Interview to Sister Juanita Albracht on her experiences as a Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word working for the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Peru.
By Sr. Katty Huanuco
A few years ago I conducted a short interview with our beloved Sr. Juanita. We share that with you here and want to thank Sr. Juanita Albracht for her firm commitment for social justice, peace, and her impulse to care for God’s creation.
Love and generosity have been part of her life for as long as she can remember. Her father, Cyril Joseph Albracht, helped anyone who was in need, which is where she learned generosity.
Her eyes light up and with a kind gesture she shares that her mother, Mrs. Mary Schaefer, was a woman of strong faith and trust in God. “I learned a lot from my parents. They were so generous. It comes naturally to me because it has always been part of my life.”
She attended catholic schools in San Antonio and from that experience thought that she might be called to Religious Life. However, Sr. Juanita shares how during her youth she changed her mind, but since God is God she eventually accepted becoming a vowed religious.
Her youth, joy, and various gifts (such as playing piano, reading music, drawing and painting, etc.) were freely given up to the service of God, however they were most needed. I asked her, “Why did you become a sister?” She answered me, “I felt called, and needed to respond. So I responded by becoming a Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word. This generosity I inherited from my parents was a great resource in my life.”
Sr. Juanita studied nursing, psychology, and received a masters in hospital administration. These studies allowed for this loving and simple religious woman to work in various institutions, as well as be elected to leadership within the Congregation for various responsibilities.
After finishing her leadership terms in the governance of the Congregation, Juanita requested to go to Peru as a missionary sister, specifically to Chimbote. So in 1997 she arrived in Chimbote to direct the Santa Clara clinic, now the Health System Clinic of the Incarnate Word.
“Why Chimbote?” “When I was serving in leadership for the Congregation I had the opportunity to come to Chimbote to visit our religious communities there. The people had a big impact on me. Their way of relating their simplicity spoke to me of love. These are two basic things needed to survive. I wanted to return, and two years after that visit I was able to return to Peru.”
Juanita, looking at me intently and lovingly, shared with me that one of the most significant experiences she had in Chimbote was encountering the Peruvian culture, customs, and language. “It has been a Gospel experience, like when Nicodemus was invited to be born again. I had to be born again as an adult, learning a new way to speak, walk … just like a child.”
The radiant and optimistic Juanita explained that being in Chimbote has brought her great joy, but it makes her sad that various state institutions in the country do not offer good service. “The majority of public establishments are found centered in Lima. This centralization is a mistake. I am happy with the process of de-centralization, and I hope that it is successful.
So it was with a profound and enthusiastic look that Sr. Juanita invited us to learn about the work of Hospice in the Incarnate Word Health System. Hospice is a center in Chimbote that attends to people diagnosed with terminal illness, bringing them physical, psychological, and spiritual relief. Besides that, as an institution they don’t only care for the one who is sick, but also for their family. An “integral care” is emphasized.
Through her work, Sr. Juanita is well known among the streets of Aviacion, Camino Real, and Antenor Orrego, because each morning she walks these paths in order to arrive at her beloved Hospice. Walking to work, Juanita shared with me that she prays her rosary, asking God to end the poverty in Chimbote, so that every person can realize their gifts and embrace their power to change things.
“My dream as a sister is that more women respond without fear or delay to the call of God. Our society is in need of women religious who animate and motivate others so that all can live in freedom. I dream of more hospices in Peru, since living with dignity until your final moments of life is a right that everyone has,” shared Sr. Juanita. Standing up and giving me a big hug, she said her goodbyes sharing that the biggest lesson she has learned has been to just fully live each day.
In February of 2015, Sr. Juanita returned to her native homeland, and her Peruvian home and friends continue to miss her. However, she is always present, in the simplicity she characterizes. Thank you sister for your life of giving, commitment, and generosity which makes real a visible sign of the presence of God in our lives. In your giving, you teach us to give. Your prophetic witness and passion for the reign of God enriches the earth.
Currently, Sr. Juanita continues her commitment to the most vulnerable as liaison for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation for the Sisters in The Village of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, TX.Originally published in the blog of the Office for Justice, Peace and Care for Creation of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.