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Feb 29, 2000

Sister Cecilia dies after battling Cancer

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With all the furor over Guatemala this weekend, few people knew that a woman dear to the hearts of many Belizeans had died. On Sunday night around 10:00pm. Sister Mary Cecilia succumbed after a valiant battle with cancer. She would have been 88 in March. She will be remembered for her dedicated service to Belize’s poor and elderly, the mentally ill and the handicapped. Born Leone Esquivel in 1912, the last of eight children, to parents Amadeo and Higinia Carillo Esquivel she moved with her family from Corozal to Belize City as a baby. She joined the Novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy when she was a teenager. As a teacher, she touched the lives of students at St. Catherine’s Academy, Holy Redeemer and St. Joseph Schools. After she “retired” she became even more active than ever helping to found the St. Joseph Mercy Clinic, visited shut-ins around the city and became a warden at the infirmary, referred to as the “poor house.” In 1993 it was renamed in her honor. I had the pleasure of interviewing her in 1997. She had been diagnosed with cancer. But her optimism, devotion to the people of Belize and her laughter were as strong as ever. We’d like to share that story with you so we can all remember her shining light.

Sister Cecilia Esquivel (1912-2000)

“I keep thinking of the Lord, our good Lord, he was always with the poor and said we ill always have the poor and whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.”

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

She may be small in stature, but the greater part of her bulk is taken up by her heart. For the past 67 years, 86 year old Sister Cecilia Esquivel has been caring for Belize’s poor and homeless.

Sister Cecilia

“I always felt that this is the work the God wanted me to do, because when I entered the convent, I entered it on a Wednesday and it was on the Saturday the Reverend Mother invited me to go along with Sister Catherine to the poor house and to the crazy house.”

Whether is was the calling from God, Sister Cecilia always believes that her love and care for the age may have been inspired from when she was only 6 years old. At that time, Sister Cecilia accompanied by her grandfather made regular trips to the Barracks to visit the poor and mental patients.

Sister Cecilia

“Oh Yes. You know when I would see these people, they would be so grateful. The minute they would see the carriage coming, they would all rush down, although at time my Grandfather wouldn’t let us out of the carriage, but they would all gather around and you could see that they were glad that somebody wanted to see them.”

Sister says since the 1930′s we have come a long way in the care and maintenance of the down trodden. Gone are the days when our mental patients were chained to the walls and the homeless were left to wander alone.

Sister Cecilia

“For example, you know we have Helpage and Helpage has done a lot of good for this country and I do hope that the public would appreciate it very much. And you have the Octavia Home and then you have the Cecilia Home and we try to bring up the good standards of living for them. Workers are trained and they are very good to the patients.”

The Sister Cecilia Home, which was formerly the site of the city’s infirmary, was named after this woman who was the driving force behind the facilities improvement. While up to a year ago, Sister could be seen making regular visits to the home, today she is confined to the Mercy Convent on Gabourel Lane. Several years ago, Sister Cecilia Esquivel was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and the disease, which has affected her with great pain, has now made it physically impossible for her to get around. She recalls turning down her doctor’s advice for surgery and instead has decided to simply treat her pain with medication.

Sister Cecilia

“I say doctor, first of all, I am too old and ready to go to heaven. So much so that one of the Sisters said “boy you sound as if you are sure of heaven”(laughs) and I said well, the Lord promised me that he would have a place ready for me, so I am not doubting him in the least. “

No matter how ill or how great the pain, Sister Cecilia Esquivel has still not lost that twinkling sparkle in her eyes and that sweet laughter for which she is best known. And the petite nun who says she will continue caring for those she loves best has one special wish for the poor and those confined to mental institutions.

Sister Cecilia

“The families in particular, that they should make an effort, if it is only two, three times a year. You know sometimes they are there, they don’t have a visitor, I mean from the family and I think when you have a visitor, you are very happy, but when a member of the family come, it means a little bit more to you.”

Just two months ago, Sister Cecilia Esquivel was forced to resigned from the Home’s board of directors due to her illness. Never the less, she says she will continue working hard for the poor and shut-ins.

Our most recent interview with Sr. Cecilia was in November when the Mercy Sunshine group held a special Thanksgiving celebration for the residents of the Sister Cecilia home. Although her body was confined to a wheel chair, her spirit was as free as ever, and her joy was complete.

Sister Cecilia

“The thought comes to me, that they say your reward…you will be rewarded in heaven by our Heavenly Father and at this moment, I feel rewarded on earth.”

Services were held for Sr. Cecilia on Monday at Holy Redeemer Cathedral. The eulogy was delivered by former Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel. A number of the residents of the Sister Cecilia home were there to send her on her way.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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