Franciscans, others collaborate to build two houses in Mexico

Two families of San Rafael Parish in Nuevo León, Mexico, live in new homes, thanks to the Franciscan Civil Association and more than a dozen Central Minnesotan volunteers on a mission building trip last April.

The trip came about because Sister Pat Forster, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls who lives in Alamo, Texas, has connections with a group of “winter Texans” who wanted to build houses — the Ruhlands and their friends from Eden Valley and Buffalo, Minnesota.

The Franciscan Civil Association, Sister Pat said, includes members in Mexico and the United States, with leaders from both countries holding interlaced responsibility. The association trains lay leaders, a primary goal of the sisters.

“The 501(c)3 is separate from pastoral ministry because the Franciscan sisters won’t always be there, but lay leadership will carry on the work.

At the El Uno home in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, Abel Moreno, a local employee, worked at replacing an old roof and constructing a new one. The group of “winter Texans” — from left, Al Kerzman, Marcie Ruhland, Harold Wieman and Tom Ruhland (seated) — observed the process. In front are family members who will live in the home. (Photo submitted)

“The purpose — and legal reason — of the FCA,” Sister Pat added, “is to educate young women and to advance the lifestyle of women and children in Mexico. An important focus of the association is Casa Franciscana, which houses 16 to 19 girls so they can attend high school. In addition, they receive Bible studies, values and music [education] and community living skills.”

The team included Franciscan Sisters Isabel Berrones (FCA president), Mary Dumonceaux, Janice Wiechman and Ange Mayers, in addition to Sister Pat.

The “winter Texans” — Tom and Mary Ruhland of Eden Valley — inspired their two sons, Joe and wife Marcie, and Jeff and wife Tere, along with Tere’s nephew Lalo and three long-time friends, Allan Kerzman, Harold Weiman and Mike McCann, all of central Minnesota, to join the building project in an area of Mexico just south of the Texas border.

Completing the group were Deacon Jim Schulzetenberg, an electrician from Greenwald; Deacon Bruce Geyer and his wife, Gail, from Little Falls; and Father Jeff Ethen, pastor of the parishes of St. Leonard in Pelican Rapids and St. Elizabeth in Elizabeth.

The FCA identified households in La Paz and El Uno, Mexico — one family whose current house was 4 by 4 meters with no indoor plumbing, and another family of 18 living in very poor conditions.

Sister Mary and Abel Moreno, an employee, collaborated on which houses to build, how much money they’d cost, whether to include a bathroom and the kind of roof needed.

To finance the project, they raised more than $13,000 through donations from volunteers and a Facebook GoFundMe page, organized by Marcie Ruhland.

Before the team arrived, construction materials were gathered and foundations for the houses were completed.

At the El Uno house, Joe Ruhland installed electricity while Deacon Schulzetenberg installed it at La Paz.

“The biggest challenge was trying to do quality electrical work with limited supplies and tools,” Deacon Schulzetenberg said. “My past experience has taught me to adapt to the local culture. Another difficulty was the different electrical standard. With no electrical inspectors or safety rules to follow, we did what worked. Local workers pitched in whenever we needed an extra hand.”

Mission trips are as much about building relationships as building homes, said Deacon Geyer, who assisted with electrical work. “Our interaction with the children was quite wonderful.

“Also Father Jeff and both of us deacons and Gail traveled with a local priest, Father Eduardo Neri, to celebrate Masses. San Rafael Parish has 48 communities with only two priests. We were met with hospitality and graciousness.”

“Working with the Franciscans was a joyful and spiritual experience,” Deacon Schulzetenberg said. “The trip was challenging, but rewarding, because the presence of God was visible.”

The final tasks — roofs, plumbing, plastering and painting — were completed about four weeks afterwards.

“Two Mexican families have new homes and learned about construction processes,” Sister Pat said. “The team worked with the young men as apprentices for home building. Kids caught on to cleaning up and recycling. All of that feels like success.”

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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