Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Church turns out to honor Guatemala missionary Sister Marie Tolle

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the June 16, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

Guests from Guatemala attended the 4th annual Guatemala Mission Celebration May 17 at Barrister Winery in Spokane. From left are Sister Marie Tolle of the Sisters of Charity of New York; Father David Baronti; Sister Mary Ann Daly, the Sisters of Charity missionary director; and Dr. José Miguel Vasquez. (IR photo courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

Members of the Spokane community gathered at Barrister Winery on May 17: to express appreciation to those who work in the remote Guatemala mission, as well as those who have so generously supported them. The planned words, displays, presentations, and awards could not, however, do justice to the thanks deserved for the years of dedicated service by those who were honored at the celebration.

Special recognition was given to Sister Marie Tolle of the Sisters of Charity of New York for her 36 years of work with the native Mayan people. Sister Marie is an outstanding example of the 16 Sisters of Charity who preceded her in serving the Mayan people since 1971.

Over the years, Sister Marie has helped train an untold number of native catechists and prepared countless youngsters for First Communion and Confirmation. The situations she has encountered in the Highlands – elevation from 7,000-11,000 feet – range from the quiet prayers of adoration to the violence of Guatemala’s civil war.

Shortly after her arrival in Guatemala, Sister Marie and her companion, Sister Immaculata Burke, also of the Sisters of Charity of New York, joined missioner Father Jim McGreevy from the Spokane Diocese for the Sisters’ first journey into the extremely remote area of Tzamjuyub, described as an aldea/hamlet located in an extinct volcano. To get down into it, one must first go up on a makeshift trail that rises above 11,000 feet. Their plan was to drive over the crest and as far down the steep grade as they could. On the way to the crest, however, their vehicle got stalled at a stream, so they had to start walking sooner than planned.

It was a long way down to Tzamjuyub – a very long way. The last several hundred feet down were in total darkness; there’s no electricity in the area. When they finally arrived, they groped their way into a primitive shelter, unable to see what was really inside. Unrolling their sleeping bags on the dirt floor, they crawled in for some much anticipated rest.

Then a sudden commotion arose. Sister Immaculata’s shriek penetrated the darkness, and Father McGreevy jumped up, swinging his arms wildly at a scampering creature. A rat had ventured into the head area of Sister Immaculata’s sleeping bag.

When dawn finally arrived, the three missionaries became aware of another animal in their abode: a sheep.

That was Sister Marie’s introduction to Tzamjuyub. Years later, she would be pinning First Communion veils on the young girls in a new class of about 60 youngsters in that same village. Sister Marie’s gentle instruction in the Catholic faith has enhanced the lives of thousands of native people in the Highlands of Guatemala.

The Guatemala Commission event at Barrister, attended by some 150 people, included remarks from Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly.

The evening also included an array of appetizers and afforded an opportunity to make a silent bid, or purchase, donated items. Among the standouts there were prints donated by artist Tom Shine and tickets to Gonzaga University men’s and women’s basketball games.

Two other well-known visitors attended from Guatemala: Father David Baronti, a priest of the Spokane Diocese, and Dr. José Miguel Vasquez. Father Baronti is the long-serving eighth “Padre de Spokane” serving in Guatemala, and Dr. Miguel is the Director of Health Clinics in the mission area.

Roger and Miriam Devaney of St. Thomas More Parish made a short presentation, describing some of the numerous Family-To-Family programs in Guatemala.

Among the other special guests at the Spokane event May 17 was the missionary director of Sisters of Charity of New York, Sister Mary Ann Daly.

After being honored for her service, Sister Marie thanked, first, God and the Spokane Diocese for her opportunity to serve; second, the native Mayan people she has come to love; and, third, her congregation, the Sisters of Charity of New York, for sending her to Guatemala.

The evening saw the selection of a raffle winner for the beautiful quilt that had been on display at 15 parishes of the diocese over the previous 14-week period. The quilt was supplied by quilters at St. Mary Parish, Spokane Valley, with finishing touches by Emily Tate of St. Joseph Parish, Colbert. Thanks to the winner (Robert Beaumier of Sacred Heart Parish) and the many others who purchased tickets, the raffle raised $3,782 for Guatemala Commission projects.

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

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