The Last Interview with Sr. Muriel done in April 2020. Sister Muriel died on 7/21/20
We do everything for the Lord!
In Medjugorje one can find an Association that is not so frequently mentioned in public, named after St. Joseph the Worker, which has borne much fruit and tangible results over the years. Their mission is to help the poor, the disabled and those who are weak and elderly. We discovered in their office, which also serves as a warehouse, that it is packed with supplies for those in need - groceries, but also rosary beads. The members of this Association are two American women, Sr. Muriel Geisler and Ms. Mary Walsh, and volunteers. These two women complement one another in a great way; they are joking constantly, while at the same time trusting in the only genuine accountability they have – the one to God. Examples of deeds of mercy are not readily found, and these instances are always a great sign of God’s presence on earth. Sr. Muriel is a member of the Cenacle Sisters Congregation. When Pope Paul VI encountered these sisters, he said that their congregation makes us reflect on the purpose of our lives in a time when we are scattered and distressed with so many outer distractions. This very bold nun, who would soon turn 96, accomplished this in her life, putting the Spiritual Exercises into practice, while living in this cruel reality, all with the help of her irreplaceable associate, Mary. As a result of the activities of these two women, today we have: a Nursing Home and Hospice in Ljubuski, a Nursing Home in Ravno, monthly support for more than 180 poor families, and a building project underway for a Home for Children with Special Needs in Citluk.
Sr. Muriel Geisler
Can you please introduce yourself to us and describe for us your life before Medjugorje and after you came here?
I was born in Boston, Massachusetts and this July I will be 96 years old. Prior to my vows, I worked for some time in Heidelberg, Germany. It was a good experience. But afterwards, I went to Fatima for a pilgrimage and that experience deeply moved me. I felt I needed to enter a religious congregation; but I was resisting that idea. However, this kept haunting me and I talked to a priest and decided to join the Cenacle Sisters Congregation when I was 28 years old. After 40 years in that religious community, I asked for permission to be granted one sabbatical year. I was really interested in what was happening in Medjugorje and I came here in 1991 for three months. I climbed hills during that time, prayed a lot, I had a really beautiful time here, but I noticed there were many poor people who were searching for food in garbage containers and it was something I was not able to understand.
How did you feel that a mission of your life was to be developed in Medjugorje?
When I left Medjugorje, I went to Jerusalem for three months’ education, but I was not so much taken with that, since by nature, I am not fond of studying. At the end of my time there, I went to the Garden of Gethsemane to have a 30-day spiritual retreat. I felt so blest, we had sacraments every day in a chapel. I kept asking God to give me an answer and I would ask Him all the time: “Lord, what do you want of me?” I was on my way back to the USA. I prayed unceasingly. One day, I found a little image with the writing – “Our Lady of Medjugorje, the Queen of Peace”. I took that as a sign that I needed to return to Medjugorje. My Superior approved that, but she told me on my way here: “Yes, sister, but only for one year, only one year!” I stayed here for 28 years. I did not have any money, except for some cash my family gave me for a plane ticket to return to the US. I came here without anything. I met a man who had a pension and he told me I could stay there, but I would have to serve guests and wash dishes in the kitchen. Nevertheless, I prayed to God all the time, seeking for an answer, why He brought me to Medjugorje and what am I to do. Then, I met one man from England and he asked me why I came to Medjugorje. I told him that I am here to feed people, but he just laughed at that. Still, one day he asked me if I needed anything and I told him I could use a car. He returned to England and came back here with a huge Volvo Estate car, but I did not have money for fuel. I kept asking God, “Why don’t you help me, after all you brought me here?” A few months afterwards, I met some Irish people and I told them that I wanted to help poor people and they promised to send back a donation to me. That is how my mission began. I could not speak Croatian, but I always found young people who spoke English and who helped me. That is how I started to drive around the villages in the area and help the poor and elderly people.
Why did you choose elderly as your mission here?
It was because I could feel their immense suffering, I saw them living without running water and toilets, surviving with some vegetables they grew, and they were very poor. At that time, I was 68 years old and I was able to feel their suffering. I found that work fulfilling and I kept saying to God: “Lord, you are so good to me and these people do not have anything!” This is why my mission became one of helping elderly people. I would bring them supplies myself, as I did not then have anyone who would help me with that. I received many letters from people who supported my work, but they were not able to come and help me.
How did you meet your associate Mary Walsh?
One day I got a letter from Mary Walsh from New York, a retired tax collector with IRS and I was not very fond of her profession, it was like the calling of the tax collector in the Bible. She explained to me that I was not operating my mission legally and I could be punished for that. She asked me about the name of my organisation. I did not think about it at all, but at the end I just said: “St. Joseph the Worker!” The name just came out! Mary was able to sort out all the documents and paperwork, both in New York and in Sarajevo, including my residency here. She took care of all the legal affairs, because I did not know anything about that. I could feel that God sent her to me, so she would help me, and I knew that God invited me to be here and help the poor. Mary and I do everything together. We supply groceries for 400 people, some of them were even close to death when we met them. Once, Mary got so upset and she said we needed to build a home for these people. I told her that I do not know anything about building Nursing Homes, but she was persistent, and I agreed in the end. We met Ivan Sulic who helped us all the time. We do not have any benefit or profit from what we do, there is no permanent help. We do it all by ourselves and everything depends on God’s providence and mercy. After we built our first nursing home, I asked Mary: “What is going on with you? You look sick!” She said “Sister, we will run out of money.” I told her we needed to say a Novena to St. Joseph the Worker. So, one week after we finished the Novena, one man from the US called me and he sent us $500,000. This is what the Lord does; the more we trust Him, the more He helps us. This is so amazing!
Who is that man?
We do not reveal the names; most of the benefactors are anonymous. We can say only that this man owned a bank in the US, but I am sure St. Joseph sent him. We then spent all that money and needed money to furnish the other home, so I suggested we pray another Novena to St. Joseph. Soon after we finished, two Irishmen came and asked us how they could help us. I told them we needed to furnish that home and that is what they did. They sent containers with various supplies and appliances needed for a home. One man sent us 100 packs of bedsheets, but we still needed beds. We then met one Irishman who worked at a construction company, who offered to help us. We asked him for beds. He sent us 50 beds without any further costs. God touches the hearts of many people. If it wasn’t for that, we would not be here today. This is how that home was furnished. Prior to the construction of the Home, we sign an agreement with the Sister of Mercy of St. Vincent de Paul. We would build the Home and then turn the keys over to them. It was the first home for the elderly in this country. They thought no one would move into the home. They were wrong. Once it became known that they were well taken care of, (three meals a day, a bedroom with a toilet, when they were sick the nuns took care of them and most important a Mass every Sunday at the Home) the elderly accepted the home. We have 50 residences. The nuns pray the rosary every morning and every afternoon with the residence for the benefactors.
Why do you think palliative care is so important?
We were still finding people suffering and dying alone. Through the generosity of an Irish couple we were able to build a Hospice. Once, there was a man in our hospice who was brought there by his adopted daughter. When he was young, he was a Catholic, but he joined the communist party after World War II. He was dying of cancer and after a few months there, he asked for a priest to confess him. He also wanted to marry his wife, because they had lived without the sacrament of marriage for all those years. This man died after having done all this; he was able to exercise the rights which are honoured there. This example shows us the importance of a hospice, because so many people return to God while resident there. Also, the Franciscan priests come and visit these people and they help them with this journey. It is so amazing to see how people who did not have anything, receive consolation. This is the value of our lives too and of what we do. Personally, I did not grow up in poverty, but I am able to relate with these people.
A priest from Ravno came to me for help. Ravno is about 2 hours from Medjugorje. Many of the people left that area after the War leaving behind many elderly. He wanted us to build a home for them. We went there and agreed that a home should be built. We built the home for 35 residences. Since then there are about 45 residence. It is own and operated by the parish and government. The residents are very happy and doing well.
At the moment, we are constructing a day care facility in Citluk for children and young adults with special needs. After we saw the facilities that were available for these children, we met with some people, and through the efforts of a priest and the mayor we proceeded with this project. It should be completed in December.
This is your most recent project, but not the last?
I do not know why God is so persistent that He keeps going on and on. He called us to be here. Personally, I feel it is my calling to be here and to do what I am doing. Nobody stays here this long. Usually people come for a few months and return home. I love elderly people because they keep this world alive by praying so much and they are so fond of Our Lady. This is how the culture of the entire country is changing.
What was your family like?
My mother was Polish, and my father was of German background. They met in Springfield, Massachusetts and married after they had only met each other three times. When they came to the bishop, asking him to marry them, the bishop told my mother: “Do not marry this man, you do not know him at all.” Yet, my mom insisted, and they married. My father died of cancer in the end.
Do you work with other humanitarian organisations?
We work with one nurse from the Association “St. Luke”. She comes and helps us in cases where someone is ill.
What do you find the most fulfilling?
What fulfils us the most and always surprises us is how much elderly people appreciate what we do for them. In the beginning they did not know who we were, but when they realised we were there to help them, they would meet us with tears in their eyes. I am sure they pray a lot for us; they are truly wonderful. Regardless of all the difficulties, we are happy for what we do, there are so many good people who unselfishly invest their money in God, and their money helps us do what we do. Money is there to be spent, for God will always give us what we need.
Do you feel the intercession of Our Lady of Medjugorje in what you do?
I think Our Lady is so present here in Medjugorje, I always feel her beside me and her help and St. Joseph is our supervisor. He supervises all we do and he has done that from the beginning, because personally I am not able to explain how we do our projects. I think he works day and night, even when we are asleep. His protection is mighty and people do not pray enough to him. Our Lady is our Mother who protects us all, but we also need to pray the Rosary. In these days we can see so many prayers occurring all over the world as prayers for protection from this virus. I wonder about all that, when it is enough simply to pray the Rosary. The Prayer of the Rosary is so important and so powerful, and the entire teaching of the Church is contained in it. People are not aware of that.
This mission here became the mission of your life?
I could never have imagined that I would work with the poor. I do not want to return home to the US. Mary goes home once a year to take care of our filing of taxes; she does all the accounting work. But I have not gone home for a good while now. My superior was planning to come for a visit, but she had to cancel due to the Corona Virus situation. I think we have started something that local people should take over and continue.
How come you never learned the Croatian language?
It is because I never had time to learn to speak this language. Mary wanted to go to Zagreb to a school, but I told her we needed to work here. I can understand some Croatian, but I cannot speak it. I advise Mary that she must keep working hard, it will keep her healthy as I rest and look out the window (I am just joking) I do all the correspondence and keep a record of donations to give to Mary.
Mary and I agreed that when we close St. Joseph, The Worker we will give Jako (the visionary) Mary’s Hands the list of people we serve. He lives here and has many local volunteers. He has agreed to this. We pray you will support him. His website is: www.marijine-ruke.ba
The above is the English and modified version of an article written in Croatian by Davorka Jurcevic Cerkez and appeared in an article in Glasnikmira.