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Published: Saturday, 8/31/2002

Ohio nun brings hope to Peruvian poor

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Sister Carol Reamer, an Ursuline nun from Tiffin, has been a missionary in Lima for 12 years. Sister Carol Reamer, an Ursuline nun from Tiffin, has been a missionary in Lima for 12 years.
POWELL Enlarge

LIMA, Peru - Carol Reamer wonders if the $250 collected by the student council at Washington School in Tiffin, O., be enough to buy a sewing machine.

After spending an afternoon with the Toledo Ursuline nun, a native of Tiffin, you know she will find a way to acquire the sewing machine that will benefit the needy with whom she works. Her devotion to the underprivileged blossoms where flowers don't, in the bleak neighborhood where she lives and works.

Adults and children show a genuine friendliness when she walks through the neighborhood and stops for hugs and kisses. In fluent Spanish, she asks a female street vendor how she is doing.

Sister Carol's 12-year missionary service in Peru has been an answer to her longtime wish to serve in the South American country. Most of the time has been spent in Callao, a Lima barrio with 40,000 inhabitants, but she also spent two years in an isolated mountain village.

With a focus on helping people in her barrio to help themselves, Sister Carol's days are busy. She needs a sewing machine as a tool to teach women to sew and supplement their meager incomes.

“It is incredible the number of single mothers here. The government does not provide for them and there are no jobs. They have to be creative,” Sister Carol said during an afternoon in Lima, the nation's capital city of 8 million.

The vendor, selling individual slices from a beautiful golden-brown cake, is an example of how Sister Carol encourages women to earn money by using their talents. She is particularly proud of Gladys, who is an excellent knitter. Sister Carol convinced her to go into neighborhoods at the far end of the city and teach wealthy women how to knit. The venture has been so successful, Sister Carol said, that the champion knitter is working for a top fashion designer.

Sister Carol doesn't have a car, so our tour began with a 11/2-hour bus ride to Callao, to the pink two-story house that is home to Sister Carol and to other Ursulines from Louisville, Ky.

The house, with five small bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and kitchen, has running water and has been owned by the Louisville Ursulines for 40 years. It is frequently visited by clergy from the Midwest.

A small second-floor room, designated as the chapel, features a hanging macrame artwork representing a tabernacle.

As the bus trip traveled from our elegant hotel in Miraflora, a posh district in Lima, through downtown and many barrios, the economic contrasts became obvious.

“Notice the decline in living conditions after this,” Sister Carol said at the stop before Callao. “If you think this is bad, just wait. Taxi drivers don't even like to come to Callao.

“Every day is different,” she said. “I just don't know what morning will bring. The other day there was a knock on the door and a blind woman said, `Come quickly, you have to cut the cord.' Her daughter had just given birth. Sister Carol went to the home and found the young mother on a mattress on a dirt floor. She got help and the baby and mother survived.

Sister Carol began her professional life as a history teacher in Toledo and area schools of the Toledo Catholic Diocese. She is still a teacher, but she has strayed far from history lessons.

“This is where I teach holistic healing,” she said as we gathered around a massage table in one of the guest rooms. She explained that healing is a valuable alternative for people who cannot afford medical care.

She took courses at the Mercy Healthcare Center in Toledo while on a leave from Peru. “It is amazing how it works,” Sister Carol said. “It is based on physics.”

A wall lined with books at the Ursuline house serves as the neighborhood library.

“Books are the first to go if a family needs food. They sell their books, if they have any, so we provide a library,” she said.

“Come, follow me to the rooftop,” she said. “From there you can really see the neighborhood.”

A climb up a narrow, winding staircase took us to a vantage point where we could view the living conditions of the people with whom Sister Carol works. What appeared to be piles of scrap lumber were actually dwellings, she explained. It is customary for generations to add second and third levels on top of the parents' first-floor dwelling. Though the additions are done one board at a time, as money permits, they live in the shambles, sometimes even before walls have been built.

The Toledo nun, wearing green slacks and a Peruvian plaid jacket, led the pilgrimage through the 15-block barrio to the church.

“This is our market,” she said, pointing to an outdoor display of fresh produce. “And we have two bakeries.”

At the high school, we peeked through the fence into a large playground. “I teach computer science in that room three nights a week,” Sister Carol said, pointing to the second floor.

When home is mentioned, Sister Carol's eyes show concern when she says her mother, Claire Rita Reamer of Tiffin, will be 80 years old next year.

Will that bring the Ursuline nun back to home pastures?

“Once you move into a place, the people become a part of your family,” she said.



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