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Archives spotlight: Letter collection recalls Sister Theresa Lucier's Bolivian ministry

Laddby Phyllis Ladd

Sister Theresa Lucier was the first member of this Congregation to go outside of the U.S. for ministry. In March of 1970 she went to Cochabamba, Bolivia.

In her own words: I have always had a strong desire to work with the poor in other countries. When Pope John appealed to religious communities to send a small fraction of their members to Latin America to help the poor, my desire grew deeper.


Farewell cake for sister
Sister Theresa (second from left) at a farewell gathering prior to departing for Bolivia.

The following excerpts are from a collection of wonderful letters written by Sister Theresa to the Sisters at home during her time in Bolivia.

Before moving to Cochabamba, she was to stay in Coroico to study Spanish. In her first letter to the Sisters, she writes:

…I drove to Coroico in a jeep with a priest. It is 60 miles from La Paz. It took 4 ½ hours…an unforgettable experience.

Unforgettable was no overstatement because, as she notes in the letter, National Geographic had described the treacherous road, cut into the steep slopes of the Andes, as “The Most Dangerous Road in the World.”

…they have them in the cities but not in Coroico where we will be. The Franciscan Fathers in La Paz have a short wave radio…So at about 5:00 p.m. these missions tune in to hear if there is any special news or messages…then all the other missions hear the message…So that keeps them in close contact and not so isolated.

Local medical remedies
…at the 7:00 a.m. Mass…a woman fainted. Well…more than fainted. She was out for over 20 minutes. Couldn’t get a pulse and breathing was nil….we tried to get a doctor but none could be found….her people went out and got what looked like grass and began to rub it on her face. Guess what—she regained consciousness.

Home visits
Home visits to a boy “with TB who is just skin and bones…and his 8-year-old sister…with a distended abdomen and infection.”

…it was dark, so Sister and I were groping through the jungle with a flashlight that threw light one foot in front of us because the batteries were running low. We had to jump over two waterfall streams, and except for the noise of the water we would not have known where they were.

Emergency care
The truck went over a cliff with 75 people in it…. The accident happened at 1 a.m. but the people were not picked up until nearly 6 a.m. It really is a miracle how they survive…. The hospital only had novocaine for the woman with the forehead wound—no gauze—no pain medication no antibiotics…. The severe fracture cases were transferred to la Paz by truck— And that is an uncomfortable ride with injuries!

Touring Incan ruins

Above: Sister Theresa Lucier and companions touring Ican ruins.


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