Part One of a four-part series of vignettes on the young ladies and men of Chalco and Guadalajara, Mexico.

Many of those drawn to the astounding mission of Fr. Al inquire about the young men and women in the Sisters of Mary’s care. Infrequently asked at World Villages for Children is from where the children came. In the midst of his Herculean work, though, Fr. Al repeatedly pointed to children’s devastating starting points. He did so because he wanted folks to grasp the invisible saving finger of God.

Below are the startling origins of just two of the young ladies of Girlstown in Chalco, Mexico. Remarkably, childhood circumstances such as the ones detailed below are common. 

Antonina, 12, from Guerrero

Antonina, age 12, in Chalco, Mexico.

Antonina’s father awakened one morning and told his family to steel themselves. He told them he thought he might be gunned down by sundown. So it really wasn’t a surprise later that night when his body was located off a country lane in a western coast Mexican town. He had been gathering wood for his family.

He lost his life because he rejected a gang’s malevolent request.

“He was my hero,” Antonina said. 

A few years later, Antonina’s mother was dead. “She was either burned [to death] or died from a heart attack,” she said. “I don’t know which.”

Soon thereafter, Antonina was introduced into the spiral of orphanhood. She lived with her brother and worked fields of corn, rice and beans at the age of 6. She often spent time at her grandparents, who were a 90-minute walk away. She knew a little food could be found there. Sometimes not.

Antonina and Sister Marilyn.

As Antonina worked the fields, her older sister was being nurtured in Chalco in 2014. Although the Sisters of Mary maintain a “one-family member-only” policy due to the many thousands of girls and boys who apply, Antonina was admitted when her plight came into view. She came as a student in 2019.

On a beautiful spring day in May, Antonina beamed when she shared her goal.

“I want to become a Sister of Mary,” she said. “I need to focus more on the life of the saints and work hard in catechism class, I need to follow Jesus and all my faith teaches.”

Her patron saint is St. Dominic Savio. When asked why, she responded instantly: “Because he is the saint of doing ordinary things well and with love. And that is a virtue I think I can do.”  

Lucrecia, 13, from Chiapas

Lucrecia, age 13, sharing her story.

Open your mind’s eye to this scene. A slight 8-year-old girl works for two hours in the mountains, taking monotonous five-minute walks to the river to fill buckets to water her parents’ tiny coffee plantation – 70 coffee plants in all. Thereafter, she walks down into the village to sell wood to help sustain her family.

Then this: she is scorned because she is poor.

“My classmates made fun of me. They were playing and doing the normal things girls do – and they always saw me selling wood,” Lucrecia said. “They started to bully me. I began to see that life was hard. I was shy, but I wouldn’t let them see that it hurt me.”

Often, her parents couldn’t find a way to put food on the table at night. When her mother saw her hunger, she scrounged for wild onions and tomatoes in the fields. Lucrecia’s family made do in their tiny house. She often went to bed hungry but out of love and consideration for her parents, she kept it a secret.

Lucrecia and Sister Marilyn at Girlstown Chalco.

The Sisters of Mary discovered Lucrecia’s circumstances and invited her into the Chalco community in 2019. Today, as a second-year student, she’s become a classroom leader. Her sights are set on becoming a civil engineer, where she hopes to design her parents’ new home in the mountains some day. The house will be small and humble, but functional.

“When I used to come home and tell my mom of the bullying, she would always tell me that this time was temporary,” Lucrecia said. “She gave me hope. She told me life would become better. … and it has.”