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Ground-Breaking Ceremony in Benque Viejo

In Benque Viejo, Belize a  took place on July 4, 2022 in presence of Provincial Superior Sr. Clara Teul and local politicians. The Pallottine Centennial Memorial Committee had initiated the project and commissioned a Guatemalan artist to produce a sculpture which will be installed in the “Del Carmen Plaza in honor of the Pallottines”. The memorial, envisioned on the occasion of 100 years of dedicated service to the country, shall honor the Pallottine Sisters and remind the Belizean people of their role in nation building.

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Ground-Breaking, Photo: Pallottine Centennial Memorial Committee

On March 20, 1913, the Clarion newspaper, had reported on the arrival of the four pioneer sisters saying: “The mail steamer which arrived on Monday brought among her passengers five members of the Order of the Sisters of Pious Missions, the Pallotini. These ladies are originally from Germany but came to us from their convent in the United States. Sister Dominica takes charge of the new convent at Benque Viejo and will with others teach at the public schools. Sister Frances has come to establish the convent and will return to the United States as soon as this is accomplished. The party, accompanied by Rev. Fr. Versavel, left Belize by the CACIQUE at 6:15 p.m. on Monday (March 17, 1913) and arrived at the Cayo at 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday (March 19, 1913).”

The book “Fifty Golden Years in British Honduras” described the arrival of the sisters in Benque Viejo as follows: “On March 19, 1913, then, after a grueling trip by river from Belize to El Cayo and a two-wheeled horse drawn wagon from El Cayo to Benque Viejo, Sisters M. Dominica, Alfonsa, Leocadia and Reynildis, pioneers of the mission in British Honduras, reached Benque Viejo. Here they were received like angels from heaven by simple people, most of whom had never seen a sister before. In fact, when they visited the nearby village of Succotz, the children knelt in reverence before them.”

After getting settled, the sisters took up the management of the school in Benque Viejo with an enrolment of 75 students. Another task was to organize “stone” processions each Sunday after mass, to gather stones for a new stone-walled church which would replace the thatched-roof building at the plaza. The new church was blessed on December 7, 1913. Seeing the need for medical services in the community, a dispensary was established in 1924. The sisters staffed the dispensary and visited the sick, often at night, with a police escort, until 1955 when the clinic was transferred over to a lay public health nurse whom they had sent for training, a native of Benque Viejo. From 1938 to 1954, the sisters managed the school in San José Succotz. Sisters Brigid and Juliana were the first of the many nuns who walked along the banks of the Mopán to and from Succotz. A new convent with a concrete ground floor, plenty of storage space, and accommodations for ten sisters was completed in 1952. When the Pallottine Sisters in Belize celebrated their golden jubilee in the country, they had founded convents in all districts except one, staffing most of the Catholic primary schools and public hospitals. After Vatican II, the Pallottine Sisters, like many other religious congregations worldwide went through a crisis of vocations. Thus, in 1971, they had to close the convent in Benque Viejo.

As a tribute to the charism of the Pallottine Sisters, the sculpture is depicting Sr. Dominica Senn, the first Pallottine Superior in Belize, instructing a pupil, a service the sisters undertook for three generations of Belizeans. The Plaza is meant to portray aesthetic elements in its design of a bow in a ship, reminiscent of the transoceanic trip taken by the Pallottines to the Americas. The monument of Sr. Dominica will have as its background a concrete wall which will serve as mural space to depict the narrative of the Pallottines. In this way, it is to keep alive one of many stories of valiant women who employed body, mind, and soul to help build Belize.

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Photo: Pallottine Centennial Memorial Committee

With material of the welcoming address of David N Ruiz, Pallottine Centennial Memorial Committee