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When San Pedro Prepared for the Visit of the Nuns

By Angel Nuñez

After a long and arduous year of working for their community, the Sisters of Mercy or Nuns, as they are traditionally called, visited San Pedro during the month of May for their summer vacations.  It was not announced, but the people of San Pedro knew about this yearly event and prepared for this magnanimous event. Just in case you think I am joking about preparations, no I’m not.  The villagers cleaned the beach, parents cleaned in front of their yards, mothers trimmed and watered the plants in order to have beautiful roses and flowers for our visitors. Parents actually had some straight talk with the children asking them to be at their best behavior- respectful, well mannered and polite. Children collected all kinds of sea shells, and if possible the villagers gave the church a little touch of paint. A few women did the fullest honors by going to the Scout Room and giving it a total clean up.  

You might ask, why all that enthusiasm for the visit of the Nuns?  Sanpedranos, young and old, considered the Nuns as special, venerable, holy and perhaps even saintly.  Dressed in their black regalia with a guimpe, starched cloth that covers the neck and shoulders, worn by some nuns as part of their habit, they actually did look like some saint.  As you can see, there was reason to consider their visit a very special and unique opportunity to be as close to a saint as possible, or at least that is how the community felt.

When the motor boat arrived at the main pier, half or more of the village was at the beach to witness such poignant spectacle. The men helped carry their belongings to the Scout Room. In the night at 7 p.m. they congregated at church for a prayer session called a Novena. A Novena in the Roman Catholic Church is the recitation of prayers for nine consecutive days to achieve a specific purpose. Seeing them in meditation and prayer and song brought goose bumps to all of us.  We remained silent in respect of their prayer session as we gathered around the church.  Their singing, we thought, was a choir of angels. And when they came out, we gathered around them trying to give them a hug and hoping we would receive some religious relic, religious picture, pendant, or even a rosary.  They knew this and were always prepared with these tokens for their little friends of San Pedro.

When San Pedro Prepared for the Visit of the Nuns

During the day we delighted in seeing them go to their reserved kraal (enclosed swimming area) for a refreshing swim and game of sea volleyball.  From the beach we could hear their girlish shouts as they enjoyed their game and when the beach ball landed outside of the kraal, we would be only too delighted to fetch the ball and throw it back inside feeling like ‘that should take us to Heaven’.  Such was our respect and reverence for the nuns that the children did not dare get too close and see them in their swimsuits because they thought that would be disrespectful and a sin.  Swimming must have been their daily best activity for they never missed this event of their vacation.
In the afternoon they would take nature walks along the beach, downtown San Pedro or even down south to the coconut farms.  During their walks the children would accost them and proudly give them their collection of shells which they humbly received with much joy and appreciation. And the Nuns would return the favor with religious pictures, relics, pendants, and rosaries, which the children cherished as keepsakes. Parents would again return this friendship to them and would send Johnny cakes, Fried Jacks or flour tortillas for their evening supper.

When San Pedro Prepared for the Visit of the Nuns

The Nuns also walked down the beach and made friendships with the fishermen, who were delighted and felt honored to offer them the best looking snappers, mullets, and grouper.  They offered to pay, but the fishermen thought it would be impolite and unscrupulous to accept money from the Nuns who, in their humble opinion, were God-sent.

Each child in San Pedro had his/her favorite Nun.  Boys and girls in Belize City, who had them as teachers, had different opinions and feelings towards them. There was Sister Francine, my favorite because she even boxed with the kids like a Tomboy. There were Sisters Constantine, Margaret, Magdalena, Rosario,Teresita, Celine, Antonetta,  Consuelo, Miriam, Leona Panton, Marilyn Panton, Victoria, Cecilia, Rose, and Christine.  A favorite one of everyone was Sister Helen Blake because she was the daughter of Papa Blake and a Sanpedrana.  Each child had his own memories of respective Nuns. There was the playful, serious, strict, friendly, humorous, and even bossy one.  But collectively, the Nuns were seen as a venerable and holy group of women who came to San Pedro to spread love and who left melancholy with their departure YEARS AGO in San Pedro.

25 Years Ago Books Can Be Purchased At:
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