MISSIONS

MOTHER MARIE-LEONIE PURSUES HER WORK IN HONDURAS AND GUATEMALA

Around 1960, the Catholic Church asked all religious Congregations, even those who were not missionary in nature, and members of the Diocesan Clergy to share in the evangelization of Latin America. Responding to the great desire expressed by Pope John XXIII, the Canadian Bishops, with the agreement of the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, took over the construction, foundation and management of Our Lady of Suyapa Major Seminary for the formation of the Central American clergy.


After a training period spent in Mexico, five priests from different Canadian Dioceses took the plane to Honduras. In 1961 they prepared the construction of that Major Seminary. Msgr Gérard Cambron, from the Diocese of Sherbrooke, would be its first superior.


He requested the services of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family. Sister Juliette Côté, Superior General and her council accepted to help those priests in their work of evangelization. They appointed the following sisters: Sainte-Madeleine (Cécile Lachance), Saint-Claude (Claire Bergeron), Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Croix (Rita Melanson) and Saint-Gaston (Élodie Michaud). On October 15, 1961, the four foundresses are sent to the Cuernavaca Center, Mexico for three months of training in the Spanish language and Central American customs.


They arrived at the Tegucigalpa's Major Seminary on February 4, 1962. Msgr Cambron, priests and about twenty seminarians welcomed them with open arms. The construction was not yet finished for the beginning of the school year and the arrival of the Canadian religious. The sisters were accommodated in very small rented rooms facing the cathedral of Tegucigalpa, the Capital city. After their installation, they took charge of the manual work and, according to their possibilities, cooperated in apostolic activities.


When they went home on vacation, seminarians made known the Little Sisters of the Holy Family in their parishes. In December 1963, Isabel Cerrato, native of Yuscarán, El Paraíso, became the first postulant; she is soon followed by Mirian Ham, native of San Pedro Sula. At the very beginning, the young girls were received at the convent near the Major Seminary. As their numbers increased, another house had to be rented. On May 13, 1970, the novitiate was moved to El Manchén Colony, and on December 13, 1971, to the Immaculate Conception Parish at Comayagüela.


In 1973, it became obvious that a Central House and Novitiate were required. On March 19, 1975, the buildings located at Miraflores Colony, Tegucigalpa, were blessed by the local Archbishop, Most Rev. Hector Enrique Santos. Postulants and novices, drawn by Mother Marie-Leonie's ideal, attracted other young girls wishing to help priests in their ministry.


Since the opening of the first novitiate, the religious in charge, be they Canadians or Hondurans, have given the best of themselves to initial formation: Sister Claire Bergeron as soon as she arrived in Honduras in 1962 and Sister Jeanne d'Arc Béliveau, from 1974 to 1991. They were followed by Sister Rosa Linda Núñez, Sister María Julia Corea and Sister Rosa Elena Franco. It is now Sister María Jesús Guevara who is fulfilling that position.


From 1962 to 2011, following the four first foundresses, 16 other Canadian religious have worked in Honduras and Guatemala. They are the following, by alphabetical order: Sisters Bérangère Barrette, Lucienne Beaupré, Jeanne d'Arc Béliveau, Rita Blanchard, Thérèse Brisson, Angèle Charland, Marie-Claire Côté, Gisèle Cloutier, Madeleine Desautels, Monique Gagnon, Marie-Claire Lambert, Gisèle Lemaire, Francine Michaud, Madeleine Richard, Gemma Roy and Madeleine Roy. One of them, Sister Gemma Roy is still in Central America since 1977.


At the Honduran Major Seminary, in 2011, five native religious, assisted by lay workers are at the service of priests, professors and about one hundred and fifty students in theology and philosophy. They also work at the Archbishop's Residence in Tegucigalpa and in four rectories in the same Diocese: Cathedral rectory since 1972, Sabanagrande since 1970, San Martin de Porres since 1979 and Valle de Angeles in 2011. In the Diocese of Choluteca, religious are at the service of the Bishop's Residence since 1987, at the Cathedral rectory since 1988 and at the Paul VI Minor Seminary since 2010. In 2008, three religious went back to St. James Apostle Minor Seminary in the Diocese of San Pedro Sula where the community had been before, from 1992 to 2001.


In 1990, Honduran religious were sent on mission to Guatemala, at the Salesian Theological Institute, in 1992 at the Salesian Philosophical Institute, and in 2004, at Boca del Monte, at the Olivetana Benedictine Association. From 1997 to 2003, they served at the Central American Spirituality Institute, CEFAS.


Presently, in Central America, 74 women walk in the footsteps of Blessed Marie-Leonie: 40 with perpetual vows, 16 temporary vows, 5 novices, 4 postulants and 9 aspirants.

Starting in the nineties, Honduran sisters gradually occupied the main positions of leadership. Sister María Julia Corea, and after her, Sister Rosa Elena Franco succeeded Sister Marie-Claire Lambert, who was the last Canadian to be District Superior.


In 1995, Sister Angèle Charland, general councillor and responsible for Central America, died suddenly. The Superior general then appointed Sister Mérida Gómez to replace the former. Consequently, in 1996, she was the first Honduran religious to become general councillor of the Institute. In 2008, Sister María Gloria Argueta was appointed to that same position after having been elected by the General Chapter.


Around the year 2000, the Central House and novitiate having become too small, the novitiate had to be transferred elsewhere. A property was chosen for that purpose at Moroceli, in the department of El Paraíso. Between 2005 and 2007 a new residence was built which is now known as Casa Nazareth.


On December 31, 2004, His Eminence Oscar Andrés Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, s.d.b., Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, presided at the blessing of the first stone. He also blessed the grotto dedicated to Blessed Mother Marie-Leonie at the entrance of the property.


Alternately, perpetually professed Honduran religious come to Canada to learn about the origins of the community, to fraternize with all the members of the Institute or to participate in community events such as the celebration of anniversaries: founding of the Institute in 1980 and 2005, the beatification of Mother Marie-Leonie in 1984 and the General Chapters.


Since its beginning in Central America, the community has been afflicted by two deaths. We remember:

Sr. Juana Albertina Montalban 1946-1991
Sr. Dilma Esmeralda Quintano 1976-2007


Haiti - Port-au-Prince - Nonciature (1968 - 1975)

Bishop Marie-Joseph Lemieux, Nuncio to Haiti, of Canadian origin, asked four nuns to take care of the Nunciature in Port-au-Prince. Sisters Marie-Marthe Denis, Cécile Caroll, Marie-Marthe Pelletier and Angeline Thivierge arrived on September 23, 1968.


By their abilities and talents, they collaborated in the works of the Nunciature, at the heart of the Catholic Church in Haiti. Reception of priests, people and visitors is a priority. House management, accounting and secretarial work are also on the program. The needs are many, both in assistance to the priests and to the people. Our sisters made their families aware of the great poverty and, by their generosity, they helped curb it a little around them and ensured a future for many young people. A great brotherhood was experienced between the different foreign religious communities working in Haiti.


Sister Cécile Caroll, having difficulty to adapt is replaced by Sister Muguette Baril in July 1969. Bishop Lemieux, who left in 1969, was difficult to replace and to assure the success of the mission as his successor, Bishop Alouisius (Luigi) Barbarito, asked the sisters to stay during his term.


Due to health reasons, in March 1972, Sister Marie-Marthe Pelletier must return to Canada, and is replaced by Sister Louisette Charette.

On February 22, 1975, Bishop Barbarito, Apostolic Nuncio is appointed to Senegal, Africa. Lacking the manpower to continue this mission, the authorities of our community take advantage of his departure to bring the four sisters back to Canada on April 30, 1975, after 7 years presence in the Church of Haiti.


Chile - Santiago (1968-1971)

On January 4, 1968, the General Council accepts a mission in Chile, the scholasticate of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, at the request of the provincial of Montreal, Father Voyer, OMI.

Photo: Sister Bérangère Barrette, Sister Lucienne Beaupré, Superior, Father Laurent Roy, OMI, Provincial, Sister Rita Melanson and Sister Cécile Longpré.


The Little sisters of the Holy Family desire to support the works of the Oblate Missionaries in the training given to the Oblate Scholastics of America, by their prayer life, their dedication and their feminine presence. The following year, Sister Cécile Longpré must return to Canada and is replaced by a young Chilean woman.


On January 14, 1970, during a trip to the South of Chile, a car accident injured Sister Rita Melanson's right arm. She returned to Canada on April 1st and was replaced by a native woman. Sisters Lucienne and Bérangère continue vigorously, helped by young girls, to meet the needs of the household. They do not count their time, happy to work in order that all these Scholastics may become missionaries in their turn. Far from their country of origin, the different religious communities create links of support, sharing and brotherhood in their adopted country. Meetings multiplied according to events or visitors.


Lacking strength and realizing that in Honduras young people are entering the Institute, the authorities choose to invest in Honduras. Also, as the scholasticate's vocation having been changed to a house of retreat, in January 1971, they are advised to return to Canada. On March 23, they finally leave Chile, and on April 18, they arrived in Montreal.


Brazil - Marilia (1963-1967)

August 8, 1963, Sisters Métella Lafleur, Rita Girouard, Angeline Thivierge and Lucienne Hébert fly to Marilia, Brazil to collaborate, by their prayers and their dedication to the works of the Diocesan Seminary Saint-Pie X.


After studying Portuguese in Petropolis until December 12 of that year, they finally arrive at Marilia the next day. In February 1965, their convent is completed and they moved leaving the apartments that they were occupying on the first floor to Father René Denis. In 1965, after the departure of Sister Lucienne Hébert, who had difficulty to adapt, Sister Monique Couture replaces her. In addition to seeing to the proper functioning of the kitchen, laundry, sewing and maintenance, on some Sundays they teach the foundations of the Faith at a collective farm; pray with the people and even give embroidery and sewing classes.


Towards the end of this year, Bishop Lemieux, Archbishop of Ottawa, withdrew his two priests from Brazil. This was very painful for all the Seminary staff, including the Little Sisters of the Holy family. In March 1966, Father Denis leaves permanently and is replaced by two Brazilian priests. That same year, Sister Cécile Longpré comes to lend a hand, following the departure of sister Monique Couture.


In 1967, after 5 years of generous service, the sisters return to Canada.