Thursday, May 6, 2010

elizabeth hayes

Tonight, while our Minnesota-based supporters and donors gathered at St. Catherine University for Carmen Pampa Fund's annual event, I sat with students and faculty in the church here in Carmen Pampa and watched as Sr. Jean Morrissey, Sr. Helena Harney, and Sr. Helen Bubu renewed their religious vows in honor of the feast day of Elizabeth Hayes--founder of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (MFIC).

For about 30 years, the MFICs have had a strong presence here in Carmen Pampa and neighboring Coroico. Even before Sr. Damon and her congregation helped start the College, the Sisters served as champions of education and justice for the poor. Today, Sr. Jean serves the College as director of the Theology Department. She's supported by Sr. Helena (of Ireland) and Sr. Helen (of Papua New Guinea) who also manage a boarding school near Coroico.

Sr. Jean Morrissey with two UAC-CP graduates and a UAC-CP Nursing student.

During a special dinner we shared with the Sisters before mass, Hugh asked Jean, Helena, and Helen what they admired most about Elizabeth Hayes, founder of their order. And I thought it was interesting that all three of them talked about her courage, her tenacity. They talked about her dedication to serve and walk alongside the poor--in whatever far away place that might be.

From the bits and pieces I know of Elizabeth Hayes' life, it seems to me that she was a bit of a rebel--in the sense that she was willing to take risks to do things and go places based on what she believed to be right by her faith. And when I consider that, its no surprise that the FMIC Sisters I know chose to follow Elizabeth's path.

Sr. Carmen Minga, a native of Peru, is a graduate of the UAC-CP's Nursing Program.

I am a witness to the ways in which the Sisters do "faith justice." They live their faith as companions and witnesses to the lives and spirit of the poor. Their work here in Bolivia is expressed clearly in Article 97 of their Constitution: "As Franciscans we shall be prepared to work personally and corporately to change unjust systems that maintain peoples and societies in a condition of oppression. By living and teaching the social principles of the Church we witness in our lives to both the oppressed and the oppressors. It is through the expression of love in our pursuit of justice that we will promote peace and reconciliation."

Tonight, after we sang the closing hymn, I was both proud and very touched to watched students line up to greet the Sisters with handshakes and hugs...and words of congratulations and thanks. I followed their lead and stood in line behind a UAC-CP Veterinary Science student. "Thanks, Sister," I overheard him tell Sr. Helena sincerely mid-hug. "Thanks for being here; thanks for helping us."

There are so many things our Sisters do for all of us, so it was nice to have a moment to celebrate them and their work. And to remember the brave Elizabeth Hayes who started it all.

And for those who missed it, Nicolas Kristof of the NYTimes had a nice column in last Sunday's paper about the work of Catholic priests and nuns (click here to read it). The only thing it lacked was mention of our Sisters here!

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