Vocation Stories


Sr. Eileen Egan, IHM

One could say that my second vocation to be a missionary in a foreign land occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike as I was driving to New York to visitEileen and small boy my friend, Sister Edith Marie who was dying of cancer. "Edie" had been preparing to come to Peru studying Spanish in Huntington during what she thought was to be her last year in the States. Then, terminal illness struck and we were going to plan her funeral together. On the two hour drive from my mission in Mt. Holly, NJ I began talking to God from my heart....."How could this be? She´s really too young to die! I feel so helpless in the face of all her suffering."....Then the words from John 15:13  began to resonate in my mind and soul...."Greater love than this no one could have, than to lay down one´s life for one´s friends"...."Who me? I don´t even know Spanish!  Offer to take her place in South America? O my God!!! “The scripture quote stayed with me and in spite of my surprise I was at peace. Later, when Edie and I were planning her funeral together, it wasn´t too hard to pick the songs and readings since they were similar to what we´d chosen for her mom the previous year ...except one.....her voice was so soft that it was difficult to hear, so, she sat up in bed and sang, "The Lord hears the cry of the poor." It hit me right between the eyes!  My friend died five days and I wrote to Sister Michele offering to take her place in Peru. I was told that the Council had to meet about that, but I had no doubt that soon I´d be off to South America. 

Actually, when I arrived in Peru, I taught in a school sponsored by the Franciscans from New York. My Spanish was very weak and many times I didn´t understand what the students were saying. On occasion I´d ask them to write on a little note pad I carried since I could read better than I could hear or speak (kind of the opposite of how we learned to speak English) At language school we were told that when we dream in our new language, it´s the moment in which we are thinking in it and not just translating. It took me a little more than two years to have my first dream in Spanish. I woke up with a smile on my face from ear to ear! Lots of frustrating tears were shed before arriving at that moment.

That was over 30 years ago and now I´m on our little mission in the Southern Andes Mountains, 11,000 feet above sea level.   When we arrived in Sicuani, our bishop, Albano Quinn, O. Carm asked us to establish a parish on the northern side of town. We noticed that parents from the outlying villages would rent a room in town for their sons and give them a handful of potatoes for the week so that they could go to high school in town. It was obvious that no girls were included in the plan, so, we decided to write Grants in order to obtain a place for the IHM House of Studies. Then we began visiting the elementary schools in the Andean communities and encouraged parents   to enroll their daughters in high school, inviting them to stay with us during the week. Some of the girls were afraid of the city and returned to their villages, but a few brave ones began high school, staying in our little boarding house. Of course there are challenges dealing with adolescents, but, thank God, the girls eventually grow up. We pray with them each night and reflect on the gospel reading for the next day. Once week we read silently with them for about an hour. 

Way of the Cross during Holy Week through the neighborhood of the parish of San Felipe

On Monday mornings after the Peruvian national anthem is sung, I pray with the police. Several years ago, one of the commanding officers went downtown and asked if the priest could celebrate mass for them at the police station. Because of the parish schedule, it was impossible. After several inquiries in neighboring towns, someone suggested my name. I told them I´d be glad to share the Word of God with them. We reflect on the Sunday gospel and after that they come up and are blessed with holy water. To each I Pray, "May God bless and protect you." One day, as I was blowing out the candle, a cop asked me to leave it lit so nothing happened to them, because there was a violent strike in town. Their faith inspires mine.

Various people come knocking at our door almost every day: a vagabond named Felix who wanders from town to town begging for food....two poor children who are very poor who stop in on the way home from school for a cheese sandwich and yogurt because all they have to eat at home is soup....another little boy named Wilbur who was flopping around in size 7 shoes on a size 4 foot. When I asked him if he´s like some shoes that fit, he smiled and said, "Yes, but my sister just had a baby, so, could we get some clothes for him, too?" What could I say? Many time donations come in one hand and go out the other almost immediately. A lady who survives knitting sweaters comes looking for me to buy what she makes if she had no luck in the market. Most of our poor children are wearing what she makes. Our neighbor, Eugenio, asked if we could buy a few of his eucalyptus trees so he could pay for his wife´s operation. Thank God we were able to help him. Then we needed to hire a guy with a power saw to cut down the trees and then the logs and branches needed to be loaded into our SUV.   Later a man split the logs into firewood. I didn´t know that wood needs to be split when it´s fresh, not when it´s dry. 


Dean Barkley, SJ wrote: "What contact with the poor does for us: First, it breaks your heart, then you fall in love, and then you´re ruined for life."  I guess I´ve become one of the ruins here. 

Sister Eileen currently serves as a pastoral minister in Sicuani, Peru.

Child-Ancilla-Eileen 2016
Pictured above, a Peruvian girl with Sisters Ancilla Maloney and Eileen Egan (L-R)