Our Peru Mission: The Journey Begins

About the photo above: Sister M. Andrea Smith, Sister Janet Guretz (known then as Sister M. De Montfort), Sister Doris Taylor (known then as Sister M. Leona) and Sister M. Rene Lawless were mission pioneers in Peru. Will you honor their gift of self with a donation in support of our mission in Jarpa today? Thanks so very much.

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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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.

This excerpt from Sister Judith Hilbing's Flavors of Hope is annotated and edited for clarity, context, and brevity.

1960s: The Journey Begins

“History has recorded that the 1960's were years of great liberal movements. There was an emphasis on racism, feminism, pollution, and technology. John Glenn orbited the earth and brought the conquering of the moon closer to reality. Camelot gave moments of hope. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech stirred thousands of people. The Civil Rights Act was passed. Feelings and opinions about the war in Vietnam were threatening to divide the country. Aggression was everywhere as President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were murdered one after the other. Violence disrupted the Democratic convention in Chicago as well as the numerous sit-ins that were symbolic of the resistance to the escalating war. Besides Vietnam, the 60's contained Vatican II, Woodstock, Watts, Black Panthers, hippies, and Cambodia.”

In 1958 Pope Pius XII created the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and in 1961 and envoy of Pope John XXIII carried to a meeting of religious superiors at Notre Dame University the request that within the decade all religious orders in the US would send 10 percent of their members to Latin America.

In December of 1961 Mother Ida Marie Adams wrote to the Cardinal Prefect saying:

In response to the plea of His Holiness, Pope John XXIII, that the American Sisterhoods help to meet the needs of the Church in Latin America, the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Springfield in Illinois, are planning to send a group of four to six Sisters to a mission in Latin America. This will be accomplished in 1964, or if it is possible, in 1963.

“And so something new was set in motion as the fires of Vatican II burned through the dreams and visions of the Springfield Dominicans. Maybe no one had yet said, "The Church exists for mission as a fire exists for burning," but it was known intuitively that the very essence of the being of the Church was to be in mission. Missionaries were those who could bring the Gospel message of hope to the poor and powerless, helping them to build faith communities and to better their lives educationally and socially.”

Where our 4-6 sisters would go, or how they would be in mission was not yet determined. That happened through a serendipitous encounter between some sisters at summer school and the superior of the Precious Blood Fathers.

[Prioress General] Sister Ida Marie received a letter from Father John Byrne, who wrote:

When at St. Joseph College last week, I learned indirectly from your Sisters attending summer school there that your Province is planning to take on missions in Latin America. Many of our Fathers are so impressed with the spirit of your Sisters that they urged me to write to you to see whether or not you have committed yourself to any designated mission. Our Province is opening a new mission field in La Oroya, Peru, in November, 1962, and subsequently an urban parish in Lima.

Mother, would you be interested in Peruvian missions? And if so. would your fine Province do us the honor of working with us?

That simple, Spirit-led correspondence landed the Dominican Sisters of Springfield in Peru. Of those four pioneer sisters only one is still with us. Sisters Doris Taylor and Rene Lawless died in 2016. Sister Andrea Smith left the community after many years of service. Sister Janet Guretz alone lives to bear witness to the founding of our missions in Peru from her home in Regina Coeli. Your gift in support of Our Peru Mission would mean the world to Sister Janet. Thank you for considering a gift today!

Ready to learn more?

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

3 thoughts on “Our Peru Mission: The Journey Begins”

  1. Marilyn Hardesty

    I remember Sister Virgine of St John Bosco in Chicago going to Lima. She was so perfect for the mission.

  2. Andrea Smith is almost 96 and lives in assisted living in Brecksville Ohio. I will share this with her.

  3. Sister Doris Taylor is my Aunt. I grew up seeing her every couple of years when she came home, hearing stories and getting letters of her Peruvian Adventures. Thanks for honoring her legacy!

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