Sisters in Belize

Since 1974, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have been a friend to the people of Belize.

From The Journey, Vol. II, 2015

In the quiet village of San Antonio, located in the Toledo District of Belize, Central America, a family awaits their guests. Grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren and in-laws, 15 in total, have gathered to welcome their visitors, SCNs Higinia Bol and Christine Kunze.

After climbing up what seems like the steepest hill in the world, Sisters Higinia and Chris arrive to meet this Mayan family for a home visit.

Home visits can vary depending on the family. They often include communion for the sick and elderly, and health checks. Sister Higinia was born in the village. She knows the language and knows the residents who remember her from her childhood. This connection has helped to build relationships and trust with the villagers.

Chris Kunze, SCN, makes a home visit for health checkups.

40 years of service

Squeezed together in the family’s small hut, Sister Higinia gets the service started with songs sung in Mayan. Sister Chris leads a prayer in the Mayan language, as Sister Higinia helps her with some of the words. Sister Chris reads from the Gospel of John in English, and Sister Higinia asks the group to reflect in Mayan. “Our Father” is recited in English, and the family exchanges greetings of peace with each other and their guests. Both Sisters give Communion as a song is sung in Mayan. Sister Chris leads a prayer in English and the group ends with a few Mayan songs.

After the prayer service concludes, Sister Chris uses her nursing skills to provide basic health care to the elderly in the family. She takes blood pressure readings and samples of blood to measure sugar levels. The finger prick makes her a bit unpopular, but in her gentle way, Sister Chris gets them through it. She asks them about their medications and offers advice about their diets. Sister Chris reads the numbers to a younger man, Mateo, who keeps up with his parents’ medical needs, writing down notes and numbers in his well-worn notebook.

Later, Sister Higinia visits with an elderly woman who is going through an emotional time. Through her tears she talks with Sister Higinia, who listens and prays with her.

Higinia Bol, SCN, visits with the family of a member of her faith group.

Six SCNs currently live and serve in Belize. These six Sisters serve the people in both Belize City, and in San Antonio in the Toledo District.

In addition to home visits and medical checks, Sister Higinia and Sister Chris are very active in the church, which is located about 20 feet away from their home atop a hill that serves as a popular hangout. The Sisters lead a youth group and a women’s bible study group. They recently hosted their first overnight retreat for young women.

Without a brick and mortar building, the Sisters have the freedom to be in the homes of the people, to get to know them on a very personal level, and to customize their approach to each resident depending on their needs. Often a voice can be heard calling up to the Sister’s house, “Sister, Sister,” they say in search of assistance or prayers for themselves or a loved one. In thanks for their services, residents often bring gifts of food to the SCNs.

Belize City

San Antonio

In Belize City, as the general manager of the Catholic public schools, Barbara Flores, SCN, spends her days making the administrative decisions that affect many of the nation’s schoolchildren. Sister Barbara is a former vice president of the SCN Community, and a native of Belize. She is currently working on a policy book for faculty and students. She is also working to change the discipline procedures within the school system. Her assistant, Celia Usher, a former teacher and vice principal, describes Sister Barbara, “She’s a wonderful leader, she’s great to work with actually. Her motive, her reason is her love for the schools. She’s a wonderful lady.”

Beverly Hoffman, SCN, provides physical therapy and encouragement to children throughout Belize City, including three-year-old Sheldon.

In a new, brightly painted building in Belize City, Sister Beverly Hoffman spends her days working with differently-abled children at the Inspiration Center. As a physical therapist, Sister Bev says with her job “she gets to play with toys all day.” But of course those toys and other rehabilitation equipment are critical to the development of each child. Sister Bev carries a caseload of approximately 55 children. She meets with many on a weekly basis. Transportation is needed for nearly all of her cases. Rehabilitation equipment can be expensive, so she likes to research ways for parents to recreate the equipment at home. She has cut a magazine in half to wrap around a child’s arm to help the child learn to better control his arm movements. “We improvise a lot,” she says. But she finds this way the parents can work with their children at home on the days they are not at therapy. “A lot of what I do is teach the parents.”

Maggie Cooper, SCN, serves in pastoral ministry in Belize City. Born in Owensboro, Kentucky, Sister Maggie has spent the last 16 years in ministry to the people of Belize. She currently helps to run the LIMEX and religious education certification programs. These programs provide basic and advanced educational opportunities to teachers, ministers and others. Topics include theology, teaching methods, Catholic social teaching, Ecclesiology, Liturgy and more. Sister Maggie leads a group of educators who administer these programs. (Sister Chris leads one of these weekly classes in San Antonio.) In a one-on-one class Sister Maggie held for Sheena Flowers, a fourth-grade teacher, the benefits of the program are clear. “I want to teach it. These courses have helped with my understanding.” Sheena has many questions and has underlined many parts of the book. “I have to understand it, and then I will teach it.” “Okay,” replies Sister Maggie, “Let’s look at it, chapter by chapter.”

Carlette Gentle, SCN, takes others to a medical clinic as part of her outreach ministry to the elderly.

Also in Belize City, lives Carlette Gentle, SCN. As a native of Belize City, Sister Carlette is able to use her connections to the neighborhoods and families to reach the elderly population. Sister Carlette began her outreach to the elderly with a simple survey. She wanted to know who was not being helped, who was not receiving services, not eating enough, or not getting proper medical attention. Sister Carlette was able to identify those most in need in the local neighborhoods and now spends her time in ministry to those folks. She calls her ministry Living Independently in Full Existence (LIFE). On this particular day, Sister Carlette spent her morning cooking up an egg sandwich for her next client, Ms. Edna, who happily ate her sandwich on her way home from her doctor’s appointment. The breakfast and the doctor’s appointment may not have happened for Ms. Edna without Sister Carlette’s ministry. She takes her next client, Ms. Gwinnie, to the Social Security office. This is Ms. Gwinnie’s first time out of her house in two years. After registering her with Social Security, Sister Carlette can make appointments for medical and other services for her. Before dropping Ms. Gwinnie back home, Sister Carlette makes a quick stop for bread and eggs to send home with her. Ms. Gwinnie enjoys her time with Carlette, “She’s nice. She has good ways. She’s a nice person. God bless her.” Sister Carlette, with a laugh replies, “Of course Ms. Gwinnie. You are my friend.”

Since 1974, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have been a friend to the people of Belize. They have lived in different areas in those 40 years, and Sisters have come and gone, but it is a place that holds the heart of many SCNs. The beauty of the country, and the beauty of the people, have kept the SCNs there in ministry, working to improve the lives of the Belizean people. And receiving much in return.