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Sister Mary KennedyThe way each sister is called to a ministry varies. Some go through a long discernment process, carefully planning and thinking about the challenges of taking on a new ministry, while others just show up and figure it out as they go. Sister Mary Kennedy is one who just showed up to Honduras 34 years ago, and has been helping indigenous populations there for the past 12 years.

Sister Mary has served in Monte Verde, a small village in the San Francisco de Opalaca municipality of Honduras, since 2006. Sisters serving there opened the mission because they wanted to serve a rural area where there were no religious men or women present and where the needs of the poor were not met. They contacted the bishops of the poorest archdioceses in Honduras, and selected Monte Verde as their new mission, but did not yet know how they would help. Sisters Mary and Reina del Carmen Rodriguez were the first to arrive, with Sister Emelina Maradiaga following four years later.

The sisters came to Monte Verde without any pretense or agenda. They began listening to the townspeople to find out what they needed. The sisters did not want to teach in a classroom setting, as they felt called to serve the people beyond the walls of a school and developed ministries to support education in the broadest sense.

As with all SSND ministries, the basis for this Honduran mission is education. Because the town is remote, education in many areas was lacking. Sisters Mary and Reina del Carmen began working with catechists and religious leaders in the community to help strengthen their religious education and understanding of the Gospel. They helped women learn new skills to support their families and emphasized the importance of school.

Sister Mary Kennedy, formerly of the Central Pacific Province, ministers to children in Monte Verde, Honduras.“Many students drop out before the sixth grade,” Sister Mary said. “They are discouraged because their teachers are not local, traveling to reach their students, and class isn’t always held regularly. The isolation of the village causes parents to not realize how important school is, but we are working to change that.”

The lack of education in Monte Verde becomes detrimental to adults, as well, who struggle to know their worth and the worth of their crops. Many villagers are farmers, and most practice subsistence farming, which does not make the families any money. An adventurous few had tried growing coffee, as the altitude and soil are perfect for this cash crop; however, without the business acumen to price their products correctly, sellers from larger cities would take advantage of the farmers.

The sisters saw these unfair practices and wanted to help. They brought in larger organizations to show the farmers how to grow and harvest the coffee effectively while maintaining the highest possible quality. The sisters and these organizations also helped the farmers establish a cooperative, which maintains a base line price to sell the coffee, allowing the farmers to make a profit and have an income.

Sister Mary Kennedy and other SSNDs from the Central Pacific Province minister to the people of Monte Verde, Honduras. “Establishing the cooperative has been a wonderful process and success story,” said Sister Mary. “This will and already is bringing people out of extreme poverty.” Another huge change for Monte Verde is becoming a parish and having the full-time presence of a priest in the area. Upon arriving to the area, the sisters discovered that many villagers were traveling six hours on a bus to participate in their parish. Through dialogue with the bishop, the sisters and the people voiced the plight of the area. As a result, the bishop named the indigenous municipality a parish and placed a full-time priest in the town. Sister Mary explained that people welcomed the priest, and have shown marked growth in their faith lives because of this.

One of the reasons Sister Mary feels she and other sisters have had success in their Monte Verde mission is that they have stayed. She described how villagers were used to other missionaries and nonprofit organizations coming to build a school or well and then leaving. “They kept asking how long we’d be here,” she said. “We told them, ‘However long God wants us here.’ After six or seven years, once they realized we were staying, they stopped asking.”

Sister Mary has been serving the people of Honduras for 34 years, coming almost immediately after making her final vows with SSND. Originally from St. Louis, she met a missionary during her formation period and participated in a cultural program in Honduras in 1980. She fell in love with the country and returned the next two summers. She moved there permanently after that. Although she joined SSND through the former St. Louis Province, she is now a part of the Latin American Province.

“Being a part of the Latin American Province gives me life,” she explained. “It is part of the joy and peace that God gives me, and I still feel such a connection with the sisters in St. Louis.”

She has used this St. Louis connection to impact people looking for a cause larger than themselves. She established a relationship with Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, Illinois, and St. Francis of Assisi parish to send people to Monte Verde to help those in need. The parish even became a sister parish to Monte Verde, sharing a connection with the same patron saint. Even though the parishioners from St. Louis and those from Honduras may not share much in common, Sister Mary said that God works through cultures to share faith, granting them a connection as children of God.

Through all of these accomplishments, Sister Mary said that she does not yet feel any big changes in the community, but tries to be a continued presence. She is unsure of how long she and Sister Emelina will stay, but said, “As long as we, as a congregation, can have sisters [in Monte Verde] and are needed there, we’ll be there.”


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