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

Women play key role in Guatemala Mission programs

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the February 16, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Sisters Marie Tolle (left) and Immaculate Burke of the Sisters of Charity of New York are just two of the individuals who have dedicated themselves to the success of the Spokane Diocese mission in Guatemala. (IR file photo courtesy of Kathy Miller)

For over 50 years, the Spokane Diocese has supported one or more “Padres” to serve the poor in the Highlands of Guatemala. Priests from Spokane have realized an enormous number of accomplishments, including churches, schools, clinics, a radio station, and even new farming methods.

But the priests have not acted alone. In most cases they have been supported, assisted, and in many cases guided, by women who also have a strong affinity to working with the poor. Some of this may stem from their inherent sensitivity to the feelings of others. Beyond that, however, lies an ability to identify the needs of people, and take the initiative to develop and manage programs to meet those needs.

Women are frequently the change agents that improve the well-being of their families and their communities. In developing countries such as Africa and India, many women have assumed the responsibility of meeting the food and shelter needs of their families. This is often done by engaging in income-producing agricultural and entrepreneurial activities.

A brief review of Spokane’s Guatemala Mission activities reveals that women currently guide a major portion our diocese’s missionary effort there as well.

The decisions concerning which programs to support, and how much funding can be allocated are made by the Guatemala Commission, a volunteer committee chaired by Donna Connell of St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley.

Income for the various programs flows through parish organizations, many of which are headed by women. It first goes to a professional (woman) at the chancery, who ensures an accurate accounting of every contributed penny. Most of the financial support then goes to programs that were established or are guided (or both) by women.

One of the major programs, Health and Clinic support, has been under the direction of Sister Immaculata Burke for over 30 years. Although she has now turned over responsibilities to Dr. José Miguel, the health support structure she has so firmly established will continue for many years to come.

Catholic school support funds are used to pay teachers in the Colegio Nahulalá, most of whom are women. Funding for Our Lady of the Highway elementary school programs flows directly to Sister Marie Tolle, who also manages half of the pastoral funding.

Radio station funding is channeled to Sister Janet Druffel, who took over responsibility of the Voice of Nahualá from Father John Rompa in 1965. Sister Janet serves in an advisory capacity.

Although women play a major role in most of the programs that the Spokane Diocese supports in Guatemala, they exert little influence on one of the very essential programs. And that is unlikely to change in the near future. There are no female administrators, or female students in the seminary in Sololá.

Seminary funding, nevertheless, remains a high priority for the Spokane Diocese’s Guatemala Commission. And women will eventually play a critical role for the seminarians, albeit at a later date. When the seminarians are ordained as priests and move out to remote parishes, they will undoubtedly rely upon many sensitive, intelligent, and dedicated native women to take on leadership roles in their respective parishes and communities.

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

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