This is a nice looking Guatemalan family, posing at the main door to San Bernardino, the school in Patzún that is supported, in part by Holy Sepulcher Parish. Some of you will recognize the name, Ana Cecilia Jimánez Arreaga or just Ceci. She is the one in pink. It seems like I have known Ceci forever. In fact it has been 11 years. The others in the photo are her mother and her three siblings.
All four children attend San Bernardino, made possible through the extraordinary efforts of some particularly good friends. Ceci’s situation is not the norm. The family is not from Patzún but from an aldea of Santiago Atitlán. The Jimánez Arreaga family comes from the far side of Lake Atitlán, from coffee country. The father, whom I have not met, works in the coffee fields and earns $2 to $2.50 per day. (See Education, education, education). It is a good family and they are together whenever it is possible.
Ceci, the oldest, left the aldea, family and friends 11 years ago because education in her aldea stopped at 3rd or 4th grade. In the aldea she was likely to be locked into the physically demanding and extremely poor life of those around her. There was room for her at the orphanage, Hogar Para Niñas, also operated by Franciscan Sisters in Patzún. She lived at the Hogar for 4 years and then was allowed to live at San Bernardino with the Franciscan Sisters. Things were not easy. One year she couldn’t attend classes because of lack of funds. She lost much of her vision which has been restored over a period of years. Her siblings came to Patzún after her, though I don’t know the dates.
The mother came too. She works as a cook for the Sisters at San Bernardino. Her income is tiny, though a lot for the Sisters. Mom is only 40 years old and looks good in the photo. Often she looks much older and very tired. She has suffered serious health problems the last five years and physicians tell her that she has one or more lesions on her brain. She is palsied, more fitting someone twice her age. I told the mother that her health is beyond my ability to restore. Desperate to have her children educated, she hugged me and thanked me warmly for what you people have already done. I now understand that Ceci needed special help to attend San Bernardino because without assistance the entire family would have been forced back to their aldea.
Chief among those who helped this family is Fr. Brian Noel of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Others include Roger Dannenberg, Rita Shoemaker and Barry Dwolatzky all people I came to know at Carnegie Mellon, Roger for more than 30 years. This photo of the
2010 Pittsburgh ordinations was right next to the Jimánez Arreaga family as I snapped their photo. These priests, Fr. Noel on the right, made the trip as seminarians. San Bernardino remembers its friends.
Why this family? There must be dozens of stories like it, stories of more extreme need. I am sure there are but Sister Angela, Superiora at San Bernardino, made a special request. You must understand this is the Jimánez Arreaga family. Arreaga is the name of the mother’s father’s family. This young, dying mother was adopted by the parents of two Franciscan Sisters, Carmen and Gloria Arreaga García. These are the nieces and nephew of Madre Carmen longtime Superiora in Patzún who, outside my family, is my best friend in the whole world. We will learn more about her another time.
The story of the Jimánez Arreaga family appears with their permission.