A Missionary to the Missionaries
Leo Gese is a gifted lawyer from Tacoma, Washington, who is also a committed Christian turned missionary. Leo had previously done home missionary service in Snohomish County in the state of Washington helping establish safe, affordable housing for seniors. Then he turned to Mexico. He made many visits to the mountain villages of Southern Mexico, home of the Aberdeen Presentations’ mission, helping with water, solar ovens and many other projects.
It was in Mexico that Leo Gese met Sister Myra Remily, an Aberdeen Presentation sister who gifted the Dubuque Presentation sisters with her missionary heart for eight years of devoted service in their Southern Bolivian mission. She recalls a poem written by Leo entitled, “Are We Evangelizing Yet?” One of the verses goes like this:
Oh Sisters, oh Sisters, are we evangelizing yet?
When the pain from the jarring ride
whether by jeep or burro is exceeded
By the pain witnessed in the mountain Indian’s daily life;
When the sisters from Thlacuauchislahuaca
bring medicine and God’s Good News
To ease their strife;
Oh Sisters, oh Sisters, are we evangelizing yet?
A short time after Sister Myra became established in the Dubuque Presentations’ Entre Ríos mission working on the catechetical team with Sister Therese Marie Hawes, Leo had planned a visit this mission. He relates this historical experience in his own words:
It had been my pleasure to experience life in the Southern Mexican mission with its founders, Presentation Sisters Helen and Gabriella from Aberdeen, South Dakota, who were assisted by other sisters including Sister Myra. In 1997, the good sisters, having completed approximately 17 years, returned to the United States, except for Sister Myra who decided to continue missionary work with the Dubuque Presentation sisters at their Southern Bolivian location. Her presence there prompted me to pay a visit to this mission site. What a glorious experience it turned out to be. Their principal home was in a village called Entre Ríos. I enjoyed meeting the Presentation sisters there and learning of their experiences living and working in Bolivia for over 30 years.
My first experience was driving with Sister Myra to the remote village of Salinas where she took me into a small church constructed by the Jesuit missionaries many centuries ago. The church is in remarkably good condition considering its age. It is still used as a church by the nearby villagers. There are a number of similar mission churches remaining in Bolivia.
I soon met Sister Maura McCarthy from the Timboy Guaraní mission. She lived by herself in a small house a couple of hours away along winding gravel roads from Entre Ríos. Sister Maura learned the language of the Guaraní indigenous people who had been enslaved for 100 years. She was active along with other local and national advocates to free the Guaraní people of the Pilcomayo River region. Sister also assisted the local Guaraní village women and girls to commercialize the beautiful baskets they made from palm tree branches. Sister worked with American Peace Corps workers on this project.
I had the pleasure of accompanying Sister Maura delivering a load of groceries. We spent the day driving from one Guaraní village to another purchasing the baskets and unloading groceries. The Guaraní women then purchased the groceries with their basket funds.
Another adventure was a trip to the Guaraní village of Ñaurenda to meet with representatives of the Guaraní villages of Bolivia, as well as Argentina and Brazil. I had the pleasure of addressing this large group as they discussed how to assist the Guaraní people in becoming free as they were still enslaved this late in the 20th century.
This trip was also a great opportunity for my wife Desa and me to assist in the purchase of materials and equipment for a beautiful round chapel called “Santa Isabel y San José,” which is used for a multitude of community and school needs.
A few years later, my brother Bob travelled with me to visit the Ñaurenda mission for the chapel dedication ceremony. The pastor, who resides in Entre Ríos and visits over 100 communities, celebrated the dedication Mass which was followed by a great lunch of local foods. The local chief thanked me for assisting in the chapel construction with a beautiful discourse. I will never forget the honors bestowed upon me.
On another outing we accompanied Sister Maura on a visit to a very small indigenous village next to the Pilcomayo River. We were well fed with fresh fish before touring the new village school. I have seen a number of native village schools and this one beat them all – a 10 x 18 foot, crude wood frame with a large blue plastic tarp constituting the roof and walls and a dirt floor with crude logs cut in half for their desks and seats. A small blackboard graced the front wall – that was their school. They were so proud they had a teacher.
We experienced driving through rivers, up and down scary winding roads with the horn blowing constantly going around corners. We were shocked to find out that the Pan American Highway was just another narrow twisty so-called road.
We enjoyed all of the many experiences with the good sisters and praise their bravery and dedication. It has been a unique and outstanding spiritual experience to visit and work with the Aberdeen Presentation sisters to the indigenous peoples in Mexico and with the Dubuque Presentation sisters in their Bolivian mission.
Leo Gese tells his story of sharing the Aberdeen and Dubuque Presentation missions in Mexico and Bolivia. He and Desa continue to support the Entre Ríos mission. Leo is particularly enthusiastic about native Bolivian vocations to the Presentation sisters. He believes passionately in the impact of religious women in the ministry of the church and contributes economically to continue their mission.