Maryknoll missionary dies after life of service in Nicaragua

Sister Rita was 95 years old, and had spent much of her missionary life in Nicaragua

Maryknoll Sister Rita Owczarek, a long-time nurse, health educator and missioner in Nicaragua, died last Sunday in the Maryknoll Sisters Residential Care in New York. She was 95 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 65 years, much of which was spent in Nicaragua.

Known for her feistiness, Sister Rita rose to every challenge she ever received as a missioner. At one time, she even incurred a bullet wound, which ran through her bible and into her leg. Characteristically, Sister Rita didn’t even notice that she had been wounded until, after boarding a bus, one of the locals pointed to her leg and told her it was bleeding.

After studying Spanish in Bolivia in 1953, Sister Rita worked as a dispensary nurse in Siuna, Nicaragua, from 1954-69. She then worked briefly in the same capacity in San Miguel Acatan, Guatemala, in 1969, before returning to Nicaragua in 1970, where she served again as a dispensary nurse in Managua for a year.

Sister Rita Owczarek gives Communion to a woman in Pueblo Nuevo, Nicaragua, who is ill and cannot get to Mass, 1977. (photo courtesy of Maryknoll Mission Archives)

In 1971, Sister Rita became head nurse at a clinic in Jiloa, Nicaragua, where she worked until 1973, also assisting in pastoral work at the local Catholic parish.

Sister Rita returned to Nicaragua in 1976, where she worked as a health educator, training people of Pueblo Nuevo Estelí in health care leadership, while also assisting in pastoral work at the local parish until 1979. She was then sent to León, where she worked at the government clinic/hospital, cared for Salvadoran refugees, and assisted in pastoral work, until 1993. From 1994 to 2006, Sister Rita worked in various volunteer capacities, particularly related to peace and justice concerns.

Failing health caused her to return to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in 2006, where she reflected on her years of dedicated service to Nicaragua and her compassion and admiration for the Nicaraguan people.

“I never fail to admire and attempt to live the deep faith and hope of these wonderful people through countless catastrophes of nature, an attempt at democracy after a revolution, and political corruption,” Sister Rita wrote in a report submitted to her congregation in 2006.

Sister Rita

“Nicaragua is in chaos with children starving, 50% not in school, rampant unemployment, and street gangs. Yet the people continue to believe in God and have great devotion to Our Lady, with little altars in almost every home. For the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when you enter the home, the greeting is: “Who is the cause of great joy?”, answered by “The Conception of Mary!”

She was also impressed by what she the poor helping other poor. “For example, one woman with nine children living in a shack took a newborn into her home when the mother died of tuberculosis,” Sister Rita wrote.

“We come as missioners to spread the Word of God,” Sister Rita continued, “to insist that the people be treated with dignity, to help them to help themselves, to see themselves as subjects and not objects in life and relationships. Your continued interest and prayer in solidarity with us help us all to a fuller life in Christ.”

Sister Rita remained a resident of Maryknoll Residential Care until her death. One of ten children born, Sister Rita is survived by a sister, Mrs. Sylvia Lynch of Chicago, IL.

She will be buried in the Maryknoll Sisters cemetery at Maryknoll, NY.



  • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

    May She rest in peace and the merciful light of our Lord Jesus shine upon her

  • Alvan Dazbohrk

    Thank you Lord for allowing sister Rita to serve you by helping the needy Thank you sister Rita for showing such compassion for your fellow human beings.

  • Louis Chiara, MD

    I relish my memories from the delightful two weeks I spent assistiing Sister Rita, Sister Joan, and Sister Elizabeth in Chacraseca, Nicaragua, circa 1995. Sister Rita was delightfully cantankerous, always willing to debate a topic as the devil’s advocate just for the fun of being contraire. Spunky, indeed. And how those people loved their good Sisters. I was fortunate to be present during the Christmas season with religious and social activities that revolved around the mission Church there. The sisters were the guests of honor one evening at the fiesta of the arrival of the Three Kings to the Nativity. No electrcal lines for many miles did not hamper the celebration– a portable generator furnished all of the lighting for the celebration, including the procession in pitch black darkness from the remote countryside to the Church, led by the Three Kings in costumes on horseback.

    I attempted to photograph the bullet hole scars in Sister Rita’s calfs but she declined, saying she did want people in the US to get the wrong impression of Nicaragua.

    I marveled when I read the books contained in the Sisters’ house in Leon that described the terror and violence that the sisters witnessed first hand during the revolution, yet never flinching in their resolve, in their complete dedication to their poor. The Sisters were fearless, their feet firmly implanted in the ground but their minds suspended in heaven. .

    And what a pleasure it was to visit with Sister Rita during my occasional trips to the Maryknoll retirement center in Maryknoll, New York.

    She lived the life of a true hero.

    I suspect she now resides in the same place in heaven as Sister Theresa who devoted her life to the poor of India.

  • Carlos

    Thanks God there are still good folks in the USA. The Reagan regime and its gang created terror and mayhem in poor Nicaragua in the 80’s with its CIA hordes bombing ports and killing innocent civilians in the countryside. The evil Oliver North and John Ponidexter from the state department must be brought to the International Criminal Court to answer charges as well as other CIA personal engaged in crimes against Humanity. 15 billion dollars for compensation of damages against Nicaragua must be paid by the USA according to the ICC too. We dont want charity we want justice.