517: I see you child of God marvelous and divine, even though you feel broken
Day 517: Sunday August 15th 2021
"I see you child of God, marvelous and divine. You are not diminished even though you feel broken by the war and your poverty."
- Irene Bachelder
It is so fitting that we meet today at St. Leo’s to honor and celebrate Irene Bachelder. This parish has nurtured a dedication to Peace and Social Justice for decades. Think of the wise women Irene loved: The Kearney Sisters, Joan Huguenard, Annette Lamont, Cindy Vrooman Elizabeth Kemp, Marge Evans, Jacqueline Hayes, Tess Hagemann, Patti England, Marian Williams, JoAnn Consiglieri, Kay Lambert, Linda Wildman and so many other women and men who came from this parish and dedicated themselves to the slow work of justice – to work with the imprisoned, the poor and unhoused, immigrant farmworkers and those fleeing oppression in their own countries.
Irene comes out of that tradition of wise women who are tired of war and seek peace. Tired of racism and sexism and desire dignity. Who are Inspired by the knowledge that we are all- every human sister and brother – all in a circle of kinship that leaves no one out.
Irene touched all of us with her warmth and tenderness, her open heart, her deep and earnest humility.
She had so many gifts and she gleefully shared them with us. Her smile took us in and spoke to each one of us” Her eyes said: “I see you - child of God, sister, brother. I see you and I accept you for who you are. And I love you more than you know.”
She was prodigal with her heart which she opened to the people of El Salvador by volunteering there with groups from this parish. We went under the leadership of Dan Lambert and the good people of Seeds of Learning. We wanted to rebuild schools and churches destroyed during the brutal Civil War. We wanted to put our faith into practice – and it was a dark time, just a year after the tragedy of 9/11.
(Open air Churchj in Sicahuite)
Our first trip took us to the tiny village of Sicahuite. This village is high up in the mountains near the border between El Salvador and Honduras. The people were just returning from camps in Honduras and they taught us how to build in the amazing El Salvadoran way – which means creating houses out of broken blocks, bits of cement and cardboard, a plumb line and a weight. We learned from day 1 that the people there are brilliant – they were just poor and lacked the money to buy the blocks and cement they so desperately needed. We provided the capital and a few days of hard work. But they did 98% of the work.
(Volunteers and Salvadorans working together to build a school)
On the last day we were invited to celebrate Sunday Mass with Padre Manuel, the local priest and the people of the community. Their church was open on all sides – a tin roof held up by large bamboo poles.
Their church had been blown up by an American-made 500 pound bomb early in the war but they managed to save a few items which they cherished above all else. Their church was destroyed but their faith was strong.
On that morning we witnessed as the people took out the statues and crucifix they had carefully hidden which they carried with them in hopes of returning some day to their village.
They set up a table, hung sheets for a backdrop, carefully placed the crucifix and statues and we all assembled. Father Larry was with us and concelebrated with Padre Manuel.
And then it began to rain. Not a little rain but a tropical downpour which forced all of us closer together. And then the rain grew in intensity and we got even closer. Padre Manuel looked a little sheepish. It was as if he asked God to rain hard so we could experience just what it means to have church in an open-air shelter in El Salvador.
Irene turned to me and said “We have to do something about this. They need a church.” And that was it. Irene made up her mind – and once that happened… well never get in her way…I think it was that stubborn streak inherited from her Croatian forbears.
We raised the money or should I say Patti England, Marian Williams, Marge Evans, JoAnn Consiglieri, Elizabeth Kemp, Joan Huguenard, Tess Hagemann and several others from this parish raised the money. And the money was sent.
(The new church in Sicahuite)
One year later we returned to Sicahuite and there we celebrated Mass in a brand new church with sturdy block walls, a new roof, electricity and with real benches made from local wood. It took both our communities – from St. Leo’s and Sicahuite – and the gift of Irene’s quiet intensity and that of her sisters and brothers here from St. Leo’s.
Irene understood that The Church as the people of God can truly embody the living Christ only when the poor remain at the center.
When we were going to the border in El Paso to work with migrants Irene called to say she just wasn’t up to it.
She worked instead with the unhoused in our county, showed up on the Joe Rodotta Trail with Victoria MacDonald and delivered all kinds of thoughtful necessities – from batteries to run a CD player, to handi wipes, packets of compostable cutlery. Being Irene they had to be organic.
It was much more than Christian charity (she was offended by the word charity because it seemed to make the receiver “less than.”) She knew it was a far deeper expression -- the essence of being the body of Christ.
For Irene the transcendence that the church preaches was not going to heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart. Of entering into the reality of a child, of those with developmental disabilities, of the truly poor in El Salvador who so often wore rags and had so little to eat.
And from her heart she said “I see you child of God, marvelous and divine. You are not diminished even though you feel broken by the war and your poverty. I see you child of God who is developmentally delayed. You are valuable and wondrous.”
Irene was a force who understood she was rich in her family and she had gratitude for all of us, for living in Sonoma County. That gratitude she felt every day inspired her to honor the pain she felt for the world, and allowed her to widen her vision, and always, always to take the next step.
On our trip to El Salvador we visited the tomb of Oscar Romero and the chapel where he was assassinated. Two of her favorite quotes from Romero:
We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways.
(Tomb of Oscar Romero who was assassinated for speaking out for the poor)
A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — what gospel is that?
(Brilliant builders of El Salvador)
Irene lived a life of planting seeds that will grow and inspire others on this path we all walk. It’s time for us to carry on in her honor and plant our own seeds of faith and justice.