THE GIFT OF LOVE
The Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception celebrate 50 years of presence among the people of Consuelo in the Dominican Republic
By Fr. Jack Lynch, S.F.M.
In December of last year, I felt honored to be present at the festivities honoring the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception for their 50 years of service in education and health care in the town of Consuelo, Dominican Republic. Their remarkable service is worthy of the appreciation and gratitude of the people in the area as well as a source of pride and admiration for those of us who have come to know and appreciate their work over the years.
In fact, the collaboration of Scarboro missioners and the Grey Sisters goes back more than 80 years. Three short years after the foundation of the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Pembroke in 1926, a group of young Sisters was sent by their community to Lishui, China, to join the Scarboro priests already working there.
After the Chinese civil war and the takeover of the nationalist forces by the communists in China, members of both communities were expelled from the country. However, in 1951 the Grey Sisters continued their mission collaboration with Scarboro priests in Shimabara, Japan, and in the town of Yamasa, Dominican Republic. There was also collaboration in the Bahamas with Scarboro’s Bishop Kenneth Turner. As Bishop of Lishui, he was unable to return to China after the takeover by the communists and was most appreciative of the Sisters’ commitment and charism.
In 1959, on the invitation of Scarboro Father William Matte, the Sisters began what is now more than 50 years of dedicated service to the people of Consuelo, a company town owned and controlled by the sugar estate Ingenio Consuelo. The employees were paid a minimum wage for the highly seasonal work of harvesting and processing sugar cane.
In those early years, the Scarboro priests and the Grey Sisters lived under the Trujillo dictatorship, one of the most notorious of that period. All of the Scarboro Fathers who were pastors of parishes during that time read aloud at mass the famous pastoral letter written by the Bishops’ Conference promoting the freedom of the Dominican people to move around the country without having to pass road blocks and inspection points. These were difficult times for all Church personnel. I was reminded of their brave stand by Jesuit Father Antonio Lluberes who was also present at the ceremony last December. Fr. Lluberes is the national director of 44 schools affiliated under Fe y Alegria, a nongovernmental organization created by the Jesuits in 1990 in the Dominican Republic.
One of the original decisions taken by the Grey Sisters was very significant. They opted to enter into the public school system rather than create a private Catholic school that often catered to wealthier people who could afford the tuition costs. From day one they set out to work with the poorest in Consuelo and from there they began a 50 year history of building and innovation. One has only to speak with the people of Consuelo to get a sense of their overwhelming gratitude.
The Sisters also responded to the needs of the sick and the elderly, establishing a clinic in 1967 and a Seniors Residence in the late 1980s, both of which continue to operate with the assistance and guidance of Sr. Natividad Rosa Cordero, a licenced nurse. Sr. Cordero is one of four Dominican Sisters who have taken final vows with the Grey Sisters and continue their ministries in health care and pastoral work. While in Consuelo I met other young women who are interested in joining the Grey Sisters’ community.
On behalf of Scarboro Missions, I congratulate the Grey Sisters and express to them our sincere gratitude for all they have taught us about selfless commitment and generous service to the Reign of God.
Fr. Jack Lynch is Superior General of Scarboro Missions.