Providence in El Progreso

During a recent trip to Peru, Sisters Gayle Desarmia and Frances O’Brien met with students who are being supported in their education by the Marillac Mission Fund.


From December 28 until January 12: Sisters Frances O’Brien and Gayle Desarmia had the privilege of visiting our mission in El Progreso, Peru.

From the outset we were deeply moved by the warm welcome given us by the Sisters, the Providence Associates and the people of the parish.

Sister Sara in Peru greets Sisters Gayle and Frances on the first day of their trip.

The Sisters there had planned activities that would give us a flavour of the culture and the needs of the people they have been serving since 1967.

Sister Rose-Marie Bokenfohr, our Canadian Sister who has been in El Progreso for over 40 years, currently runs a clinic for people with mental health issues. She supports them through monitoring their medications and providing workshops and training so that they can have a better quality of life. We were surprised at the high proportion of people suffering with mental disabilities among the poor. During our stay we visited her clinic several times and met the people she works with. She is also a strong Sister of Providence presence in the local parish of Christo Luz del Mundo.

Sister Sara Jiménez Angulo, our first native Peruvian Sister, is currently running the adjoining parish in the town of Torre Blanca because the pastor is on sick leave in England.
Sister Maria Chinchay Luca, our youngest member and second native Peruvian Sister, is currently studying and doing catechetical ministry. We visited Maria’s family home and the area where she does her catechetical work.

After Mass in the parish on New Year’s Eve we were invited to the retreat centre for a celebration and a gourmet dinner hosted by Oblate Brother Lennie Rego. At midnight we went to the rooftop and were treated to a panorama of family fireworks on the surrounding hillsides, the likes of which would rival any professional fireworks display.

Sister Frances, standing, and Sr. Gayle, not pictured, visit Rose-Marie Bokenfohr, seated, who runs a clinic for people with mental health issues. She has been in El Progreso for over 40 years.

Our first formal gathering was with a group of post-secondary students who are supported financially for tuition, transportation, etc. from the Marillac Mission Fund. These wonderful young people gather monthly with one of our Associates for prayer and faith sharing. We were so inspired by their gratitude, their faith and their desire to use their education to serve others.

One memorable day was spent touring Torre Blanca and the outlying areas of San Martin and Chocas where Sara does her ministry. In San Martin we visited the site where Sara intends to build a chapel with support from the Marillac Mission Fund. This will provide the people with a place to gather for worship and meetings. Travel to these areas is an experience Canadians would find hard to believe. We were very moved by Sara’s presence and support of the poverty-stricken people of the outlying areas. She seems to attract young and old alike by her warmth and generosity.

A highlight of our time in Peru was an evening spent with our Providence Associates celebrating the Epiphany. They organized a wonderful celebration which included a prayer service, customs from the three regions from Peru and a social with refreshments and dancing. We presented each one with a laminated copy of the new Providence Associate Mission Statement. It was a joy to meet such vibrant and committed people partnering with us in mission.

One Sunday we joined the members of the Christian Workers Movement for their annual Family Day in a beautiful park. The air was fresh and breezy and provided a welcome relief from the prevalent dust which we had encountered in all our other travels.

We had two opportunities to be tourists. One was the day we went to the beach at Ancon and the other was when we visited Lima. In Lima we saw a modern city with museums and many historical sites including those of two Peruvian saints, Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres.

In course of our visit we witnessed first-hand the great work that is made possible by the Marillac Mission Fund. The money is used to support education, the mental health clinic, a school founded by one of our Associates, people with health needs and various other needs of the poor. We see the Marillac Mission Fund as a viable tool for others in Canada to partner with us in our work in Peru.

We could learn so much from these people who in spite of poverty, lack of opportunity and the obstacles they encounter daily continue to be hope-filled, faith-filled, grateful for God’s Providence and for any gesture of kindness shown to them.

Editor’s Note: Sister Gayle and Sister Frances returned home to Kingston on Thursday, January 12th. They arrived safely in Toronto at 7:30 a.m. but couldn’t leave for Kingston until 4 p.m. because of an ice storm that affected most of the province. These images were taken on the Motherhouse property.