At this time there are over seventy residents at the Hogar. For the most part, these residents are profoundly disabled children with a wide range of neurological diseases and conditions who have been given up by their families. They are legally under the guardianship of the Hogar and the intention is that they will spend their lives there. In many cases the degree of infirmity is so great that those lives are quite short. In other cases the residents have a varying degree of intellectual or physical ability and a very few of them are able to assume positions of some responsibility within the institution as they grow older.
The Hogar was inaugurated on January 3, 1989 by Father Jose Baldan, OFM. Seven months later, on the 16th of August, Father Baldan died tragically in an automobile accident and the project has since been under the very capable direction of Father Juan Luis Lazarro, OFM, who has devoted these last 26 years of his life to the construction and operation of the home. In all, Father Lazarro has spent 43 years in the Republic of Guatemala. These Franciscan priests hail from Italy and it thus seems that most of the financial support for the Hogar as well as awareness of the wonderful work that is being done there is Italian.
The care of the young people at Hogar is excellent. There is speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing care, academic and limited vocational training. A number of local doctors cooperate with the Hogar to provide medical care when that is needed. The majority of this care is provided by laypersons licensed in their professions. Alongside these laypersons work a number of Franciscan consecrated religious women, specifically trained in nursing or an allied field. The ratio of residents to employees is 1-to-1.
The religious community of women who are found at the Hogar belong to "Las Franciscanas de la Asunción" (The Franciscans of the Assumption), founded in San Marcos, Guatemala, in 1939. In 2006 legal title to the property upon which the Hogar rests was transferred from the Italian Franciscan Friars to this religious community of Guatemalan Franciscan Sisters.
This article is not so much about the Hogar, which deserves its own essay, but about these Franciscan religious sisters who, among other apostolates, serve the Hogar as formally-trained nurses and nursing assistants.
It so happens that the Society of St. Pius X has a Priory - "Our Lady of Fatima" - in Guatemala City, the capital of the country, about four hours east of Quetzaltenango. It also happens that this is the only SSPX priory in Central America. There is no other Traditional Catholic priestly fraternity operating in Central America and any diocesan offering of the Mass is nonexistent.
Around 2007-2008, with the promulgation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, Father Lazarro once again became interested in the Mass of his youth and began to search for resources. He established contact with the priests of the Society in Guatemala City and soon made an Ignatian Retreat at the Priory. He had, for some time previous to the contact, been reading the publication Si, Si, No, No which had served as an introduction for him. Father Lazarro is of a conservative stripe by nature and whatever questions might have surrounded such things as canonical irregularities, were, at least in his estimation, greatly outweighed by the faithfulness of these priests to Catholic doctrine and liturgy.
I was privileged to be introduced to this very inspiring corner of the Traditional Catholic world in the spring of 2015. I had arranged a Holy Week retreat at the Priory in Guatemala City and arrived to find Franciscan sisters on the premises – something I had not seen at a Priory before. To be specific, there were nine religious on the grounds, three professed and the others at various stages of discernment.
With the permission and intercession of the Prior, Father Lawrence Novak, I was granted an interview with Sor Emilia Mauricio, the Superior of this small group. I subsequently made the trip to Quetzaltenango, where I was very graciously received by Father Lazarro and spent five heavenly days at the Hogar. It is from these visits that the information here was pieced together, and if there are certain errors of fact, those errors are entirely my own.
It seems that Father Lazarro's Ignatian Retreat was not a one-time thing. This retreat appears to have borne great fruit, and Father Lazarro, a zealous man by nature, returned to Quetzaltenango and his life's work, and was soon offering a daily Latin Mass in the beautiful chapel of the Hogar. Over the previous years he had developed a following within the city of Quetzaltenango given his conservatism, and for most of those faithful who habitually attended his Masses at the Hogar it was an easy transition to the authentic liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. Those residents of the Hogar who are physically able to be in attendance at Mass are also to be seen there on a daily basis, as are those employees who choose to do so. Three of the aforementioned Sisters made their first Ignatian retreat in November of 2010 and for the three of them there has been no turning back. Sor Emilia quietly and somewhat abashedly related some of their experiences in the types of retreats they had previously attended. There is no reason to repeat any of that here, for they are experiences that would surprise few readers. Suffice to say that these Sisters were edified by, and underwent a conversion as a result of, these Ignatian retreats.
As is consistently the case in these situations, love for authentic Catholicism flourished. A number of the religious sisters experienced a whole new and different understanding of and love for their vocations as a result. Soon they, too, were attending Ignatian retreats and Father Lazarro continued to make retreats as his busy schedule would permit. He also invited the Society priests to visit the Hogar on numerous occasions and they would naturally offer their own Masses there, to the delight and edification of the faithful. At one point Father Lazarro ceased to offer the Novus Ordo Missae and exclusively offered the perennial Mass of the Roman Church.
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And, as unfortunately is also consistently the case in these situations, not everyone regarded this turn of events as something positive, including a portion of the religious sisters assigned to the Hogar as well as the local Ordinary, who prevailed upon Father Lazarro to offer at the least one novus ordo liturgy weekly and forbade the priests of the Society from offering Mass in his archdiocese. This seems to have had less effect on the priests of the Society, the three of whom are stretched across six countries, than it has upon the local faithful who are not at all disposed to returning to the novus ordo.
The most visible effect, however, has been and is upon those Franciscan sisters who have grown to love authentic Catholicism and have discovered a whole new dimension to their vocations and their Catholicism. Predictably, a rift developed at the Hogar between the sisters drawn to authentic Catholicism and those that had been steeped in the new religion and preferred it. And, as is also predictable, it became not a matter of respecting legitimate choice, but a matter of doing what was necessary to squelch this wildfire that threatened the "unity" of the community. The entire story contains numerous episodes and examples of organized overt persecution and nothing is to be gained by recounting any of that here, nor would such things come as any surprise to anyone who has tried over the years to cleave to a Catholicism dating back to a time prior to 1970. It is simply one more example of the ferocity of liberals who sense that their house of cards may be threatened.
In early 2012, Sor Emilia was removed from her position as Superior of the religious at the Hogar by her own superiors at the Mother House in San Marcos. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, this group of sisters made their first contact with Msgr. de Galaretta on 12 May of 2012 in order to begin to explore their options as a community under the protection of the Society. Finally, on October 24 of 2012, those sisters drawn to the traditional practice of the faith, including Sor Emilia, were separated from each other and reassigned by the Mother House to other apostolates in the country as a means of quelling the Catholic "uprising". On that same date they contacted the former Prior of the Society of St. Pius X in Guatemala City, Father Gardet, to apprise him of their situation.
This detail is worth emphasizing. Having made a choice for Tradition, these particular nuns' service at the Hogar was over, and not by their own choice. This is not a case of Franciscan religious abandoning their community in order to initiate a new community in a "traditional" venue. It is a case of these religious being expelled from their lives' work and further separated from each other by being assigned to different and distant apostolates. Moreover, outside of the work at the Hogar, these religious' apostolates consist largely in parish work, and now that they had come to the realization that things like Hell and Purgatory exist, that Our Lord indeed founded the One True Church, that receiving Communion in the hand is a questionable if not blasphemous practice, and a whole list of other simple truths not commonly conveyed within the novus ordo structure, they could not conscientiously deny any of these truths - something that would inevitably lead to conflict in any novus ordo parish to which they might be assigned. These nuns made the choice for authentic Catholicism and, having done so, their path was made clear, if not easy.
This group of religious briefly reported to their new assignments, but by November had moved as a group onto the grounds of Our Lady of Fatima Priory in Guatemala City. On December 12 of that year they were clothed in the traditional Franciscan habit for women. The novices who had opted for Catholic Tradition left the Hogar in May of 2012 and by November had already reported to the priory in anticipation of the arrival of the professed religious. By January of the following year, new postulants were in place at the priory and their current number was complete.
Of those sisters who decided for Tradition, one of them, Sor Julieta, actually the Director of the Hogar with significant seniority over the aforementioned nuns remained at the Hogar. The reasons are complicated and among them is the desire to have a sister in the Hogar supportive of Father Lazarro. Father Lazarro, while saddened to see these nuns transferred here and yon, blessed their decision to strike out anew under the aegis of Tradition and continues to provide them with significant moral and spiritual support.
The name of this new congregation of traditional Franciscan Religious is "Franciscanas de los Corazones de Jesus y Maria" (Franciscans of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.) Their priorities as they list them are:
2. Works of charity, especially the care of invalid children
3. Visiting the sick
4. Domestic care of their convent
5. Care and preparation of the chapel and the altar
6. Help with catechesis
7. Support and encouragement of the secular Third Order of Franciscans.
They (professed religious, novices and postulants) currently occupy one of the dormitories previously used for Ignatian retreats at the priory, in an area behind the priory itself. The structure appears to be about 600 square feet in size. They perform most of the domestic work for the priory as well as for their tiny provisional "convent." They have put themselves to the task of learning Latin and they are present for Divine Office, where the addition of female voices to the chant is truly beautiful. The priests provide them with daily catechesis and instruction and are active in their formation at their various levels of commitment. "Country girls" that they are, they garden, raise chickens, geese and ducks and are, in summation, a joy to behold.
I happened to be at the priory on a day when Father Lazarro, Sor Julieta and some of the children stopped in to visit the priests and sisters. Difficult though this situation has been for everyone, Father Lazarro and Sor Julieta are completely supportive of the decision these religious have made and wish nothing more than to see them established on a more solid and permanent footing. Their current situation, inspiring as it is, can only be regarded as temporary.
Anyone with experience working with disabled children knows the profound attachment one develops to those children. This would hold even more true in a situation where these children are unwanted or otherwise given up by their parents and are permanent residents of a facility dedicated to them. In speaking with these sisters it quickly becomes obvious just how very difficult it was for them to leave these children. When I left to visit the Hogar they were sure to provide me with a long list of children to convey their love to. When I left the Hogar to return to the priory I carried similar messages of love and support from the children to the sisters.
These sisters have paid a great price for the opportunity to live the Franciscan life in the manner which their forebears may well have taken for granted. The physical property of the Hogar is substantial and impressive and now belongs to the religious community they have chosen to leave in favor of Tradition. One of their modernist sisters asked them how they could leave such fine surroundings and the material wealth the Hogar represents. It is obvious that these sisters have weighed the material against the spiritual and found the former wanting.
On September 10, 2016, two of the former Novices took their First Solemn Vows and are now clothed in the habit of the Professed. On that same date the two Postulants took their vows as Novices. And, notably on that date, Bishop deGalaretta made public the decree formally recognizing these nuns as an established community under the pastoral care and guidance of the Society of St. Pius X. The Bishop made clear that he is an auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and that in normal times this act would have been performed by their own Ordinary, whereas these not being normal times in the Church, charity compels the Priestly Society to undertake this responsibility.
Over and over again, in discussing various options, it became clear that for these religious the Sacraments are their top priority. Friends of the priory with property in rural areas of the country have offered them donations of land upon which to build a convent and facility for taking care of these sorts of children. To accept such an offer moves them such a distance from the Sacraments that it is an option that cannot be considered. Properties adequate for a convent and a facility in which they can once again exercise that which they professionally and spiritually desire to do - care for invalid children - in close proximity to the priory, are quite expensive; out of reach barring some sort of miracle. They remain unperturbed and seem quite content in their provisional convent behind the priory. They have what they most desire - the opportunity to live their vocations in the fullness of the Catholic Faith.
Given their current situation it is remarkable that they have had postulants desiring to try their vocation with this community. At any rate, absent a more adequate facility, it will become impossible rather quickly for them to take on any more young ladies desirous of proving their vocations as well as caring for disabled children.
The goal, then, is to raise enough money with which to establish a proper convent for these nuns where, over time, they may develop the sort of facility necessary to care for abandoned, disabled children.
For those more interested, a number of videos produced by JMJ HF Productions have been uploaded to YouTube. These videos depict both the Hogar and the Traditional Franciscan nuns currently in Guatemala City. The videos may be accessed at the following links. Means for contributing to the future of this Traditional Catholic religious group are included along with the videos, and we will include them here as well.
These videos include a pair of videos related to the Hogar itself, to serve as an example of the work these nuns propose to continue:
Please keep this small community of beautiful religious in your prayers, and if you are so moved to provide material support to them, or to pay them a visit to see this example of God's grace in action, your support would be most welcome.
Contributions to these nuns can be made through the St. Vincent Ferrer Foundation of Texas. Upon making a donation for this purpose please specify that the donation is for these nuns.
The website is http://svfonline.org/
The St. Vincent Ferrer Society of Texas can be contacted by:
Telephone: (915) 500-3025
Mail: 5628 Rosa Ave.
El Paso, TX 79905