Sister Maria del Socorro Diaz de Leon, MM

Born: January 20, 1924
Entered: February 1, 1952
Died: April 6, 1999

We gather this morning to celebrate the life of our Sister Maria del Socorro Diaz de Leon who died peacefully April 6, 1999 at Phelps Hospital, Sleepy Hollow, New York. In early March, “Soco,” as she was commonly known and called, left Nicaragua with her good friend and companion, Sister Marian Pahl, to begin a four-month Renewal period. While visiting our sisters in Oaxaca, Mexico, Soco became ill. After recovering enough to travel, she returned to the Center April 2nd and three days later was admitted to Phelps Hospital. Her death came suddenly and unexpectedly the following day. Sister was seventy-five years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for forty-seven years.

Maria del Socorro Diaz de Leon was born January 20, 1924 to Pedro and Guadalupe Diaz de Leon in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. She was the fourth of ten children, three sons and seven daughters. Socorro attended San Luis Potosi University High School and graduated from San Luis Potosi University in 1945 with a Bachelor Degree in Social Sciences. After teaching for several years in San Luis Potosi and San Ciro, she became interested in missionary work and asked a Mexican priest to recommend a missionary community to her. Socorro applied to Maryknoll, and after studying English at the Maryknoll Sisters mission in San Juan Capistrano, entered Maryknoll at Valley Park, Missouri, February 1, 1952. Soco diligently studied English all her life, however Spanish flowed out naturally whenever she was with Latin or bilingual people.

At Reception, Socorro received the religious name of Sister Maria Guadalupe. She made her First Profession at Valley Park on September 8, 1954, and a year later was assigned to Mexico where she made her Final Profession in 1957. At Rogers Hall in Merida, Yucatan, she taught 4th grade and Spanish Literature in the High School. Soco loved the beautiful city of Merida, but was also delighted when she was chosen to start a parochial primary school in the Indian town of Peto, in Yucatan, and later served as Principal, Bookkeeper, Teacher of Religion and Supervisor of Personnel at Helena Herlihy Hall’s crowded Primary School in Mexico City. Sister often spoke of the challenges facing the Church in Mexico City, the largest Diocese in the world, especially the need to prepare and support the laity in their commitment to the social works of the Church.

In 1966, Soco was assigned to the Bolivia-Peru Region where for eight years she served first in the Juli Prelature and then in the Diocese of Cajamarca, Peru. She delighted in the richness of the Aymara, Quechua and Peruvian cultures. As she herself would say, Cajamarca was her most positive experience in mission. There, with Peruvian Bishop Jose Dammert Bellido as her mentor, she served on the Diocesan team dedicated to socio-economic betterment in rural towns and communities. She felt especially blessed by the support and friendship of various European missioners who, with her, contributed invaluably in creating a dynamic rural pastoral ministry with the laity.

Returning to Mexico in 1974, Socorro worked in adult education in Progresista, Mexico City, took courses in pedagogy at Mexico City University and assisted in establishing Basic Christian Communities in Copilco in Mexico City. After Copilco, she joined our Sister Mary Duffy in Yajalon, Chiapas. Again she worked with Basic Christian Communities but here she respected the Indian communities to the point where she recognized that if she was not going to be able to master their language sufficiently she would rather move on. At this time, in 1985, she teamed up with Maryknoll Brother Martin Shea to care for Guatemala refugees in Campeche, Mexico and continued her pastoral work in Mezquital, Guatemala.

After two years in Mezquital, Guatemala, Socorro and Marian Pahl began a ten-year mission to the Nicaraguan people who had succeeded in overthrowing a dictatorship nine years before and who now were surviving the Contra war. During this time in Villanueva, el Barrio Villa Austria in Managua and Condega, Socorro and Mariana put emphasis on home visiting and supporting neighborhood organizations which did out-reach programs for undernourished children and women. Always open to new ideas and ways of helping people, Soco delighted in learning acupuncture from visiting Irish and Cuban medical personnel. She said, “It is a holistic approach to healing which doesn’t cost much money and the best part is, it works.” She attended ill people who came to the door, always serving them coffee and cookies after their treatment. In an article on Nicaragua to be published in the next issue of Maryknoll, Soco summed up her ministry with these words: “A lot of our work is greeting people at the front door when they come with their problems.” Soco was all things to all people, her Mexican hospitality was a constant in her life!

Soco’s father, Don Pedro, instilled in his children a love of St. Teresa of Avila, and Soco often quoted, in Spanish, St. Teresa’s famous words:

“Eficacia De La Paciencia
Nada te turbe,
Nada te espante,
Todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda,
La Paciencia
Todo la alcanza;
Quien a Dios tiene
Nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.

Efficacy of Patience
Let nothing trouble you,
Let nothing scare you,
All is fleeting,
God alone is unchanging.
Everything obtains.
Who possesses God
Nothing wants
God alone suffices.”

and added: “He dicho.” – “That says it all!”

We extend our deepest sympathy to Sister Socorro’s family and friends. We also offer our deepest sympathy to Sister Marian Pahl, Soco’s dear friend and mission partner, to the Sisters in the Nicaragua Region, and in Mexico, Peru and Guatemala with whom she had shared life and mission. We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father John Halbert, who will preside at this Eucharistic Liturgy of Christian Burial as we lovingly remember and give thanks for the life of our Sister Socorro.