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Continuing the Josephite mission in Peru


Adelaide Josephite Sister Katrina Van Ruth has been living in Peru for the past 10 years and in a short space of time has seen the divide between the haves and have nots dramatically increase due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Although Peru acted swiftly when the pandemic first commenced spreading its tentacles around the world, we have been unable to curtail its progression and now have more than 12,200 deaths with an average of 175 deaths a day and more than 3500 new cases each day – with no let-up,” Sr Katrina, 72, told The Southern Cross via email.

“There is very real poverty in many areas which has been exacerbated by this recent pandemic…the gains made to the betterment of life for many Peruvians over the past 20 years or so has, in many cases, been lost during these last four months.”

When the Sisters were placed in quarantine and churches closed, Sr Katrina said she began to look for daily Mass online.

“I started by watching a Mass broadcast from Sydney but then discovered the daily Mass from St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral and immediately felt ‘at home’,” she said.

“I was appreciative of the fact that the different priests from the Archdiocese took it in turn to preside at the Mass as it enabled me to reacquaint myself with various priests I had known over my years in Adelaide.

“I was glad of the opportunity to participate in the Masses in English and enjoyed the musical accompaniment provided each day.”

Her “wonderful, big family” in Adelaide worries about her, particularly since the pandemic began, but Sr Katrina said they had always supported her desire to live and work among the Peruvian people. “And they spoil me just that little bit more when I come home for a visit!”

One of four Australians in a community of eight Josephites in Peru and Brazil, Sr Katrina spent six years in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the most populous districts in Lima, where she ran a homework centre for primary-aged children and assisted the parish in liturgy, youth choir, visiting the sick and praying with family members for the dead.

She then spent two years in Tarma, eight to 10 hours from the capital (depending on the state of the roads) where she was assistant in the kindergarten section of a school high up on the mountain on the outskirts of the town.

For the past two years she has been living back in Lima, helping out in a suburban parish, mainly with groups of elderly people in the parish’s eight chapels. She also volunteers at a homework centre on one of the neighbouring hills and works closely with the Josephite Associates group and five Josephite Affiliates.

Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the Sisters’ arrival in Peru to commence their first overseas mission. Since then 21 Sisters from Australia and New Zealand have lived and ministered among and with the Peruvian people in a variety of places.

The four Australian Sisters, along with one New Zealander and three Peruvian Sisters, continue this work today.

“The Peruvian people and Peru will always have a very special place in the hearts of Josephites as our Sr Irene McCormack lies buried in the cemetery of Huasahuasi high up on the hill overlooking the village,” Sr Katrina said.

“She, along with four of the local men from the village, was killed by the Shining Path terrorists in 1991.”

Born in the Netherlands, Sr Katrina was 10 when she migrated to Australia with her parents, six brothers and three sisters, the seventh brother being born a couple of years later.

She attended Josephite schools firstly at Footscray in Melbourne, followed by a brief three months in the Dominican School at Glenelg in Adelaide, and then completed her primary schooling at St Joseph’s Richmond before attending
St Joseph’s High School at Kensington (now Mary MacKillop College).

“It seemed a very natural step for me then to fulfil a long-held desire to enter the convent and to join the Sisters of St Joseph in 1965,” Sr Katrina said.

“During that first year as a postulant, as we were then called, I taught at St Francis’ at Campbelltown which was a brand new school that year with only one other Sister on staff.”

After novitiate years and teacher training in Sydney, she returned to Adelaide in 1970 and taught at Thebarton, Alberton, a short return to Campbelltown and Flinders Park before heading off to the Port Pirie Diocese. There she taught at Peterborough and Berri before returning to the Adelaide Archdiocese and teaching at Yorketown.

She then spent close to eight years working at the regional office at Kensington during which time she studied and received her accreditation as an archivist.

“I thought this was the path which God had in store for me but, as St Mary MacKillop once said, ‘our good God’ provided me with the opportunity to once more realise a long-held desire to go further afield and I responded to His call to come and live and work with and for the wonderful people of Peru. And that is where I am!”

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