The first thing a reader might notice about Daughter of Charity Sister Mary Gerald McCloskey’s posthumous memoir of her ministry in Bolivia are the funny stories, including encounters with snakes and a horse that took a dip with Sister Gerald still in the saddle.
In “Summoned to Go Forth with Passion,” the Baltimore native wrote with good humor about the people of great faith she served in the Altiplano and in the Amazon Basin where she traveled in a boat called the “Siloé.”
Sister Gerald, who died in April 2020, spent 56 years in Bolivia. After establishing a mission near Lake Titicaca for the Aymara Indians, she transferred to the remote Amazon Basin, traveling by boat to serve the indigenous people of the far-flung region.
“She was a missionary to her fingertips,” said Sister Claire Debes, a fellow Daughter of Charity and lifelong friend.
After Sister Gerald died of breast cancer, Sister Claire was one of three editors who saw the book to publication. It was privately published in late 2020 by her family; the full text can be found on her order’s website.
The project began after Sister Gerald gave presentations about her work in the missions, recalled Sister Claire, and “she got bombarded by sisters to share her stories.”
After returning to the United States in 2017, she complied. The result is an 89-page book that intersperses Sister Gerald’s stories of faith and adventure with essays by her missionary companion, Sister Maritza Garcia, with whom she served for 27 years; other Daughters of Charity from the Central American Province; and laypeople with whom she worked. Sister Maritza also translated the book into Spanish.
Sister Gerald and her fellow sisters found all sorts of ways to serve the people in their care – including building a school complex and a much-needed road to access the Mamoré River, now known as Puerto Geralda in her honor.
To Mary Ellen McFadden, Sister Gerald’s cousin, who wrote the introduction to the book and served as an editor, she is a saint.
“She was a very special and holy person who gave her life for the poor. She served in ways that could be considered both big and small,” she said.
For the Daughters of Charity, Sister Gerald’s memoir serves as an inspiration for personal reflections as well as for the promotion of vocations, Sister Claire said.
School Sister of Notre Dame Kathleen Feeley, president emerita of Notre Dame of Maryland University, met Sister Gerald when she visited her own missionary sibling, Daughter of Charity Sister Teresa Feeley, who spent 33 years in Bolivia. She remembers Sister Gerald as “so loving and so funny.”
“I think people loved her visits,” Sister Kathleen said. “She was a most giving woman, a woman who dared to do what no one else was doing and take risk.”
Vincentian Father Gregory Gay, who visited the sisters twice as superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, brother community of the Daughters of Charity, also contributed an essay.
“I feel a holy pride in knowing that Sister Geralda (as she was known in Bolivia), who was so committed to the poor in the peripheries of Bolivia, was a countrywoman of mine, not one because she was from the United States, but because, just like me, she was from Baltimore,” said Father Gay, who is now a pastor in North Carolina.
He said Sister Gerald’s book was sent to Rome to his congregation’s General Curia for the superior general, Vencentian Father Tomaz Mavric and the archives, as well as to the Vatican for Pope Francis.
Visit bitly.com/mccloskeybook to read the memoir on the Daughters of Charity website.
Copyright © 2021 Catholic Review Media