Sister Marilyn Belt, MM
Born: December 12, 1932
Entered: October 18, 1961
Died: January 22, 2011
“When I see a little child with cerebral palsy who couldn’t even lift his head and after months of therapy, I see this little child starting to roll over, sit up, and pull itself up on its little knees, then one day it is crawling all over the rug, I say, ‘Hey, we’re almost there.’ When I see the children up on their little feet and running, then I know we’re THERE! That gives me the greatest satisfaction I could ever have.” – Sister Marilyn Belt, October 10, 2008
On January 22, 2011 at 2:57 in the morning, Sister Marilyn Frances Belt died at the Maryknoll Sisters Center House in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
One of four girls born to Anna Belt (Macleod) and Irwin Belt, Marilyn entered life in Flint, Michigan on December 12, 1932.
After graduating from St. Matthew High School in Flint, Michigan, Marilyn studied Nursing and received her R.N. in 1954 from St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing and practiced nursing until she entered Maryknoll on October 18, 1961 at Valley Park, Missouri. Marilyn made her First Profession of Vows at Valley Park on June 24, 1964 and her Final Vows on June 5, 1970 in Bolivia, South America.
Her first assignment was to the Maryknoll Sisters Hospital in Riberalta after her study of Spanish at the Maryknoll Fathers Language Institute in Cochabamba. She became the Supervisor of the nursing staff among other duties. During her 10 years in Riberalta, Marilyn made many wonderful friends with whom she maintained contact for the rest of her life.
Marilyn’s love of life was the major factor that contributed to her deep compassion for the physically and mentally handicapped, particularly little children. Seeing many, handicapped children in her daily living, convinced her of the need for an Occupational Therapist which was sorely lacking in the country. After leaving Riberalta, Marilyn asked for and received permission to study Occupational Therapy at Eastern Michigan University in 1977 and received her BS Occupational Therapy Degree in 1980.
Some of the happiest years were when she worked together with Sister Virginia Stivers and Sister Bernice Downey first in the Riberalta Hospital and the Cochabamba Valley. It was in Cochabamba that Marilyn’s compassion for suffering humanity came into full bloom as she with heroic generosity used the skills she learned in the University to aid the most in need.
In August 1981 she joined the staff as an Occupational Therapist at CERECO, the Center of Rehabilitation for the mentally and physically challenged poor in Cochabamba, founded by a group of Bolivians. However, her compassion was not limited. It reached out to anyone who needed her help including her own Maryknoll Family members.
Marilyn spoke with modest satisfaction of the many patients who have made remarkable recovery and gone on to live productive lives because of the care they received at CERECO. She trained a number of young women to work in this field of therapy. As she said, “I can’t make them Occupational Therapists but I taught them many of the aspects of the work so that they can visit the homes and also work in schools.” Sister Marilyn went the extra mile to make her patients walk, use their hands, get the right prosthesis, share her years of experience with all who worked with her or who came as volunteers.
In recognition of the dedicated service Marilyn so graciously and wholeheartedly gave to the patients who touched her heart so deeply she was awarded a Diploma of Honor from The Municipal Government of Cochabamba which read:
To Sister Marilyn Belt
For her invaluable and unceasing support of the children and youth of the Cochabamba Center of Rehabilitation (CERECO) who have physical disabilities and mental retardation.
Signed by the Mayor, the Director of Culture and the Official Superior of Culture
One of Marilyn’s often requested petitions was “Give me a hug.” Even in the hospital when anyone came to visit her. Her arms would automatically go up and embrace the visitor. And so now, we are certain without a doubt that when Marilyn arrived at her final destination, the Lord was there with arms outstretched saying, “Welcome Home Marilyn, give me a hug!”
The Mass of Christian burial was concelebrated at the Church of Santa Ana in Cochabamba by the Maryknoll Fathers Eugene Toland, John Gorski, Steven Judd, Francis Higdon, Thomas Henehan, Juan Zuniga and Federico Torrico, the Pastor of the parish.
It was very impressive to see all of the branches of the Maryknoll Family present at the Mass as well as everyone whose life she touched in one way of another. It was a collective outpouring of love for one whose love knew no bounds.
We wish also to express our sincerest and heartfelt sympathies to Marilyn’s family, relatives and friends.