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

Missionary Sisters rely once again upon the care of guardian angels

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the October 20, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Pictured are Sisters Immaculata Burke, left, and Marie Tolle, of the Sisters of Charity of New York, both of whom have completed 40 years of service to the Mayan Indians of the Highlands in the Spokane Mission in Guatemala. The beloved “madres” have encountered countless personal and natural disasters that must have challenged their guardian angels over the years. They are currently recovering from when a car ran into them with such force that it broke the rear axle of the four-wheel-drive vehicle they were driving. (IR photo courtesy of Jerry Monks)

Some guardian angels must deserve overtime pay! One would think the task of protecting two nuns nearing retirement would get a bit easier, especially when their ages hover around 80and 90 years old. But that’s not the case for Sisters Marie Tolle and Immaculata Burke, Sisters of Charity of New York who have served in the Spokane Mission in Guatemala since 1971.

The gentle Sisters of Charity seem to have faced more personal and natural disasters than an entire convent of missionaries might be expected to encounter. Fortunately, their heavenly protectors have faithfully guided them with watchful care (Catechism of the Catholic Church 336) through countless mishaps and adversities.

The Highlands of Guatemala are practically a home for natural disasters. In the past, the Sisters serving in the Spokane mission have had to endure storms, major earthquakes, and even violent hurricanes that dumped torrential rains on their mountainous abode. They accept the fact that these tribulations all “come with the mission territory.”

Roadway hazards are another story. In 40 years of navigating treacherous roads of the Highlands, the two companions have encountered nearly every roadway tragedy that one could imagine. This includes everything from mud-slick road-like paths to roll-over accidents, and even personal hold-ups – with a gun pointed their way. Road hazards have injected some delays in their service, but their guardian angles seem well versed in finding detours.

Sister Marie has trekked miles down ravines into mountain villages to train catechists, not knowing exactly when or how she will climb out. But her native partners always came through with assistance. In 1994, when Sister Immaculata was hospitalized in a distant city for pneumonia, many native people from her area hiked over the 12,000-feet Continental Divide to be at her bedside. The two nuns are truly revered souls to the Mayan people of the mountains.

Recently, as Sisters Marie and Immaculata were pulling out onto the Inter American Highway from their village of Novillero, a speeding car crashed into the rear end of their four-wheel-drive. The impact was so strong that it broke the rear axle of their vehicle. Sister Marie was badly shaken, and Sister Immaculata suffered a severe gash on her leg. Fortunately no bones were broken. Guardian angels again working overtime?

The two missionaries are gradually getting back to work, keeping the pastoral activities on track and arranging for medicines needed by the four clinics that operate in the Highlands. They send their heartfelt thanks to the parishes and individuals of the Spokane Diocese for the prayers on their behalf and for the steadfast support of the Guatemala Mission they have received in the past.

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