Never one to take a back seat, Sister Mary Gerald McClosky jumps behind the wheel of her pick-up truck and speeds around the dimly lit streets of Trinidad with abandon. This 60-something nun with a Butch Cassidy spirit has the game plan down pat. Collect her “Sundance Kids”—the boat captain, nurse, and agronomist; pick up a few last provisions; and get out of town before the sun rises over this growing commercial center in Bolivia’s Amazon basin.
Twenty minutes into the bush, the pick-up darts onto a dirt road and disappears into a plume of dust.
The seven-kilometer path dead-ends at the docks of Puerto Geralda (“Port Gerald”), where the Siloé, a 20-meter houseboat, sits anchored.
Stocked, fueled, and un-tethered, the Siloé— home for the next three weeks—fires up its engine and sets course down the Mamoré River. Years ago, however, the nun’s home was Maryland.
Sister Mary Gerald hails from the Mt. Pleasant Park area of Baltimore. She left for Bolivia in 1961 with a singular focus: to help those struggling to overcome poverty. Forty-seven years later, nothing has changed—except the lives of those she has touched along the way.
It’s two in the afternoon when the Siloé finally pulls up to a nondescript spot on the banks of the Mamoré. An hour-long hike through dense rainforest and across an alligator-infested rivulet awaits…hardly enough to deter Sister Mary Gerald.
“She’s quite a gal, such a tomboy,” explains her sister-in-law Olive McClosky. “She’s the only sister among three brothers. She loved all sports, excelled in both basketball and softball, and received varsity letters all four years at Seton High School. Her heart is in everything she does.”
And her heart has always been with the Daughters of Charity.
Educated at St. Dominic’s and Seton High School—two schools staffed by Daughters of Charity—Sister Mary Gerald joined the congregation in 1955 at their provincial home in Emmitsburg.
“She knew early on that she was called to be a missionary,” says Olive.
Back at St. Bartolo, Sister Mary Gerald, in her free-flowing Spanish and Quechua (the local indigenous language), busily directs the villagers. Pregnant mothers move into the shade to be examined by the nurse. Men visit with the agronomist for tips on increasing crop yields. And in between, Sister Mary Gerald provides health education to the group and tutors the village health administrator.
Sister Mary Gerald will spend the next three weeks motoring her mobile outreach clinic through the Amazon. Tropical bugs will swarm her. Heat will exhaust her. The villagers’ needs, at times, will overwhelm her. And despite the Ravens 2006 AFC Champion banner hanging next to her rosary beads in her cabin, memories of Maryland may seem like a lifetime ago. Yet still for Sister Mary Gerald, “Maryland’s home.”
But don’t tell that to the locals, who have accumulated enough reasons over the past 47 years to feel otherwise. Why else would they name their prized new port in her honor?
To learn more about Sister Mary Gerald McClosky’s work, visit www.setoninstitute.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-757-2655.