Our Peru Mission: Searching for Jarpa and a Mission on the Margins

About the photo above: Hermana (Sister) Edith Vila Alania above the city of Jarpa where she now ministers.

How It All Started

For sixty years the lives of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield have been bound to the lives of the people of Peru. Construction of the new convent and community center in Jarpa is one more milestone in the journey that brings us together. But how did it all start? Here we share that spirit-led journey through excerpts from Flavors of Hope, a history of our mission in Peru, by Sister Judith Hilbing.

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These excerpts from Sister Judith Hilbing's Flavors of Hope are annotated and edited for clarity, context, and brevity.

Searching for Jarpa

Search for Jarpa on Google’s satellite map and you'll find a vista of the public square in this central village of Junín Province in the eastern Andes mountains. 75 miles to the south and east of La Oroya, where our pioneer sisters first settled in 1962, is Jarpa’s town square dominated by Iglesia San Juan de Jarpa. Just to the north of the adobe church is a modest garden wall, and beyond it the nearly 100-year-old convent where our sisters have lived for 22 years.

Your donation to the Spring Appeal is already at work, helping us replace that building with an equally modest but much more serviceable convent and parish center.

The End of the Road

Sister Judi Hilbing called her chapter about Jarpa in Flavors of Hope “End of the Road,” because, quite literally, Jarpa is at the end of the road in one of the most remote regions of the Andes. The people live communally and practice many of their indigenous traditions. Here’s how she described the context our sisters were entering in January of 2000:

Jarpa, the center of an agricultural area, is a village of about 500 people situated in an isolated strip of the Andes. That very isolation is what made it prime territory for the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso. Things were very difficult for the people of Jarpa and the Jesuits and the Ursuline Sisters who served there during the 80s when terror and violence raged. In one night, they lost years of social development with the destruction of their workshops and learning center. Eventually, the immediate safety of the Jesuits and Ursulines dictated their withdrawing from Jarpa. During the 90's the pueblo of Jarpa did not have a consistent presence of the official Church…

Sister Judi includes in her account notes from a community meeting outlining the challenges the sisters would face, should they determine to open a mission in Jarpa:

  • The people are marginalized in the sense of not having a consistent presence of the Church and opportunity to receive the sacraments, as well as being very isolated.
  • There is need and opportunity to assist in the spiritual and physical healing necessary after the difficulties experienced by the people, especially during terrorism.
  • Very isolated: the scarcity of public transportation and means of social communication (newspapers etc.) and lack of telephone were seen as difficulties to be overcome.

At the same time, the sisters felt up to the task. Among the advantages they saw in going to Jarpa were the following:

  • Call to live the spirit of the Gospel: We each felt something drawing us to Jarpa—something we could only describe as a call to live the apostolic, evangelical life.
  • We see the opportunity to use the gifts God has given to us individually and as community. Our experience and desire to work particularly with the women would be possible there.
  • The parish house in Jarpa was seen as lending itself …to community life and ministry needs.

"Our house is interesting..."

Sisters Patricia De la O’ Llanos, Mila Diaz Solano, and Kathlyn Mulcahy were assigned to the new mission, but because of prior commitments it was Sister Kathlyn and Sister Ann Elizabeth Little who arrived first in Jarpa on January 17, 2000. Sister Judi wrote:

“…the Sisters did not take possession of the house until Sisters Kathlyn and Mila arrived in Jarpa on Monday, January 17th around 3:00 p.m. There, in the midst of relentless rain, they unpacked their things into a house with few physical comforts.”

Later that month, Sister Kathlyn wrote a letter to the community:

"Our house is interesting. The front door opens into a large parish meeting room. Passing through the room you enter our garden. All of the rooms open onto that garden, but there are only three rooms connected to one another. So one must pass outside through the garden to get from the bedrooms to the kitchen to the bathroom etc. This is the rainy season and it's been raining CONSTANTLY, so we are getting wet constantly! But I can't complain. Most of the villagers are out in the field s with their animals. At least we're just running between rooms!"

Thank you!

A gift to our Spring Appeal will help us provide serviceable living space for our sisters in support of their mission to the people of Jarpa. We are so grateful for your generosity and kindness. Please keep all the people of Peru in your prayers because the country is struggling right now.  And know that we hold you in prayer every day, too! Please donate today!

Sister Judith Hilbing

Sister Judi served for 25 years in Peru. She was principal of San Francisco Borja School in the Lima suburb of San Borja 1978-1984, then moved to the mission center of La Oroya, in Peru’s agricultural region, before returning to San Borja to oversee the religious education program for another year. In 1986 she became the founding principal of San Juan Pablo II, part of the Jesuit network of Fe y Alegria schools—Faith and Hope. The school was built in a squatters' colony on the outskirts of Lima, called an "invasion" or "pueblos jovenes"—a young city.  Four years later she was elected to the council for the congregation and returned to the United States.

Click here to make a donation to our sisters in Peru in honor of Sister Judi.

Ready to learn more?

Visit Our Mission Peru landing page to learn more about the construction projects and how you can help. 

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