.
“They are fairly privileged kids,” said Greg. “The trip let them see that not everybody lives like we do here in Spokane.”
When they got home, the kids sat down to write thank you notes to Sister Immaculata and Sister Marie for letting them stay with them during their visit. When they finished, Ann skimmed over the notes and a line from her daughter Katie’s note brought tears to her eye.
“You’ve changed my life forever,” she said in the note to Sister Immaculata.
That is a sentiment each member of the Buckley-Jones family shares.
(IR photos courtesy of the Buckley-Jones Family)