Sister Beatrice Zaragoza, MM

Born: August 22, 1925
Entered: February 1, 1952
Died: July 3, 1986

Dear Sisters, Relatives and Friends,

In her Easter letter written on Palm Sunday this year, Sister Beatrice Marie Zaragoza wrote to her family and friends: “Resurrection is the greatest happening that took place, and it takes place for each one of us when we love one another with freedom, when we forgive one another with mercy, when we offer peace to one another with our lives, as Jesus did.” And in the early morning of July 3rd, at the Maryknoll Nursing Home, that greatest “happening” of Resurrection was gifted to Bea after almost 61 years of a life which offered freedom, forgiveness and peace to all she knew.

Beatrice Marie Zaragoza was born on August 22, 1925 in San Francisco, California to Manuel and Beatrice Gutschow Zaragoza. Her father had come from Mexico. Her mother was of German and Spanish Californian descent. She was one of three children: David who was killed in World War II, and Josephine whom Bea always affectionately called Pinky. Bea also had three half-brothers and sisters from her father’s previous marriage.

Bea graduated from Immaculate Conception High School in San Francisco and worked for the next nine years in the Wells Fargo Bank near home. On February 1, 1952 she entered Maryknoll at Valley Park. On her application to Maryknoll she wrote that she wanted to become a religious “in order to know, love and serve God better and in a more perfect way and to love and serve my neighbor.” At her Profession in 1954, she took the name Sister M. Jude Christine which she kept until the 1970s when she returned to the use of her baptismal name. She was known as “Judy” to her Sisters, as “Cristina” to the people of Nicaragua and later as any one of the three.

Bea studied at Maryknoll Teacher’s College from 1955 to 1958, after which she was assigned to the outpost mission of Siuna in Nicaragua where she worked for ten years. Her years in Siuna were very important and happy times for Bea – not without their challenges and difficulties. She taught 4th grade for most of her years there – which she sometimes did not feel very adept at. But she also branched out into countless other ministries doing what needed to be done. It was in Siuna that she formed some of the deep friendships with the Nicaraguan people and with her Maryknoll Sisters that would become her lifelong sources of joy and support. It was the group of “Siuna—hands” that were not only the pioneers of our presence in Nicaragua, but who also have continued to be the life force of our mission. Bea helped Sister Maura Clarke in the difficult task of closing our school there in 1969, and with that, a rich chapter of our history.

But Bea moved on. In 1969, she moved to Managua and became the coordinator of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Catechetical Center. At the same time she began our pastoral work in the barrio of Miralagos. In 1971, when the people of Miralagos were forced to relocate to a neighborhood in the outskirts of the city called OPEN #3, Bea went with them and that remained her home for the rest of her years in Nicaragua. It was during these years that Bea’s consciousness of the injustices which the Nicaraguan people suffered under Somoza grew strong. She committed herself faithfully with them in their struggle to change the course of their history which they finally realized in 1979.

From 1975 to 1978, Bea worked in the Gift Shop at our Maryknoll Center in New York, and many remember her work at remodeling and beautifying the shop as her contribution to the Congregation. In 1978, she went to California to help her sister Pinky with the care of their aging mother. She worked in the Centro Pastoral in San Francisco. It was during this year that the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua finally came to an end, and there was no one happier than Bea, who spent a good deal of time working with Churches and groups in California to promote solidarity with the Nicaraguan people as they began rebuilding their country. This work would remain an important part of her ministry until she died.

In 1980, Bea returned to Nicaragua and immediately began to work in the massive literacy crusade through which thousands of people learned to read and write. Following that she returned to her barrio OPEN #3 which was now renamed Ciudad Sandino. She worked there until her return to the Center last year. The heart of her ministry there was her work with the catechists and the small Christian Community.

For those of us who lived and worked with Bea in Nicaragua over all these years, there are so many gifts she shared with us that we reverence and cherish. Perhaps one of the most striking of these was her generosity. Bea loved the people and she loved us. Her love was the source of the seemingly limitless energy that loved by doing. Her simple lifestyle kept her close to the people, and their needs became hers. They remember her as the one out in the streets — who never seemed tired of walking, visiting or being stepped on in the crowded buses, never too tired to go to the celebration of the Word, to find zinc for a roof, to accompany someone to the clinic or say the rosary at a neighbor’s wake. We Sisters remember her as the one who kept a roof over our heads, who managed the finances, who knew the intricate workings of immigration, who did all the time-consuming, totally essential background tasks that kept us going. Her generosity was as wide as the needs around her.

Perhaps the gift that drew most people to her was her simplicity. She was a woman without guile. Her spirit was like a clear running stream – her transparency a rare gift. Her love was the same — simple, without condition, clear and abundant. Bea never considered herself to be someone special or her gifts to be anything but common. Praise or attention made her uncomfortable. She was well aware that her directness often came across as bluntness or stubbornness. She worried sometimes that her energy led her to over-activity. She knew she wasn’t very good at sitting and chatting sometimes. But uppermost was her simple and deep faith in her God who cared so much for the Nicaraguans.

In October 1985, Bea returned to the Center when it was clear that she was ill. There was no self-pity in Bea’s dying. Instead, there was prayer, dialogue and an openness of heart that welcomed many tears as well as laughter. The woman of action was transformed into the woman who received graciously every effort to make her comfortable. Her final energy for life was spent answering the countless letters of love and prayer with the same gentleness and gratitude with which she embraced those who were next to her daily. Bea, in her dying, cared for us and inspired in us a courage and patience which were simply a mirror of her own soul.

In their final letter to Bea, the members of her Christian community in Ciudid Sandino, wrote: “We are prepared now to say goodbye to you, dearest Sister, because we know that you are going to God and that the reward you richly deserve is awaiting you. You have healed so much pain. You have calmed so much hunger. What more could you hope for, Cristina? You have lived the life of a truly committed Christian and now that you have set out on the path before us – you are our guide. We pray every day that Jesus will allow you to be like Mary, his Mother, so that from above you will intercede for our suffering and hurting pueblo.”

We extend our heartfelt condolences to all of Bea’s family and loved ones. We welcome Maryknoll Father Stephen DeMott who will celebrate with us this Resurrection Eucharist in thanksgiving for Bea. We will also remember especially Bea’ s friends, neighbors and Sisters in Nicaragua who are celebrating the Eucharist with us at this very same hour. They will be at the heart of our joy today with Bea, whose life and death make us one.