Wisconsin Rapids Deanery

of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin

Fr. John SwingReflections from Bolivia

Remembering the life and death of Sister Mary Mahoney, OP

By Fr. John Swing
January 22, 2009
 
One of the major influences in the development and growth of our Santa Cruz parish is the work and spirit of the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. It is only by coincidence that the coming of the La Crosse diocesan delegation to Santa Cruz coincided with the 25th anniversary of the death of Sister Mary Mahoney and three others.
 
Stream in CochabambaI went to Cochabamba to the site of the accident. A shrine has been erected in their name. A bridge has now been built over the gully which they were trying to cross when the accident happened. The place looks so harmless, the crossing so small, just 30 feet. There was hardly any water in the ravine as I stood next to it contemplating my own mortality.
  
But, that evening, 25 years ago, they proceeded in the rain, in the darkness. The water was powerful enough to carry the four to their death.
 
Sister Mary Mahoney, O.P.Sister Mary Mahoney was a young, vivacious, tenacious woman. I didn’t know her well because she worked in Cochabamba and I was in Santa Cruz, but we were connected because some of her fellow sisters worked in our parish in Santa Cruz. I consider them a major influence in my life and in the life of the Santa Cruz parish.
 
I walked up and down the side of the ravine, back over to the shrine that has been built their names, shaking my head, praying, and, I admit, shedding some tears.
 
Memorial in CochabamaOne of the Dominican Sisters came with me, Sister Rosemary Huddleston. The taxi driver who brought us out to the site was taken in by it all and stood here with his hat in his hand, engrossed in prayer.
 
Most of the surviving members of the pastoral team in Cochabamba had gathered in observance of the anniversary. I had the wonderful pleasure to come back to town and share a meal with them.
 
Memorial in CochabambaWho can begin to measure what they have done? How can we describe them other than to say, wow, there is greatness here. They have weathered coup d‘tats, monsoon rains, almost impassable roads. They have nurtured, taught, and brought hope in an intimate way to so many who would otherwise experience the desolation and powerlessness of poverty. Talk about the good news of salvation to those who live in darkness. But they would be the first to say that it has been they who have been filled with light and joy.
 
What was a tragedy 25 years ago now becomes a victory symbolizing the total giving of the Madres Dominicanas from Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. Our association with them is a blessing from God, an inspiration. I am sure that they will be a source of inspiration for other women in our diocese to hear and respond to this dynamic call.

They came from Milwaukee, Sinsinawa, Ohio, Florida and Southern Bolivia and from Cochabamba itself. I was privileged to be there with these courageous and confident women coming together with hugs and kisses and laughter, with solemn purpose, to celebrate the lives of those who died.
 
Any woman who is looking for her place in this world, wondering how to make a difference, has got to get to know the women of Sinsinawa.
 
I have a large picture of Sister Mary Mahoney in the sacristy at Sacred Heart in Nekoosa, along with a picture of Fr. Ray Herman, from the diocese of Dubuque, who was murdered in Bolivia over 30 years ago.
 
The church is built on the blood of martyrs. I consider both of these friends of mine as martyrs. They gave their all and now inspire us to give our all to the cause of Christ and His Church. I have a deeper faith because of these people.
 
They also taught me how to work as a parish team. I have been powerfully reminded by this pilgrimage to the place of Sister Mary Mahoney´s death. When she was killed, I had returned to Wisconsin two years before. Her body was brought back to Sinsinawa. I was there at the cemetery on the hill at Sinsinawa and remember the moment when they lowered her body into the earth just as the sun was setting
 
May God bless you, Sister Mary Mahoney, and all your fellow sisters, and thank you.