2005: Volunteers Begin a Tradition

Dear Friends of the Refuge of Mercy,


Here is the story of the month-long mission in 2005 to the Refugio De Misericordia. The refuge had received grants from the Lewis Foundation, the Koch Foundation, from St Brendan and Holy Family Churches and from many widows’ mites. The grants gave us the money for education programs for the mothers, school uniforms and school supplies, and printers. We had been working for almost four years to find a suitable and much-needed van for the Sisters. This year there were too many other pressing needs and the van would have to wait another year.


02 Yvette and Edith and checkChristine had another fundraiser at her home in November that gave the refuge almost $3000. Christine’s sister sewed little blankets for the infants with silk on one side and flannel on the other. Christine’s friend, a dentist from Alaska, sent us pamphlets (in Spanish) about children’s teeth and little toothbrushes that the mothers can put on a finger to brush the babies’ gums and teeth. Terry’s dentist and my dentist also gave us dental supplies.


A group of women from St Brendan told me that, “Pew two is for you” - meaning that the ladies in the second pew were collecting earrings for the young mothers and were praying for me and the Sisters in Chile. At Holy Family Church, about eight older women meet once a month or so to make rosaries. The ladies at Holy Family Church gave 100 rosaries to me to take to Chile. A friend gave us blue aprons with big pockets. Someone else gave us hand-sewn cloth bags for these treasures. A seven-year-old and her sister, who is five years old, gave their beanie babies to me so that each mother at the Refuge would have one of her very own for her infant! Christine, Bob, and I each carried two suitcases with over 100 pounds of treats inside. What fun!


My goals were

  • to update the computer classroom,
  • to set up a computer skills practice room,
  • to obtain new printers for the computer classroom and also a printer for the social worker,
  • to offer a month of English as a Second Language program to see how the mothers would receive it, and
  • to bind Sister Transito’s hand-made book on the History of the Congregation of Most Merciful Love in order to preserve the history for future generations.

The Sunday before I left, I went to St. Brendan’s and Holy Family Churches with a presentation board displaying last year’s projects. My idea was to say “Thank you” to these tithing parishes, to let the parishioners know where their money had gone, and to ask for blessings on the Sisters of the Congregation Of Most Merciful Love, the mothers, Christine, Bob, and me. I was touched as the parishioners raised their hands in blessing.


Many at St Brendan’s did not know that their parish was indeed a stewardship parish. They were proud of what their parish was doing and were very happy to see how their money was put to use. After Mass several people also gave me money for the Refuge. A gentleman approached and asked if he could send a check for the work of these sisters. I said of course. He said How about $1,000! I said, “YES!” He had not brought his checkbook and asked if he would be able to send it to me. Of course, I gave my address and told him that Terry, my dear friend, could send it to me in Chile.


We had not yet settled in when Terry called from Seattle with the good news. “You’d better sit down,” she said. “The check came. It is for $3000 and he wants to continue to give a donation each year!”


Two days later, Christine, Sister Edith, the Superior General of the convent, and Sister Mari, the new director of the refuge, and I met to set priorities. In addition to reliable transportation, they needed another housemother for the mothers, educational programs, and an audiovisual center. Finally, they needed personnel for the educational programs. Sr. Mari had already set up a practice room, but needed some parts for the old computers she put there. We figured and schemed and realized that indeed we did have the money for necessities and for the van if we used the sales tax refund the sisters would get for the van to pay for the new housemother!


Other needs became apparent. Peeling paint was an eyesore. Each mother has her own room and may put whatever she wants in it, and although the Sisters ask that the mothers not stick things to the wall, what teenager can resist an empty wall? The girls put up posters and pictures cut from magazines that make their rooms more personal. When the girls leave, and take their decorations off the wall, splotches of paint come too. Juanito, Sr. Mari, and Christine were determined to make new bulletin boards for the mothers.


At the local Home Center we bought 24 pieces of pieces of Styrofoam, enough boards to frame them, and enough felt-like material to cover them. We also picked out 24 new, brightly colored bedspreads for the mothers’ rooms. The bedrooms in each cottage would match. With the Styrofoam stacked on the roof and in a truck bed, the boards sticking out with a red flag tied to them, and the truck loaded with supplies, we headed for the Refuge, eager to begin our projects.


For the next four days, Sister Mari, Anna Marie, and Christine sewed the material to the Styrofoam and the handyman made the beveled frames for the bulletin boards. The twenty-four bulletin boards stood in the garage ready for the first coat of paint. The Sisters plan to paint one cottage, put up the bulletin boards and dress up the beds with the new bedspreads and then have four young mothers move in, and then paint the next cottage until all of the cottages are finished. The mothers would have a wonderful surprise when the new apartments are finished.


I remember the first time I was at the Refuge when we were able to paint the mothers’ rooms in the old building. The surprise for me was the new sense of pride and self esteem that the mothers felt. They were proud to show off their “new” rooms. Most of these young women have very low self-esteem when they come to the refuge. They are used to living in hovels. I just can’t explain how they are changed when they are able to live with dignity. Self-esteem is one of the important qualities the Sisters emphasize and work toward through programs offered at the Refuge.


We went to work on Sr. Transito’s book, which is a compilation of articles about Adela Edwards de Salas, one of the founders of the community. In the early twentieth century Adela struggled for the right of women to vote and she founded many social works. She helped organize women into unions. She lived a remarkable life.


Sr Yvette and Sr TransitoSister Transito spent hours reviewing and organizing the last volume of the history of their community. These books are an artisan’s book in two volumes. There are five copies of each volume. All the documents are typed on the computer. Each volume has about 150 pages. After we checked each volume with the index, Christine painstakingly compared each of the other volumes to the first so that they were exactly the same and then hand-numbered the pages. Finally, the day arrived to take the volumes to the binder. We were treated to a first-class tour of the bindery. Four days later the books arrived!


We decided to celebrate. I invited the First Lady of Chile, but she was out of town. Sr. Transito thought I was kidding, but Adela is an important woman in the history of Chile as well as in the history of the Sisters of Amor Misericordioso and the Refuge. Sr. Transito wanted to invite representatives from the National Library because she wanted to give a copy to them. I found the phone number in the telephone book and called the National Library. They sent a gentleman who is in charge of the books that are important for posterity.


Senor Roberto from the Chilean National Library of Congress called the volumes a national treasure! We also invited Senora Philomena Lyons, the daughter of Adela. Senora Philomena is 92 and was not able to come, so we went to see her. Other relatives of Adela, Don Edwards (age 91), and his wife Pepita (age 84) also were there. What a happy day!


A friend made a donation of money to take the sisters on a picnic. One of the Sisters remarked, “No one has ever given us money to go on a picnic before! We went to the “Waterfall of the Spirits,” a beautiful spot in the mountains about an hour out of Santiago, high enough to be free from smog. We spent nearly the whole day there enjoying the pure mountain air and the view of the river below. We even had enough money to go back a second time!


The second time we were there, a young woman at the table across from us said, “Sister Yvette?” My mind raced backward in time; memories of the lovely young woman surfaced. “I’m Carolyn”, she said. “Do you remember me? My daughter was born at the Refuge in 1990. She is fifteen.”  “I can’t believe that it is really you, Carolyn!”


I had seen Carolyn about 6 years ago. At that time she was working in a disco as a waitress, making just enough money to buy a house and keep her daughter, Laura, in school. Now she was married to a navigational engineer from Holland and they have two small children. “I am doing very well now,” she said. “Laura is very studious and does very well in school. I think of you often and am so very grateful for the Refuge at that part of my life. Imagine, I was only fifteen when Laura was born, and you were my real mother.”  Tears came down her cheeks. Mine, too.


Had we left an hour sooner or not returned a second time, we would have missed seeing Carolyn. It was one of those things that were meant to be! I saw the love of God for Caroline and me that day.


During one of the busy days, Bob, Christine and I went to the church where one of the Sisters, Sister Gabriela, was the first Sister to administer a parish in lieu of a priest. Sister Gabriela is now ninety-four and bedridden. We visited each of the houses of the Sisters in Santiago except for one. Bob fell in love with the Sisters for their simplicity and devotion to others.


Christine went to the beach with the Sisters to learn to communicate in Spanish. (It’s called immersion!) Christine taught theCopy of Christina and Carla manicure jpg 1050 sisters English and they taught her Spanish. When she came back from outings we would hear her say to the Sisters, “Now don’t tell me how to say….”, and the Sisters would respond, “Now don’t tell her, she can do it.” Sadly, the month of English classes that Christine wanted to teach for the girls did not work out because of the summer school recess for the mothers. Christine was content that she was able to give the luxury of manicures to the young mothers and the staff. The girls loved the attention and the affection. What a treat.  Setting up a program for teaching English as a second language will be a goal the next time I return.


Good news--Mr. Hyundai called to say that the exact model of the van was in their showroom if we’d like to see it. Would we like to see it! We even took a ride around the parking lot. It seats fourteen passengers, but the seats looked big enough to accommodate five people instead of four in each seat. We had an impromptu party at the Refuge to celebrate! The Van was delivered on Feb 20th!


I had never written a check so large in all my life. My stomach quivered, my hand shook, and my mind raced. “Do we really have that much money in the bank?” Christine assured me that we did and that it would be all right. I wrote the check for $10,000 and Sr. Silvia brought the other $10,000 from the bank! Her hands, too, shook as she counted out the money. A dream of four years comes to reality!


We celebrated. We worked hard. We joined the Sisters for their morning and evening prayer. I heard them pray for the benefactors who helped them with their work. We went with the mothers for a day at a swimming pool on the top of Cerro San Cristobal, thanks to Susanne from NEXO who obtained tickets for us. We saw the work of other organizations such as NEXO, a foundation for human development, and connected with organizations such as the Partners of the Americas and other individuals who make the refuge an oasis of hope.


In summary, accomplishments and projects include the following.

  • Because of the generosity of many people, the sisters have a new van!
  • Funds are available to hire a new housemother, a computer teacher, school uniforms, and school supplies for the mothers. The means are now available to create a new media center, an upgraded computer program, a practice room, and a digital camera to put the mothers’ pictures on their records. Wonderful.
  • Sister Mary can afford to take a college course in computer programs beginning in March.
  • The sisters can begin a new program for teaching life skills, infant stimulation, and spirituality. They will have new equipment in the nursery.
  • The mothers enjoy new bulletin boards and lovely new bedspreads.
  • Sr. Transito was able to give the Chilean Library of Congress a “national treasure” in her compilation of the life and times of refuge founder, Adela Edwards de Salas.

I will be eternally grateful to Christine for her work to finish Sr. Transito’s books, to keep all the money in its place, and to keep me on track.


We saw the difference a few people working together can make in the lives of others. We brought the love and blessings of new friends from far away to a small group of dedicated Sisters. A tradition of volunteers sharing in the daily work of the refuge became a reality. And we were able to be a part of it!



Sister Yvette