‘Sister Matilde’ to depart for Kenya after a decade of service
By Charlene Scott Myers
Special to the Register
After 10 years of service as Parish Life Coordinator of St. Alphonsus Church in Satanta, Sister Matilde Monterroso, MCMI, is leaving this town named after an American Indian Kiowa chief who died in Texas in 1878.
Sister Matilde is a Guatemalan citizen, born March 13, 1956 in the town of Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, two hours south of Guatemala City. Her father was a farmer and house builder. Her mother gave birth to ten children, eight of them girls.
“I was number five,” she said with her infectious laugh. “My father wanted boys, but my mother had the eight girls before the boys came along.”
Sister Matilde credits her grandparents with her religious vocation.
“I come from a very poor family,” she said. “Since there were so many children, I was sent to live with my elderly grandparents when I was about seven. My grandmother was a very spiritual lady, and I used to go with her to church every Sunday for Mass and every day for adoration.
“I became a sister because of her,” she added. “She was a really good person. My grandparents gave me a good example of living. I am who I am because of them. “I wanted to be a nun, but I did not consider myself for it. Nuns in Guatemala had to be rich and intellectual. I was poor, and did not consider myself very intellectual.”
Her local pastor thought otherwise.
“I went to talk to the priest, and told him I wanted to be a teacher or a social worker. He said, ‘No, I can’t recommend these professions to you. You would be a good nun.’”
And so the Lord and the priest, who both believed in her, arranged it with a group of sisters who had a community in Mexico and now in Kansas. They are the Missionaries of Charity of Mary Immaculate, whose motherhouse is in Mexico City and whose sisters have served the Church for 78 years.
“A Mexican sister came to our town to recruit sisters,” Sister Matilde recalled. “The priest told her that I was a candidate, and in one week I went with her to start my formation at Jalapa, my state.
“After five years, I became a sister on Dec. 8, 1980 when I was 24, at Jalapa where we had our novitiate. My grandmother, mother and father, and sisters and brothers came to the ceremony. In 1981, I was sent to Mexico City to work for one year with a lady in a hospital for the mentally ill.”
Sister Matilde next was sent to San Luis Potosi in Mexico “to do studies for a teaching degree from a Catholic college. I graduated in 1985.”
Her religious order next moved her to the United States to learn English at a Denver language center and then to a learning center in San Bernardino, California. Now she spoke Spanish and English, but in 1991 she was sent to Kenya, “where they speak Swahili,” she explained with a laugh.
“I went to work in the village of Buyangu at Kakamega Diocese with pre-school children from four to six years old. I learned the language with them while I taught them for four years.”
She apparently learned well because her next assignment in Africa was at Nakuru Catholic Diocese. She taught Christian religious education classes to high school students for six years.
She also worked with a women’s group from the village of Solai.
“These women and their children had not any shelter at all. I made them work hard renting land, and planting and harvesting beans and corn for four years until they were able to buy a piece of land and build ten good houses for their families. They received financial help from ‘Manos Unidas’ in Spain and friends from the USA.”
Sister Matilde returned to the United States in August of 2002 and was assigned to the Diocese of Dodge City, where she began her duties as an administrator of a parish without a priest in Satanta. Father James Dieker of Liberal is her priest supervisor.
“Father Jim is a person with whom everyone can work,” she said.
Father Dieker and Father Hector de La Vega celebrate Mass and sacramental duties in Satanta on Thursdays and Sundays and when the community needs them.
“Bishop [Ronald M.] Gilmore came to introduce us sisters to the community,” she said. “He did not know our congregation, but he had the confidence to give three positions to us.”
Sister Brigida Camarena worked in Liberal, Sister Maria Elena Martinez-Sifuentes in Garden City, and Sister Matilde in Satanta.
At the three sisters’ 2002 commissioning Mass, Bishop Gilmore said that during a 1998 meeting with Pope John Paul II, “He made the point consistently that these women are at the very heart of what Church is all about.
“Rejoice in the fact that you have these women in your midst,” Bishop Gilmore said. “They, … who try to live the Gospel best, will help all of us … live the Gospel better.”
“It was difficult for me in the beginning,” Sister Matilde admitted. “I did not know how to use the computer or copier, but I had very good volunteers like Joanne Burgos, Lisa Kennedy, Connie Maturey, Cherie Folk, and others who taught me with patience and dedication. The Anglo people have been so good to me.
“Sometimes when I was sad and felt like running away, I would see Bishop Gilmore, and he would say to me, ‘Matilda, it is so good to see you!’ These words made me strong. When I heard he was retiring, I was so sad, but I like the new bishop [John B. Brungardt] very much, too.”
Now the devoted sister will celebrate her 10th anniversary in Kansas by leaving the state and returning to Kenya in August. She will teach at Arutani Girls Secondary School, a high school that prepares African girls for college. She also will continue her development work with women at the village.
“Out of our 254 sisters, I was the only one who wanted to go to Africa the first time, in 1988” she said. “This time I wanted to stay here, but I made an obedience vow, and I need to practice it.” (Her successor in Satanta is Sister Consuelo Garcia, MCMI, of Mexico.)
Before leaving for the African continent, Sister Matilde returned to her Guatemalan homeland to visit her many relatives, who include “more than 100 nieces and nephews grand-nieces and grand-nephews.”
Her three areas of ministry in Satanta included a teaching office, a sanctifying office, and administrative functions. Teaching comes easy for her; administrative work is her least favorite. But she was drawn to helping herself and others sanctify themselves.
Perhaps it is for this reason that she was nominated for the Catholic Extension Society’s 2012 Lumen Christi Award.
“Almost half of St. Alphonsus Parish is Spanish families, and they are really wonderful people,” she said.
“I would like to say that I am very grateful because of the way they have acted. They are very generous, giving their time, their talent, and their treasure. They give to the church without asking for anything. They really love the church.”
“They started coming to church to worship and learn ways on how to do the Lord’s will. Sanctifying people is to invite them to come closer to the Lord, fulfilling His will and following the Church’s teaching so that they can experience conversion.
“If I know their lives and their struggles, I look for a way to help them,” she said.
With tears in her eyes, she bade farewell to the congregation of St. Alphonsus, “to the good people of the Dodge City Diocese staff, the Vicar General Father Bob Schremmer, who always was available to listen to my doubts, to the two priests who serve the parish, and the two bishops.”