Don't try to stop this train

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Friday 30, November 2007 | Category:   Consecrated Life

Sister Maria
Rosa Leggol, S.S.S.F.

When Sister Maria Rosa Leggol was 6 years old, she saw a group of German nuns passing through her hometown of Puerto Cortes, Honduras. After inquiring with the parish priest about who these women might be, she decided on the spot to become a religious sister. Three years later she prayed to the Virgin Mary to help her find the sisters she had seen. When she left the church she saw a train carrying two of those very School Sisters of St. Francis. “Never,” Sister Leggol says, “has a prayer had such a direct answer.”

After going through her novitiate at the community’s motherhouse in Milwaukee—“I learned how to pray, how to work, and how to have courage from those German nuns,” she says of this time—she returned to Honduras and began working in a hospital in Tegucigalpa.

Her work at the hospital helped to make her aware of the plight of the city’ poor young children, many of whom lacked even a semblance of an education or a normal upbringing. Sister Leggol has come to call these children “moral orphans” because many of them have been, in the words of journalist John Allen, Jr., who wrote about Sister Leggol in the National Catholic Reporter, “so badly failed by their own parents as to be effectively without a family.”

Sister Leggol’s work led to the founding of the Sociedad Amigos de los Niños, which offers abandoned and frequently abused children in Honduras a home, education, and the possibility of employment. She has also established 86 free health clinics in the country, which serve the dual purpose of providing basic health care to poor and rural Hondurans and also giving jobs to recent medical-school graduates. In addition to these efforts she also created a training center for young Honduran women who work as maids and a boarding school for needy rural boys.

"If you really understand God's call," she told NCR, "if you're clear that you have a vocation that comes from God for which you are responsible, then nothing stops you," she said. "I'm very strong in that way. Nobody gave me this job—I made it."

Her determination is legendary. She went over the head of her superior to begin the home for children, severed a relationship with a supporting foundation who wanted her to stop accepting handicapped children and mothers along their children, and once in the 1960s ran onto an airport runway to stop a plane from taking off so she could get the signature of a businessman on board who had agreed to donate to the children’s homes.

“I’m not an easy person,” Sister Leggol says. “I try to think 15 steps ahead all the time, which is why people think I’m crazy. If I had ever been married . . . all I can say is, poor man!”

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