Friday, November 23, 2012


We interrupt our journey through North America to give you one of my favorite women,  another example of a saint whose biography reads like Indiana Jones in the jungle.

BL. MARIA TRONCATTI was born at Corteno Golgi (Brescia) on 16 February 1883. She grew up in a large family happily working in the fields and caring for her younger brothers and sisters. She regularly attended catechism in her parish, where she developed a deep Christian spirit and found her calling to religious life.  In obedience to her father and parish priest, however, she waited until she reached adulthood before asking to be admitted to the Institute of the Salesian Sisters. She made her first profession in 1908.

During the First World War Bl. Maria took a course in health care and worked as a Red Cross nurse in the military hospital. This experience was to prove very valuable in the course of her long missionary life in the Amazon forests of Ecuador.
Susan Cohen Thompson

She left for Ecuador in 1922, her first assignment being in Chunchi, a small town on the Cordillera.

After three years she was sent to work among the Shuar people where, together with two other Sisters, she began the difficult work of evangelization. Madre Maria was in her mid 40s when she headed for the Amazon on horseback to begin her work among these peoples. They faced dangers of every kind: the wild beasts of the forest; the fast flowing rivers that had to be waded through or crossed on fragile "bridges" made from creepers, in canoe, or on the shoulders of the Indians.

The indomitable Shuar of the Amazon, reputed to be the only tribe in the Americas that has never been conquered, have lived as warriors, hunters, cultivators, and healers for generations. Even in today's acquisitive, often wasteful world they defend their rainforests and sustainable ways of life and offer their philosophy of love, joy, and hope. Their area is on the rivers between Ecuador and Peru.

Madre Maria
Bl. Maria's first encounter with these people was life-threatening and terrifying.When they reached Mendez, a tribal chief's young daughter lay mortally wounded by a bullet when she was caught in the crossfire of two warring tribes. The witch doctor had been unable to cure her, so the chief demanded that the missionaries do it or die. Madre Maria operated immediately and after three days the girl's fever left and she was saved. Soon after this the tribal drums beat across the jungle about this "doctor" greater than all their witch doctors. The passage way for the missionaries was secured among the people.

Madre Maria in the middle
To her people she was nurse, surgeon, orthopedist, dentist, anaesthetist. But, above all, she was catechist and evangelizer, rich in the wonderful resources of her faith, patience and fraternal love and she worked effectively for the emancipation of the Shuar women.

A young woman taught them the language, and soon a home for young women was started as well one for babies who were born illegitimate or with defects. Up to the time of the missionaries, by law such infants were killed.

"A glance at the Crucifix gives me the strength and the courage to work” she often used to say.

Bl. Maria lived in the jungle 43 years and died in a tragic air crash at Sucúa on August 25, 1969. Along with two other sisters (who survived) they were on their way to Quito for their annual retreat.

All the surrounding villages came to mourn their loss of this saintly nun who offered her life for reconciliation between the colonizers and the Indians. Her remains lie at Macas, in the Province of Morona (Ecuador).

Madre Maria with some of her children

Josefa Yolanda Solorzano Pisco, from Ecuador, married with five children, was struck down in 2002 by one of the most dangerous forms of malaria,  which in a short time led to an irreversible degenerative process and a diagnosis of only a few days or even a few hours to live.

The collective trusting invocation of  Bl. Maria Troncatti, through a novena of prayers proposed by the Salesian Fr. Edgar Ivan Segarra  had the effect of obtaining for the sick woman the beginning of an unexpected recovery and soon a complete cure.

Her beatification will take place November 24 in  Macas.

PERSONAL NOTE: The year before my trip to Peru I "drew" her name as patron  saint for the year. Who was this woman?  I was fascinated by her and her work. The following year I was offered a trip to Peru by wonderful friends. It was in the north of Peru, away from tourist areas.  I prayed to Madrecita
to keep me safe, especially in my hunt for birds in the mountains.
Looking at Ecuador

Since we were on the border of  Ecuador I had hoped we could cross over, but it was not a good time politically for border crossings. My Irish guide and friend took me to Ayabaca (10,000 ft) for birding where we spent three wonderful, magical days.  Each day as we walked we were able to peer over into Ecuador, praying to this wonderful woman who gave so much to her people.

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