Planning the mission to Peru

The following was written by Sr. Marilyn Leblanc, and speaks of the initial planning from Canada regarding the founding of the Peru mission.

Pope Juan XXIII opened the church to a time of profound renewal. Religious life responded to his call and our Congregation strove to rediscover the original spirit of our foundress Euphrasie Barbier. Following our extraordinary Congregational Chapter in 1964 (?) the leadership in the Canadian Province began to discern where the Canadian Province was being called to open a new mission territory.

Sister Marie Jean d'Ávila Roche, provincial superior, and her councillor, Sister Mary Genevieve Belliveau, sought counsel with the members of the Canadian Bishops committee on Missions and with the Canadian Conference of Religious. Their advice was two fold. First to respond to the Pope's urgent call to religious of North America to respond to the needs of the church in Latin America as the faithful there were being inundated by other sects and were being drawn away from their traditional Catholic faith. The second part of their invaluable advice was to go to a mission area where they might know missionaries who would be able to orientate them as they became inserted among the people.

Shortly after this, these sisters met Father Carlos Sebastian o.f.m., provincial superior of the Franciscan province of Christ the King in western Canada. He and his friars were well known to the sisters in the Regina area. Father Carlos was looking for a group of sisters who could help his friars in the work of evangelization in Moquegua, Peru.

Sisters Jean d'Avila and M. Genevieve visited the proposed mission in Moquegua, Peru. They were deeply touched as they saw first hand the needs of the people and both desired to be part of the new mission. However, the friars on the mission told Sister M. Genevieve that she was too old to be able to adapt to the difficulties of the mission. On the sisters return to Canada the first three m8ssionaries were selected from the many sisters who had volunteered. Our mission thrust was to be threefold. One sister, Sister Loretta Bonokoski would work in catechetics and in the parish programs of evangelization. A second sister, Sister m. Monica, Irene Oliver, would be in charge of the parish primary school and work with parents and teachers as well as with the children. The third sister was Sister M. Jean d'Avila Roche who had completed her term as provincial. She became known as Madre Juana and would work the sick poor, women's groups etc.

These sisters attended Spanish language school in Puerto Rico before arriving in Moquegua on December 12, 1968, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the Americas.

After making final profession, Sister Margaret Dawson joined the fledging community in August 1969 to assist in the catechetical and pastoral work. Six months later Sister Theresa McCutcheon was named to the mission to take up the responsibility of superior of the community.

From the mission's inception the sisters strove to become inserted among the people with whom they worked and served with great joy. Hospitality was characteristic of the mission as was collaboration with the lay people, the training of catechists and the formation of youth groups.

Ilo, a neighboring town and a growing port on the Pacific Ocean, is only one hours drive from Moquegua. On May 25, 1970, the sisters in Moquegua went to visit the Franciscan friars and the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis who were missionaries in Ilo. Our sisters discovered the ever growing need of the people and the church in Ilo. Unfortunately, the St. Louis sisters were preparing to withdraw from Ilo because of a lack of personnel and the fact that their charism was not the foreign missions. A seed was sown. Our sisters saw the advantage of having a second mission nearby and the Franciscans were anxious to receive support in the pastoral work and in the direction of the parish school. After a period of dialogue and discernment with the Franciscans, the superiors of Canada decided to open the mission in Ilo. Sister Marilyn LeBlanc arrived from Canada in August 1970 to prepare in the mission for her new apostolate. Sisters Theresa McCutcheon and Marilyn LeBlanc arrived in Ilo in March 1971 to found our second mission in Peru.

The Society of St. James the Apostle, a group of priests, had founded a school in Lima to help prepare missionaries for Latin Ámerica. This school provided an excellent course in basic Spanish as well as talks on inculturation and insertion on the mission. Our sisters attended the school after spending the first one or two months in the mission getting acclimatized to life in Latin America. They became well motivated to learn the language. Learning a new language always requires a great deal of effort and some rather comical mistakes are inevitably made. Each sister has her own list of embarrassing moments of language errors. One sister was to meet up with a Peruvian friend in the local bakery. She went there asking for her friend and insisted she should be there as she was to meet her to bake. Unfortunately, she used the word orinar i.e. to urinate rather than the word hornear which is to bake. Needless to say there was a moment of embarrassed silence. Another sister was preparing her first communion class on the Eucharist. She used a dictionary to help her and found the word sosten to use as support as in Jesus in the Eucharist is the support of our life. There were embarrassed titters from the teenagers in the class as sosten in current usage is the word for brassiere. And on and on are the stories handed down from missionary to missionary.

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