Meet the Sisters
S. Carol Wirtz with Reyna, 2, at the Santo Niño Project in Anapra, Mexico.
S. Carol Wirtz lives and ministers near the Texas/Mexico border. Since 2001, in collaboration with Dr. Kathryn Zerbach, a surgeon in El Paso, Texas, S. Carol has treated breast cancer patients with lymphatic drainage therapy while also working with children with special needs and their families at the Santo Niño Project in Anapra, Mexico.
S. Carol says the most important part of both ministries is being present. “Elizabeth Seton accompanied many women in their illnesses and was ‘mother’ to many more than her own children,” she explained. “I feel that she has drawn me into this service and accompanies me. I hear her say, ‘Only do your best and leave the rest to our dear God.’”
In El Paso, S. Carol begins the lymphatic drainage therapy once patients are diagnosed with cancer, even before surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. She focuses on prevention and treatment of swelling due to the cancer surgery and also on lessening the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. She says many times she accompanies the patient and family in a supportive role, even through hospice care.
“I value developing the relationship and accompanying them as they journey through a difficult and often transformative period in their life,” S. Carol said. “I also really enjoy the science of the lymphatic system, how the drainage techniques can bring such relief to the women and restore normal function, and seeing them regain a sense of well-being when they get relief.”
“While I chose my ministry with breast cancer patients, the ministry in Anapra really chose me – or I should say it chose us,” S. Carol said.
She explains about nine years ago she and three other Sisters of Charity began providing basic health care and alternative therapies in a priest’s home in Anapra, Mexico, a poor colonia just across the border from El Paso. Eventually they built a tiny clinic, and as more people heard about the massage and other therapies they provided, more started bringing children with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism and many other conditions.
“We discovered that there were few services for children with special needs and so the Santo Niño Project was born,” Sister said.
At the Santo Niño Project S. Carol performs lymphatic drainage and craniosacral therapy as well as massage and energy work. “I teach the mothers to do these techniques and coordinate their efforts as a team,” she said. “I also just play with the children, feed them, change their diapers, walk to the corner store to buy them treats…whatever needs to be done!
“I love seeing the smiles on the faces of our mothers and children as they tumble out of the van when they arrive at the clinic!” S. Carol continued. “I love hearing their laughter and seeing the moms who have never had any formal schooling providing wonderful healing therapies to their own and other children. My very favorite part of the Santo Niño Project is my own little angel named Reyna. She is 2 years old and has Down Syndrome; her mother, Tania, is herself an orphan at age 17. I feel blessed to have become like a mother to Tania and an “abuelita” (grandma) to Reyna since they have no other family.”
Developing such a connection with her patients makes it all the more difficult to see the violence and danger that the moms and children currently face in Mexico. “It’s hard to make the journey across the border and to see the military forces patrolling everywhere,” S. Carol said. “I see the poverty increasing as jobs disappear and the situation becomes more desperate. And it’s hard to know that I have the opportunity to return to a safe home when others that I know and love do not have that choice.”