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Scholarships lead to nurses and lawyers for Guatemala

Benedictine sisters raise money for 46 girls, young women to get Catholic education

Published: August 31, 2023   
Courtesy St. Scholastica Monastery
New doctor Marielos Ramos-Yus takes the Hippocratic Oath in the presence of Merlin Osorio of Central University of Eastern Guatemala Medical School Aug. 16.

FORT SMITH — Over the past 10 years, St. Scholastica Monastery’s scholarship program in Guatemala has borne much fruit.

Girls’ Education Matters (GEM) began in 2013 with a partnership with the Benedictine Abbey of Jesus Christ Crucified in Esquipulas to provide K-12 Catholic education for 11 girls. Today, GEM provides scholarship assistance to 45 girls and young women, 16 of whom are in college and professional schools. Its first doctor, Marielos Ramos-Yus, graduated Aug. 16.

St. Scholastica Monastery will celebrate GEM’s anniversary Sept. 30 with a fiesta at Christ the King Parish Center in Fort Smith.

“In 2012, Sister Rosalie (Ruesewald, OSB), Jennifer Verkamp (Ruthven) and I visited the abbey in Esquipulas,” Kathy Jarvis, who, with Sister Rosalie, coordinates the GEM program, said. “We began talking with the monks there about helping them in their mission. The sisters of St. Scholastica had educated young people in Arkansas and other states since 1879, but, as the sisters aged, they returned to their more contemplative monastic roots. Currently, only Sister Judith Timmerman, OSB, teaches in the diocesan schools. They saw a partnership with the Colegio as a way of continuing the sisters’ educational ministry through prayer, relationships and financial support.”

Solidarity was an important part of the scholarship program.

“We are all equal,” Jarvis said. “We learn from one another; we help one another grow.”

The sisters each had a student prayer partner with whom she corresponded. 

“Our affection for helping children learn and discover the potential of where life can take them is a joy to the sisters of St.Scholastica and our support of the education of children in Guatemala is no different,” prioress Sister Kimberly Prohaska said. “Over the years, we celebrate with our love and prayer for each child who attends this program of love and potential.”

Sisters and lay volunteers held a summer enrichment program for the girls each July, and the youth group at Sacred Heart Church in Charleston visited for spring breaks. During the pandemic, the girls began Zoom English classes with bilingual volunteer teachers several times a week. Every Arkansan missionary brought their own talents to share. Diane Minden and Shelley Buonaiuto taught arts and sculpture. Judy Stetson and Gray Langston led dance classes; Jose Galvan shared his musical talents. Subiaco students, accompanied by Father Mark Stengel, OSB, were the recreation specialists, joining the girls in pickup ball games and outdoor sports. Registered nurse Maria Cabrera started a future nurses’ group and mentored the girls over Zoom.

“This ministry has kept me grounded and on my knees,” Cabrera said. “On my knees, I am able to see the children at their level and through their eyes I can see God’s kindness.”

Other churches began partnering with the sisters in the GEM program. Immaculate Conception and Christ the King churches hosted the annual fiestas. Immaculate Conception School donated Chromebooks to the students; St. Boniface School donated uniforms when its school closed in 2019. Trinity Catholic students had Zoom sessions with the girls in Guatemala. Subiaco’s Jazz Band and Christ the King choir performed at the fiestas.

Teen missioners who are now adults chose careers in service, inspired by their experiences in Esquipulas. Verkamp-Ruthven is now director of Catholic Immigration Services and Refugee Resettlement for the Diocese of Little Rock. Her sister, Bethany Verkamp, is doing a fellowship in pediatric oncology. Both attribute their career choices to their mission work in Guatemala.

Father Hugo Lopez, OSB, director of Colegio San Benito, also instills the need for graduates to serve their communities.

“When our first girls graduated from the Colegio, we realized they needed to further their education to help them make a real difference in their families, their communities, and their country,” Jarvis said. “A K-12 scholarship is $500 a year, and higher education costs, although reasonable by American standards, are costlier. We have 16 young women currently in college and have graduated nurses, a physical therapist, businesswomen and a medical doctor.

“Three of our students are currently in law school. Many grew up in very crowded single-parent homes with dirt floors, whose mothers worked on their feet in the market all day and cooked the next day’s tacos each night. These girls want to help their families, their communities, and their country thrive. Expanding our program to include college was an organic outgrowth, and we are now seeing the dividends.”

At her medical school graduation, Dr. Ramos-Yus thanked God, her parents and the sisters of St. Scholastica for her education.

“Without you and the other benefactors of the scholarship program,” she said, “my dream of being a doctor would never have happened. Please know that I will use my profession to serve the community.”

Tickets for the Sept. 30 10th Anniversary Fiesta are $25, including wine, dinner, dancing, entertainment by the Subiaco Jazz Band and a silent auction. To buy tickets, contact Jarvis at or (479) 739-1999.

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