Sor Clotilde, Hermana Hospitalaria

17 Jan 2024 Sr Clotilde: “The war destroyed our centre but like the Phoenix we rose again”

Sr Clotilde, one of the pioneer Sisters of our mission in Liberia, explains her story in Africa, marked by effort, cooperation, faith, and war

“My name is Sr Clotilde de María Elvira, I was born in Madrid in 1934 to a deeply Christian family. I´ve always thought that after God, my aunt Leonor had an enormous influence on me. When she wrote to us she said that “she wished to have a niece who would follow her in religious life”. Finally, I felt God was calling me and I made my decision

The beginning of hospitaller life

I joined the Congregation of Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1959 at Ciempozuelos, our main home, where I did my postulancy and novitiate. During these formative years, I deepened my knowledge of Jesus and our founders, and I came into contact with people that suffered from mental problems.  This environment strengthened my vocation and taught me what God was asking of me: to give my life in the following of Jesus after the example of our founders who risked everything to care for the poor and needy.

African missions

After a year of my perpetual profession, I was assigned to a new foundation in Liberia (Africa) in 1966, at the request of Mrs Antoinette Tubman, wife of the president of the Nation, Mr William Tubman. The destination was so shocking for me because I had never dreamed about missions but I welcomed it as a gift and a grace from God. The 2nd of December was the scheduled day for our departure from the port of Liverpool. However, our travel was delayed, God in his Providence had planned for us to start our journey on the 3rd, the feast of St Francis Xavier, patron saint of missions.

We arrived at Free Port of Monrovia on 11th December in the early afternoon. In the orphanage, there were about forty children between the ages of months and fifteen years old, including a small group with physical disabilities caused by polio.

Its location wasn´t very far from the capital (Monrovia) but it was in the forest, so when we arrived it came to my mind what St Benedict Menni said to María Josefa and María Angustias on their arrival at the little house that he had prepared for them:  “My daughters, this is where you are going to live, unconcerned with all that is mundane and secluded”. RMA 105

The orphanage was subsidised by the government but the aid that we received wasn´t enough for the manutention of the children. The centre lacked provisions for children’s food, hygiene, clothes and other supplies, so we started to make our mission known and to get some help. The supermarkets provided us with bread, short-lived food, rice sacks, and fish boxes, the most popular food in the country.  We also had the support of our congregation, in particular our English Province which was very excited about opening our first centres in Africa.

In addition, we had to look after the children’s education. We had a primary school teacher but the older ones couldn´t continue their studies so we contacted two Catholic colleges: St. Patrick´s, run by the Brothers of the Cross for boys, and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) for girls.

But our work didn´t end there, we had to help the physically handicapped as there were no orthopaedic doctors in the country. This necessity was exposed to St. Mary´s Orthopaedic Hospital in London which began to take over the surgeries and treatments of the children. However, the demand continued growing so a new orthopaedic doctor joined our team and we started to train native staff in orthopaedics and physiotherapy so that the rehabilitation of the children would be good, and they could be reintegrated into society.

We continued working in this labour until the 1980s when the government informed us that two organisations were interested in starting work in the area: SOS Children Villages, to assist orphaned children, and Leonard Cheshire Homes for children that suffer from mental disabilities.

Missionary life also requires leaving activities that could be covered for others and focusing your effort on other social causes that are not covered. For this reason, we focused our labour on the physically handicapped, as there weren´t programs for this necessity in the country. God was calling us to this, so after receiving the approval of the Congregation, we decided to build a new centre in an area close to the hospitals where the children would be treated and we trained more rehabilitation staff.

The joy we felt when we saw the happiness of the children playing in the garden was immense, some of them were even playing football, something that was unthinkable months before. What was achieved was amazing!

A new start after the war

This joyful period was truncated by the outbreak of the Civil War (1989-1996). The conflict affected us extremely badly, our area was under attack from both sides. In these circumstances, it was very difficult to decide but we couldn´t continue under such danger for the children and for us. So, we found a safe place for the children, and we left the nation.

The news that arrived was horrible, I remember the deep pain we felt when we realised that our centre was reduced to ashes. After so many years of hard work, we were faced with the question of what to do about the future of the mission in Liberia.

We rose from our ashes as the Phoenix, returned and continued with our work of rehabilitating bodies and souls in time it was needed more than ever. People were badly affected and needed the support and hope of Sisters Hospitallers.

However, just when everything seemed to be back on track, our mission suffered another setback. In 2010, our orthopaedic doctor suffered an accident, he didn´t recover enough to come back to his role. Without a doctor, our mission couldn´t continue, on another hand, polio was almost eradicated, so our centre was closed to this activity.

From that moment, a new period started and continues nowadays, dedicated to mental health, and the reintegration of women into society. The strongest activity within the charisma of hospitality.”



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