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Sisters Joannes Klas, left, and Elena Felipe Jose share a laugh as Maria Huebsch shows them a digital picture she took of them. In the background, from left, are St. Patrick School students Anna Dumont, Julia Annen, Sam Landry, Esther Gagliardi and Andrea Beyer. (Submitted photo)

Nuns from St. Patrick’s sister parish visit Hudson

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Last week marked a first in the nearly 20-year relationship between St. Patrick Catholic Church and its sister parish in Guatemala.

Sister Elena Felipe Jose from the village of San Jose el Tesoro el Yalpemech traveled to Hudson to visit St. Patrick School and thank parishioners for their support over the years.

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It was the first time someone from the area that Hudsonites commonly refer to as Yalpemech has visited here.

Sister Elena accompanied Sister Joannes Klas, an American and the first member of the School Sisters of St. Francis to work with the people of Yalpemech. When Sister Jo, as she is known, was introduced to the people in 1982, they were living in a refugee camp in Honduras.

Sister Jo has been visiting Hudson annually since 1998, when St. Patrick Church became a sister parish with the church in San Jose el Tesoro. She spends a month of each year at the School Sisters of St. Francis mother house in Milwaukee, and comes to Hudson to give an update on the progress in Yalpemech.

This year, Sister Jo thought it would be good for Sister Elena, an educator in the village of San Jose el Tesoro, to observe American teaching methods and be introduced to the people of St. Patrick Parish.

The two nuns spent time at St. Patrick School talking to students about life in Yalpemech and observing teaching methods. Saturday evening and Sunday morning, they visited with parishioners after Mass, thanking them for their support.

Sister Elena doesn’t speak English, but with Sister Jo acting as an interpreter, she said the visits to St. Patrick School had been informative.

She marveled at the facilities and technology enjoyed by students and teachers at the K-8 school.

In San Jose el Tesoro, Sister Elena teaches third grade and directs a program for advanced students studying accounting, in preparation for jobs in banks and businesses.

When the new school term begins in January, the program will expand to offer teacher training and courses in eco-tourism.

Taking a hot shower was a new experience for Sister Elena, and one she reportedly enjoyed. There’s no running water in San Jose el Tesoro. People draw their water for drinking and daily chores from a nearby stream, or collect rainwater from their rooftops.

Asked about her impressions of Hudson, Sister Elena said: “Good people. And you have beautiful places.”

“People here have big hearts,” she added, as interpreted by Sister Jo. “Maybe they have things they need and more, but they share.”

It took perseverance by the sisters to gain permission from the United States government for Sister Elena to travel here. Her first application for a visa was turned down. The U.S. is hesitant to allow visitors from Central American countries, thinking they may not return to their home countries.

The non-refundable visa application cost $65, and applying required a trip to the capital city, so Sister Elena was hesitant about applying a second time.

“She said maybe we shouldn’t do this. I said, yes we should,” Sister Jo reported.

“I thought it would be really nice if sister got to come. Now it is our turn to bring somebody to Hudson. I said, how about Sister Elena?”

A memorial fund in honor of the late Sister Bernadette Kalscheur, a former worker in St. Patrick Parish and a School Sister of St. Francis, was used to pay Sister Elena’s travel expenses.

Sister Jo and Sister Bernadette met as young nuns in Milwaukee in 1954. It was Sister Bernadette who encouraged the Hudson parish to establish a sister relationship with the Yalpemech parish.

Over the years, St. Patrick parishioners have traveled often to San Jose el Tesoro, donating much money and labor on projects.

It began with the bringing the first solar-powered telephone into the village. Then homes were wired for two light bulbs and two outlets when electricity came to the village.

St. Patrick parishioners gave the money for Sister Jo to buy a vehicle. They paid the legal fees for villagers to obtain land titles to their houses and the 10 acres outside the village that each family owns.

They have sponsored educational programs, donated dolls for the children and conducted dozens of medical missions.

Dr. Gregory Young and Dr. Mark Druffner of Hudson Physicians Clinic went on the first medical mission. Dr. Young has returned a number of times since then, bring along his son Isaac, who has visited Yalpemech five times.

This past year, Dr. Joe Madigan, an ER physician at Hennepin County Medical Center, made the trip.

Each time a medical team goes, the members bring suitcases full of vitamins and medicine.

St. Croix County Judge Howard Cameron and his wife Teresa, a retired Hudson educator, established the library in San Jose el Tesoro and provided it with the only computers that most villagers have access to.

“Everyone who goes down there speaks of what they gain. It’s just mutually beneficial,” said Mary Pat Finnegan, director of stewardship and development for the St. Patrick Parish and school. Finnegan coordinated the sisters’ visit to Hudson.

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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