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In October 1963, Sisters Francis Xavier Ruth, Marie Garnier (Joan) McMahon and Bertille Riordan started a mission in Guatemala. They traveled to Teculután to establish a school. A construction committee was formed to buy a plot of land belonging to the Casteñeda-Rossal family called “Peretete for the school and convent. The town gave half of the land to the Sisters and Don Carlos Piaz of the construction committee provided them with the other half in order for the school to be established. The Sisters raised funds to pay for the construction of the buildings. The school opened on January 18, 1965. It was officially inaugurated and given the name “Colegio San José” on March 19, 1965. The school offered both elementary and secondary programs and was fully approved by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education. Education was also extended through the airwaves, where literacy programs were broadcast. Evangelization work occurred through catechetics in the schools, the local parish, and through radio programs. In the 1970s, a beca (Spanish for “scholarship”) program was created. This program collected donations in-order-to help fund children’s education.
There were several Sisters involved with the Guatemala Mission, including: Marie Garnier (Joan) McMahon (1963-1967, 1968-1972); Francis Xavier Ruth (1963-1968, 1971-1974); Bertille Riordan (1963-1966); Loretta Ford (1966-1973); Aloysia Fischer (1972-1976); Dorothy Winfelder (1972); Ruth Ditner (1974-1975); Mary O’ Sullivan (1974-1979); Madeleine Graf (1975-1979); Diane Marchetti (1976); Anastasia Ward (1968-1970, 1974-1978), Margaret Dyett (1968); Francis Anne Ayotte (1968); and Gabriela Hinca (1966-1969, 1970-1975).
Several other projects were initiated in addition to the school. In 1969, a dentistry clinic was built. The clinic also provided a space for Sister nurses to treat the sick. Several of the Sisters also worked in the local clinics. In 1977, Sister Mary O’ Sullivan started the Nutritional Centre in order to help children with malnutrition receive care. A focus was also placed on pregnant mothers, offering them nutritional advice to ensure the health of their babies. The Nutritional Centre officially opened on August 22, 1978. In 1976, an earthquake devastated Guatemala. Restoration programs commenced shortly after. The Sisters lent the football field of the school in order to have homes built for the 200 workers who had lost their homes during the disaster. The Sisters in Hamilton started “Operation Guatemala” to raise funds and send supplies to the devastated country.
Sister Aloysia Fischer was responsible for the organization and administration of the Christian Children’s Fund, which was an American program, from 1972-1976. She also administered the Guatemala Education Bursary (C.O.G.E.B.) in 1975. This bursary program was created by Bishop Reding of the Hamilton Diocese. He wanted to start a program similar to the Christian Children’s Fund but with Canadian and Diocesan roots. The program determined that participating children must go to school either at Colegio San José or at the local school; that mothers must attend one hour of cooking, one hour of sewing, and one hour of nutrition classes per month; and that the families receive financial assistance to help with school costs. Sister Madeleine Graf later administered this program from 1977-1979.
The Sisters undertook other programs such as bringing portable water and electricity to poor areas. The Sisters and priests brought running water to El Jute and Gúijo in 1978, and to the small village of Los Palmares in 1979.
The mission formally ended in November 1979 when the Sisters returned to Canada. That year, they relinquished control of the Colegio San José and the Nutritional Centre to the Capuchin Sisters of the Third Order. Although they were no longer directly involved in the mission, the Sisters continued to send funds to Guatemala into the 2000s. Several Sisters went back to celebrate various milestones. For instance, Sisters Madeleine Graf and Marie Garnier (Joan) McMahon returned to Teculután in 2005 for the 40th anniversary of the Colegio San José.
Guatemala; Hamilton, Ontario 1963-1978
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