April the 1st 1981, a community of Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart touched down at Lima Airport to learn that they were illegal immigrants. Thus began the process of finding one’s way in a new culture going forward armed with a year’s preparation at the Columban’s Pacific Mission Institute – but no Spanish.
They were Elaine Walker, Edith Prince, Dorothy Stevenson and Ursula Hoile, each from a different province of the Congregation.
After language school the foursome took up residence in a rented apartment with no water and clandestine lighting which made a joke of the instant-hot-water-shower on both counts. It was the 8th of August. This was home for three years in the enormous northern cone parish of Columban Associate, Leo Grant from Australia. The area where the Josephites ministered had two Mass centres, one of which consisted of some assembled bricks and the other a school or under the sky, depending on the sentiments of the authorities on a given Sunday. The number of Mass centres grew to between 20 and 30 and the area became a separate parish, and later still was itself divided again when the whole area became a diocese. Invasions over the years, of people desperate for a place of their own, filled all empty spaces around and beyond the Sisters.
A formation Programme began in 2001 for Peruvian candidates. In view of the language difference, noviciate in Australia was not practical. A considerable number of young women have spent time – little or a lot – discerning a possible call to our way of life. As a consequence, a small number of Peruvians have become full members of the Congregation, finally professed and ministering to and with their own people.
For 17 years Sister Angela Carroll toiled away, on her own mostly, in a rural town in the department of Cucso: Pitumarca near Sicuani. Sister Cathy Dean joined her later and they worked hard to leave a flourishing ministry, promoting the sale of the lovely products the women make from alpaca wool, native to Peru. They also developed a community-caring spirit for the elderly and the sick.
Tarma, in the Central Andes in the department of Junin is another place of ministry. Nearby is Huasahuasi where the Sisters went in 1987, it being the first opening outside of Lima. It was here that Irene McCormack lost her life at the hands of the terrorists in 1991. Because it was considered an unsafe area, no Sister returned to Huasahuasi, but eight years later the Sisters opened a house in Tarma at the request of the Bishop and became involved in education.
The Sisters began ministering in the jungle, near Pucallpa in 2006, being involved in Parish ministry. They are now in Iquitos involved in Parish work and education.
The Josephite ministry in Lima has been mainly with people who migrated from the Andes and the jungle, trying to establish themselves in the city, desiring a better education for their children and escaping the terrorism of the 1980s and 1990s. The second generation have a need to find more land on the outskirts of Lima and the Sisters have moved with them.
The Sisters are also involved in education in both the city of Lima and rural Peru with two of the Peruvian Sisters being teachers and the other being involved in pastoral work in an educational setting.
In other settings Sisters have worked with and among marginalised people, especially women and prisoners. The predominant concern is to be a friendly presence among those who are on the edges of both church and civil society, encouraging belief in themselves and helping them to achieve small goals, working together in trust and friendship. Local needs have always been the major consideration in determining initiatives.
In March 2009 the Josephite Peru mission became a Region of the Congregation with its own local governance. In December 2010 the two Sisters living in Brazil formally became members of the Peru Region.
Later, in 2014, in the restructuring of the Congregation, Perua and Brazil became part of the Transpacifico Region, which also includes New Zealand and Queenlsand.
From the beginning until now, the Sisters’ presence in Peru has been possible only because of the support of the people with whom they worked. As together they developed common food kitchens, health groups, catechesis etc, the Sisters learnt about the culture and the people came to understand how to establish groups that could develop their own leadership and structures.
The Sisters shared the story of Mary MacKillop and many found they felt at home with her vision and values. Some of the locals say that Mary MacKillop was here before the Sisters arrived! Nowadays the Sisters are supported by a large Josephite family: Covenant Josephites and Associates who share the charism and ministry.
Page last updated March 2016