Maruja Gutmann-Gonzalez

FOCUS: Sustainable Development, Healthcare

Maruja and Ted joined MKLM in 1989 with their daughters Amanda, who was two years old, and Abigail who was one at the time. Since then they have been living in Chile, where their third daughter, Terra, was born. The three girls, Amanda, Abigail and Terra, are now young adults and currently are living in the States! Chile is Maruja’s home. She and Ted met there while Ted served as a Holy Cross Associate after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. Maruja graduated from Universidad Católica de Valparaiso in Chile. Before joining MKLM they lived and worked for three years in Hispanic Ministry in Michigan. They are from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati where their local parish, St. Mary’s in Piqua, Ohio, actively supported them in mission.

Maruja and Ted’s lived and worked in San Nicolas and later on in Vilches Center for Ecology and Spirituality. The Center offered holistic, sustainable approaches to farming and health to improve the quality of life in the community. Maruja and Ted offered their experience and skills by providing leadership formation and technical advice to peasant farmers in organic farming, beekeeping, income generation, and economic development. There is a growing potential for developing the Vilches area as an economically viable region for eco-tourism, small agricultural ventures and local crafts while respecting the history, culture and traditions of the mountain people.

They collaborate with local chapel and community organizations such as: the Middle Vilches Chapel, Parent-Teachers Organization of El Roble School, Astudillano Canal Association, Flores de Quillayes Beekeepers Association, Middle Vilches Neighborhood Organization, La Biota Environmental Center, and Domodungu Leona Center for Women etc. in achieving community development projects.

Together with local peasant farmers’ organizations, they have participated in developing viable alternatives to improve the standard of living of poor farming families. They have worked to bring ten farmers fifty walnut trees each, are teaching them to care for the trees, and have provided them with the resources necessary to irrigate and protect them from diseases.

The Vilches Center also implemented the Lenten Bee Hive Drive which provided 50 new bee hives to local bee keepers. Ted is Treasurer of the Flores de Quillayes Beekeepers Association which has 15 members. He maintains the community bee colony which will provide ongoing new colonies, improve the quality of the genetic material of the bees, and reproduce queen bees for the members of the Beekeepers Association.

As Secretary of the Astudillano Canal Association in Vilches, Ted has participated in a series of meetings with the Board of Directors of the Canal, the mayor, Regional Agriculture Minister, Director of Water Rights, government agricultural agency and local community presidents to request financing for a feasibility study of the project and seek support among the community for carrying out this improvement for the area. The association is also working with these government organizations to legalize the ownership of the properties and water rights of the small local farmers.

The Vilches Center has also helped to maintain the greenhouse, fruit trees and gardens at the Domodungu La Leona Center, just 100 meters down the road in Middle Vilches. We are collaborating with the director of La Leona Center to develop a safe space where poor women from the city can come to get away from the stresses of their daily lives, or situations of violence within the family, and renew their energies in a mountain environment.

Maruja is secretary of the Board of Directors at Domodungu and a part of the organizing team at La Leona Center, both of which have completed major construction projects this past year(thanks to several Religious communities in Holland) that will greatly increase their ability to assist poor women in formation, health and promotion of women. Domodungu built a large meeting room which now can hold up to one hundred people; La Leona Center built two cabins and a meeting area/ dining facility for fifty people.

Through the Center, they have trained women from the main branch of the Domodungu Center in the nearby city of Talca in the building and planting of a greenhouse to produce vegetables and herbs for sale by the organization the women have formed. They have reconditioned the greenhouse with new plastic and revitalized the organization and their commercialization efforts.

Maruja provides many different alternative naturopathic therapies to the sick and elderly people in the community, including herbal remedies, ear cones, massage, Reiki and acupressure. This demands a lot of walking or driving to people’s homes and is often a good opportunity for lending a listening ear to pressing problems.

The Center regularly receives visitors throughout the year, but especially in the summer months, including religious sisters, missioners and lay leaders who need time and space for reflection and renewal. In this way, Maruja and Ted accompany and support lay volunteers from other missionary groups and have worked to develop a more formal organization of the Wider Mission Community serving in Chile. Missioners from this group come to the Center for the annual Thanksgiving meal.

The Vilches Center also collaborates with the Biota Environmental Center in Upper Vilches, run by two biologists, and the park rangers at Altos de Lircay National Park by supporting eco-tourism programs that stimulate the local economy, such as hiking and horse guides in the mountains, the production and sale of arts and crafts, farm tours and traditional cooking and baking.

The Vilches Center provides a space where people can sense the divine spirit alive in the presence of the world through prayer and ritual; it builds upon our relationship with the earth by working with the land and by being present to the life in the native forest and national park nearby; and it creates an awareness of the relationship of our health with the health of the earth.

For each of the past 15 years, the Center has organized an Ecology and Spirituality Retreat for 20-30 people, which offers guidance and insight to leaders who are searching to deepen their connection with the natural world so as to respond with renewed spiritual energy to the immense challenges faced by the planet.

A significant part of the ministry is responding to health emergencies and sudden needs which arise in the community where there are few vehicles and limited public transportation. They provide emergency transportation to the hospital and to doctor’s visits. They participate in and support farmers and neighbors in routine agricultural and social events such as the grape harvest, planting, annual community repair of the irrigation canal, as well as funerals, wakes and graduations. Additionally, they provide direct assistance and do errands that could not be realized by horseback, cart or on foot such as transporting hay bales, farm equipment and workers to community events and workdays.

In one year the Center directly benefits 100 women who will improve their own health and learn skills to help another 400 women. Two hundred people will further develop their spiritual and emotional health. Sixty women and 20 children will practice greenhouse and gardening skills. 50 farmers will have better access to irrigation water for their gardens. They also offer their talents to connect the ecological challenges and opportunities of our time with a renewed sense of spiritual connection to God’s presence in our world.

Ted and Maruja continue living and working in Chile.