Sister Charlotte, others from Moline making El Salvador trip

By: By Jennifer Willems

PHOTO: Sister Charlotte Seubert, FSPA, stands next to a board offering opportunities to support students at the school in El Salvador she helped to found 50 years ago. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

MOLINE — Fifty years ago a revolution began.

This new world didn’t start with four lads from Liverpool turning the music scene upside down, but with the kindness of three Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from Wisconsin who built a school for the poor in El Salvador.

Among them was Sister Charlotte Seubert, FSPA, who is now director of adult faith formation at Christ the King Parish in Moline.

“I was there from age 26 to 45. We came home in 1981. My energies were given to that country really,” said Sister Charlotte, who is returning to Escuela Santa Ana de la Parroquia Madre del Salvador this weekend for the 50th anniversary celebration.

“I’m not going back because it’s something we did,” she told The Catholic Post. “I’m going back to congratulate those people, because they’re the ones that need to know that what they did is really something. They are to be congratulated for what they did — and are doing.”

Making the Feb. 13-18 trip with her are Sharon Dodd, director of religious education at Christ the King; parishioners Bonnie Johnson and Judy Crompton, as well as Crompton’s daughter from Chicago; four more Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration; her own sister, Patricia Seubert, as well as family friend Sylvia Krautkramer. The celebration in Santa Ana will include a Mass of Thanksgiving and meal, as well as time for Sister Charlotte to renew friendships with the teachers, parents, students and catechists she served.

While they’re there, the group will visit a bakery and well that was built with donations from Christ the King parishioners. They also plan to look in on children sponsored by Christ the King’s religious education program through Unbound, formerly known as the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging.

“It’s going to be bittersweet,” Sister Charlotte said softly. “I know I won’t be back.”

Raised in tiny Marathon, Wis., Sister Charlotte entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 1951, when she was 15 and attending the community’s high school. She professed vows in 1956 and made her perpetual profession in 1962.

Three months later she was headed to El Salvador, taking with her only six years of teaching experience and six weeks of Spanish.

“When we left, the first three of us, we were sent sort of like, ‘This is it. You don’t come back,'” she explained. “We didn’t leave anything in the States.”

Sister Charlotte said they were sent forth as the result of a call by Pope John XXIII for religious communities to support the foreign missions. The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration connected with the Maryknoll priests and Sisters in El Salvador.

“It’s a call within a call,” Sister Charlotte said. “You have a call to religious life, but have another call to be a missionary. You couldn’t do what you do if you didn’t have that grace and call, I think.”

The Franciscans spent a year making uniforms, creating the teaching materials they would need and getting the cinder-block school built. They started with three teachers and 80 students in two kindergartens and two first grade classes.

When Sister Charlotte went back in 2010, the school had 30 teachers and 800 students in kindergarten through ninth grade. She added a library, an office and two rooms to the seven-room school before she left in 1970, but found it had grown by two more rooms.

“It’s a good school and they appreciate it,” she said. “When you talk to them they will say it’s a jewel in the middle of a slum area. That’s a good description.”

After serving as a teacher and principal there, Sister Charlotte worked with the Salvadoran priests to start a leadership center for the campesinos. They trained these poor workers in religion, health care, community development and education.

During those years she saw Archbishop Oscar Romero become the champion of the poor and was part of the procession that carried his body to the cathedral in San Salvador for entombment after he was assassinated in 1980. As they walked, live rounds of ammunition were fired over their heads to scare them, she said.

It wasn’t her last brush with death. Later that year Sister Charlotte would help to bury American Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford and pray for the two women killed with them, Sister Dorothy Kazel, OSU, and lay missioner Jean Donovan.

After that, her Franciscan community called Sister Charlotte home, although she admits she waited as long as she possibly could to leave.

“The catechists, these men we formed, many, many of them were killed,” she said. “When we came back (to the United States) I used to get letters.”

Still, she rejoices in the education with an English component they were able to provide for the poor. “I know some of my first sixth-graders are doctors, are teachers,” Sister Charlotte said.

It has been satisfying to know that her community, which has a special focus on perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, left that devotion with the school community. Every week one class has an hour of adoration and once a month the entire school has adoration.

“The biggest surprise or gift to us as a community is that the seed we sowed really took root,” Sister Charlotte said. “And look at how it’s grown.”

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