Sister Dorothy Erickson, MM

Born: October 4, 1918
Entered: December 26, 1937
Died: February 10, 1992

Sister Dorothy Erickson died in Guatemala City at 3:00 a.m. on Monday, February 10, 1992. As she herself said several days before dying, “now the circle is complete.”

Dorothy Alice Erickson was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 4, 1918, first and only child of Alice Ryan and Alfred Erickson. Her mother died before Dorothy was a month old. Her father subsequently remarried and as a result of this union, Dorothy is survived by one sister, Mary Frances Souza. Dorothy entered Maryknoll in December 1937 where she received the name Sister Rose Cordis. Her undergraduate studies were completed at Catholic University and Manhattanville College. She then studied medicine at Marquette University and upon completing a one-year internship at St. Vincent’s Hospital, New York City in 1952, was assigned to Riberalta, Bolivia. There she remained for eight years working in the hospital, gaining her initial experience as a rural doctor, learning things and doing things one never learns in medical school. In February of 1961, she was assigned to Jacaltenango, Huehuetenango, Guatemala where she remained until her death in February 1992.

Madre Rosa, as she is so lovingly known here in Guatemala, was a sister to her sisters, a healer to her patients, a professional with professionals, a Jacaltec with the Jacaltecs and a deeply caring friend to all. She was a woman of many dreams who, beginning only with a request for a doctor signed by hundreds of thumbprints from a suffering pueblo, raised a 50-bed hospital, began a school of nursing, initiated a nutrition center and a model home where special emphasis was given to awakening unknown gifts in women. Her collaboration with the Guatemalan medical society rotated medical and dental students through the hospital’s clinical services since 1971. To each of them she was mentor and adviser, always leaving them free to try, to learn, but never to experiment on patients.

Rose had a consuming interest in the history and culture of Jacaltenango. The museum which is situated in the hospital contains an invaluable collection of books, clothing and artifacts going back to pre-colonial days. It is a heritage room for the pueblo and a testimony to her.

In 1985, at the request of the Bishop of Huehuetenango, she was awarded the cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice by the Holy See.

In 1987, the hospital celebrated its 25th anniversary and Madre Rosa, her Golden Jubilee. The celebration was one which brought together friends from all parts of Guatemala, Mexico and the States. Madre Rosa always liked celebrations and was never happier than when the house was filled with folks! At that point, she was honored with the Order of Brother Peter – the highest award of the Guatemalan government given to people working in the health field. Even more important to Rosa, the pueblo named her their “Favorite Daughter” (Hija Predilecta). At the same time, under much protest by Rosa herself, the pueblo erected a large bust of their beloved Madre Rosa and on it placed a plaque praising her for her commitment to the most needy. This remained a source of embarrassment to her until the day she died. Today it is adorned with flowers and candles burn at its base.

In all of her endeavors, Rosa never failed to call forth undiscovered gifts in others and then allow them the freedom to use those gifts in the service of others. Her heart was as great and ever present as the Cordis in her name. There is not a person in Jacaltenango and very few in the department of Huehuetenango who cannot relate some incident when she touched their lives. And many of these were told and retold these last days during her wake and burial. She told the nurses she wanted to die here because of their customs. This, her final dream, was granted. Her remains were viewed by thousands, the line waiting never diminishing during the long night of her wake. Prayers continued throughout the night and the whole day of her funeral as she was carried through the streets of Jacaltenango with folks vying for the privilege to carry her. The funeral Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Julio Bethancourt, three Maryknoll Priests and five Guatemalan Priests. It was held outdoors under a broiling sun at mid-day and the eye could not see where the crowds ended. Thirty Maryknoll Sisters were present plus many religious and friends from other parts of the country. Songs were written and sung in her memory, poems were composed and dedicated to her. Rosa was and remains a woman of the pueblo. Her resting place among those whom she loved and to whom she dedicated her life, is high on a hill overlooking the entire department. Her spirit will live on in the hearts of all and her work will continue through them.

The little ones of the pueblo gathered today at the cemetery with a placard that read:

We came into the world
and your holy hands received us.
Most high Gods receive her now
into the paradise of the Saints.

We join our prayers with these of the pueblo.