St. Patrick Pasco and the Guatemala Mission

By Donna Connell

St. Patrick Pasco and the Guatemala Mission

Deacon Gary Franz and Pat Franz frequently visit and support the mission in Guatemala

Imagine making 36 trips to the Guatemala mission in 18 years, working while there and paying your own expenses for each trip! That is exactly what Gary and Pat Franz, of St. Patrick Parish in Pasco, have done. When asked why they keep going back to Guatemala, Gary said, “Because of a lady called Sister Immaculata—she grabbed our hearts by a twine and tied them on!”

Although Sister Immaculata passed away in 2014 and Sister Marie is retired in New York, Gary and Pat work with four Sisters of Charity (N.Y.) who presently live in the convent in Novillero: Srister Gloria is from New York and Sisters Rosita, Marguerita, and Manuela are from Guatemala. All volunteer in the local parishes.

Gary said the people at the Guatemala Mission draw him there. Although they may be malnourished and live in poverty, the people are gracious, faithful, and generous. For example, during the last trip, Gary fell ill. Francisca, a nurse at the medical clinic in Novillero, who lives outside the town, immediately took a public bus to Novillero and diagnosed Gary with altitude sickness. She made connections to get the right equipment for a breathing machine, then checked on him every three hours throughout the day and evening. She did this out of thoughtfulness and concern for a sick traveler without expecting or accepting monetary compensation.

How did their trips get started? Gary said they really knew nothing about the Guatemala Mission when Father John Birk invited them to accompany him to the mission in 2001. That is all it took. Their job that trip was to clean, paint, and remodel a building used for sewing so it could serve as a medical clinic in Ixtahuacan, as Hurricane Mitch destroyed the old clinic. They have not missed a year since that trip.

Many of their projects involved remodeling, painting, and updating the convent and clinic in Novillero, as well as the medical clinic and apartment above the clinic in Nahuala. For years, they taught women in Ixtahuacan the art of making fine chocolates in hope of further production and sales. They worked on plumbing and wiring the Marian Center and the Family-to-Family training center and bakery.

Gary is a deacon at St. Patrick Church in Pasco, where he assists Pastor Father Robert Turner, who served in the mission from July 1976 to June 1977. Special envelopes for donations to the mission are included in the church’s monthly stewardship packets. Last year (fiscal year July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020), $12,422 was collected and sent to the Guatemala Commission to support the medical program.

Gary and Pat have served on the Guatemala Commission of the Spokane Catholic Diocese since their involvement began in 2001, with Gary serving as chair 2006-2008.