Sister Maria Rosa Leggol is the Mother Theresa of Honduras, and we had the honor of meeting her this past week. She came up to Milwaukee and visited with a few Marquette students to share her life story and what led her to start Sociedad Amigos de los Niños.
Sister was an orphan at age 6, and her godparents took her into their home. One day, in her community Puerto Cortez, nuns from Germany arrived to serve the community. Not knowing who they were or why they were in her town, she admired them from afar. Curiousity growing, she asked her priest at her parish how she could become a part of the sisterhood, and he told her that she needed to wait until she was 20.
“Do you think I can wait until I am 20? I want to go today!” she exclaimed. Her passion to love and to serve in the name of the lord began at a very young age, and it never went away.
After a couple of years, the nuns stopped showing up to her community. She then prayed to the Asuncion Lady, the patron saint of Puerto Cortez and the mother to all orphans, for the sisters to come back. As she headed back to the train from church, her prayers were answered, and she saw the German sisters. Sister Maria Rosa approached the nuns, and asked to become a part of their community. They told her to meet them at their current location in Honduras the following day, but they did not think Sister would come. To their pleasant surprise, Sister Maria showed up on their doorstep the following day.
While with the German sisters, Sister Maria worked with orphans. She helped kids just like her. She knew that this was exactly where she was meant to be, but this was only the beginning of her journey.
Now that she has cared for the orphans, she wanted to expand her heart and reach out to the sick as well. She went to the sister superior and asked for permission to work at the hospital to care for the ill. At first, she was placed in a laboratory looking at specimen samples and counting cells, but this was not enough. She wanted more. So she went to the sister superior to get reassigned. The sister superior granted Sister Maria’s wishes and put her in charge of nightly rounds at the hospital, making sure that each patient's needs were met.
At age 22, it was finally time for her to become a nun. Sister Maria was supposed to travel back to Germany to receive her orders, but due to the war, she was forced to receive her orders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Sister Maria was eager to receive her orders and could not wait any longer. She wanted to become a nun while she was young and able to work to her fullest potential. However, coming to Milwaukee was not easy for her. The language barrier significantly handicapped her while working toward becoming a nun, but that did not stop her. She followed the other sisters’ actions. She laughed when they laughed. She was serious when they were serious. Many encouraged Sister Maria to study English in order to better understand those in her convent, but she refused.
“I cannot waste my time studying,” she said, but while recounting her story she turned to the current Marquette students in the room and added, “but you need to study.”
Three years later, she took her vows to become a Franciscan nun, and began her work with orphans. Sister Maria called a construction company in Honduras and asked them to build ten houses to begin S.A.N. Once the construction company finished building the houses, they called the convent wanting the down payment, and the sister superior answered. The sister superior was not aware that Sister Maria did this, therefore, there was no money for the down payment, but God works in mysterious ways.
While Sister Maria was in Milwaukee, she took care of a sickly woman named Elena, or Doña Elena as Sister Maria referred to her. Using the word “doña” in front of a name is a sign of respect in Hispanic cultures. For taking care of his sick wife while he was away at work during the day, Mike wanted to award Sister Maria for her deeds, and he helped her get the down payment money from the U.S. Embassy.
These ten homes were the start of S.A.N., and since then, Sister Maria has extended her arms to over 40,000 children who need her help. In order to accommodate all those in need, she created different branches of S.A.N. throughout Honduras. S.A.N. is not just an orphanage, it is a strong community. Sister Maria and company raise these orphans to help them become self sustained through jobs, marriage and a family. No child will be forced out of their home; they can leave only when they are ready to live alone.
Sister Maria Rosa leads by a great example and inspires people all over the world. Her love and passion for what she does truly makes a difference in the lives of others. She shares a message for all to hear: “A child never asks to come in this world. You cannot blame the child. You must love the child.” And for those who are incapable of loving their child, Sister Maria Rosa is there with open arms.