Friday, June 3, 2011

Amanda Takes the Leap!

Now if you want to know about Amanda's leap with the Daughters of Charity, check out her blog:

Amanda shared with me about her experience with Sr. Mary Elko while she was in Bolivia.  Enjoy!

Sr. Mary Elko was the first Daughter of Charity I ever met outside of the historic holy hills of Emmitsburg, Maryland. By then, I had already known the Daughters for years but only from my years at Mount St Mary's College and retreats at their Emmitsburg Provincial House.

At the time, I was working with the Salesians at an all girls orphanage in a small dairy town in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In addition to that, I was also an aspirant/pre-postulant/candidate of that community. I had been there almost nine months and my mom was there visiting me. She had brought along with her a copy of the “Maryknoll” magazine because their main article was about the missions in Cochabamba. As we flipped through the magazine together, we spotted a picture of an African-American Maryknoll Sister, arms in the air, probably telling a story to the children around her. With her, was another Sister, in a beige habit with a veil, with her hand placed on a sleeping child's forehead, as if measuring her temperature.

I can't remember whether we asked around about her or if the Salesians I worked with flipped through the magazine and saw her picture. Either way, the Sisters I worked with immediately recognized that Sister in the beige habit “That's Hermana Mary!! She runs a shelter in the city for girls and women. A lot of girls here came from there. Oh, really, you need to meet her, Amanda! She's American like you!” So, we made tentative plans to visit her one day during my mom's visit.

A couple of days passed by., but aspirancy was a busy time with chores, prayers, Mass preparation, as well as ministry in the orphanage. One day, I heard the doorbell ring at the convent, where I was living at the time, and heard the loud creak of someone opening the large fence that led to our “parking lot” (aka: the basketball court). I thought it strange since the only person we knew who owned a car was our parish priest, who would be way too busy to be visiting on a week day. I continued whatever it was that I was doing until I heard someone speaking Spanish in an American accent. I looked and there she was – the same Sister with the beige habit I had seen in the magazine!

She was elderly and looked frail but with a smile that was young at heart. She had with her three girls – a five year old, a six year old and a nine year old. The two youngest were sisters and their mother had died of cancer the night before. The oldest, at nine, was a runaway who had been abused by her family. All three had been living at Madre de Dios, that shelter in the city. Sr Mary Elko - “Hermana Mary” - was dropping them off at our orphanage so that they may have a more permanent home.

Hermana Mary and I started talking in English, as I jumped at the chance to do so. She asked more about me – I said I was from Maryland. When she asked which college I attended, I said Mount St. Mary's. “In Emmitsburg?” “The one and only!” “That's where I did my Seminary (novitiate)” “'re a Daughter of Charity?!” And she indeed was. Now, years later, I wonder what her answer “yes” meant for me, as I had been thinking about the Daughters of Charity as I wrestled with thoughts of leaving aspirancy/pre-postulancy with the Salesians but that's a story meant for another day.

While she was talking with me, she was still holding unto the three girls, wiping the tears of the five-year old and stroking their heads to let them know everything was okay. My mom, a camera nut, caught the whole thing on film. I knew I was in the presence of someone holy. She was well in her eighties and was one of the founding members of the Cochabamba mission...more than fifty years ago. Her dedication to the Bolivian poor is seen superficially in just how long she's stayed there, but more profoundly, it was seen in her utter compassion of the three girls who were moving to our orphanage.

Soon after her visit to our convent, my mom, another Salesian Sister and I went to Madre de Dios. It was certainly in the city, close to the Bus Terminal and the Cancha (South America's largest open-air market). We entered to find a bustling home. People were constantly coming and going as we waited in the hallway for Hermana Mary. We looked at the photos on the wall and I found out that about half of the girls I worked with every day came from this very place.

When Hermana Mary came out to greet us, she showed us around the compound. People of all ages were attracted to her – kids clung to her as we walked around. In the courtyard where the classrooms were, there was a statue of the Miraculous Medal. She took me there and said “you know, the Sister who saw this Blessed Virgin was one of our own Sisters – a Daughter of Charity.” She clasped her own medal of the Miraculous Medal. “Never lose devotion to the Blessed Virgin She brings miracles. I can't say how many she's made for me. I ask for her prayers every day.”

Years later, when I read the biography of Saint Catherine Laboure, the Daughter of Charity who saw the Blessed Virgin, I was reminded of Sr Mary Elko. It wasn't simply because of what she herself had talked about Catherine Laboure, but rather because her utter dedication to the poor and the Blessed Virgin mirrored that of Catherine Laboure. Sr Mary Elko's is truly an example of what the Blessed Virgin told Catherine Laboure: “My child, I particularly love to shed graces upon your Community; I love it very much”


  1. Both of my Aunts were Sisters in the Daughters of Charity. My Aunt, Sr. Anna Marie was a missionary in La Paz and Cochabamba. My other Aunt, Sr. Serena Branson, was last assigned as the Director of Catholic Charities in Albany, NY. It is a great sadness to see the Daughters of Charity shorn of the habit.

  2. I was educated by the Daughters at St. Mary's, Milwaukee and can never thank them enough for my wonderful nursing education over 44 years ago. I have a particularly strong devotion to Our Lady and the Miraculous Medal and would love to go to Paris to see where St. Catherine recieved the medal from Mary. I just retired from working in Catholic healthcare and owe so many of my values to the Daughters.