ArtAndes Blog

Madre Antonia Passes on

Posted July 20, 2010 @ 10:37pm | by Melanie

Madre Antonia Passed on July 8th, 2010, one week before her 86th birthday.

Antonia was a dear friend that I was blessed to meet in 2000. I was leading a trip through the Colca Canyon and I always liked to get up in the belfries of the old Catholic Churches whenever possible. They offered great views and it was always a little adventurous  to reach the top. Often the churches were abandoned and access was less than safe, all part of the allure! The 'Templo De La Inmaculada Concepcion De Yanque' built in 1706, was the one that called the most. I found I needed to go through a private courtyard on the back of the church for access. That's when I spotted Madre Antonia, working in the hot sun with a small team of hard workers, manning 3 huge pots over an open fire. 

Since that year, our friendship grew and the soup kitchen visit became a very important part of our Peru trip. Antonia was a Maryknoll nun who lived in Peru since 1957 and in the Colca Valley since 1971. She was fluent in Quechua, Aymara and of course Espanol. Antonia had no financial support from the Maryknoll's or the Catholic Church. She was independent, strong, feisty and had a great sense of humor. Her deep reservoir of faith in God helped her get many jobs done. There are green houses, a soup kitchen that feeds 850 people daily, a library and a children's nutrition program. People on my trips often asked how this was all supported. She would smile and point up. The first year we unexpectedly arrived in her courtyard- they had just spent the last of their savings. Thanks to the groups generosity, needless to say- we got the key to the belfry! As the years went on and phone and electricity came to the valley, we were able to have contact throughout the year and our visits were anticipated and we were welcomed with dance and fresh bread. Antonia made a difference not only in the lives of the people in the valley, but ours as well.

Her stories were awesome. I loved hearing about her older brother who decided to quit paying taxes and hit the road doing flea markets in Florida, she seemed to be proud of him. Better yet are her 'Cuy' or guinea pig stories and how she would be medically diagnosed after a healer passed it over her body, and after the Western Doctor couldn't find her problem. She so believed in and embraced the Andean culture. A culture I so embrace as well.

The natural question now is, did she leave these worthy projects in a self sustaining way? I believe she did. I believe a strong spirit never stops working.

Madre Antonia Kayser July 15, 1924 - July 8, 2010

Antonia, Humberto & myself in 2008

Antonia surprised me with a birthday cake in Arequipa, 2009

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