Heart of Flesh
St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center
Published biannually
A Moment of Grace
by Fr. Juan Diego Sutherland, CFR


By all accounts she was dying. As she lay in her mother’s arms, the sound of Jennifer Suyapa’s labored breathing came to us across the back seat of our pick-up. Jennifer’s mother, Dilcia, had brought her eight-month-old daughter to St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center that morning. It was clear to Dr. Carlos Suazo, one of the center’s two full-time physicians, that the child’s condition was too serious to be treated at SBJ. To survive she would require continuous intensive care, available only at the public hospital. So with Jennifer, her mother and grandmother on board, Br. Paul and I skirted the congested streets of Comayagua to deliver our tiny patient to Hospital Santa Teresa.

That morning I had been visiting St. Benedict Joseph on administrative business. My day had begun like all others, in silence and prayer. Having finished with morning prayers and Mass I looked forward to a day of minor errands and meetings. Clearly God had other plans.

As a newly ordained priest, each day is an opportunity for me to discover God’s life and plan anew. God’s grace is powerfully revealed through the celebration of the sacraments. It is also discovered in a faithful response to His call in everyday situations. Grace can be commonly defined as God’s life. We become sharers in the life and saving power of God each time we say “yes” to His will and choose the path of discipleship.

The sacraments are privileged moments of grace. Each of the sacraments is a tangible moment when God’s life and power is made present and shared with us through visible signs. The sacraments are moments of personal encounter with the Lord Jesus.

From what Br. Paul and I could gather, Jennifer Suyapa had been suffering for weeks from a fever and a cough. Her condition had deteriorated into a severe case of pneumonia. I wondered out loud in English to Br. Paul if the baby had been baptized.

“Is Jennifer baptized?” I asked her mother in Spanish.

“No Padre, we haven’t had a chance yet,” came the answer.

“Would you like me to baptize her?”

“I think that would be best,” mother and grandmother both replied.

Baptism is the first of all the sacraments; it is the very gateway into God’s life. The preference of the Church is to conduct baptisms in the parish church, thus connecting the baptized with the parish community. There are, however, legitimate circumstances, like emergencies, in which it is permitted to baptize outside the parish setting. This was one of those circumstances.

As we entered the emergency room I asked the door attendant if he would be kind enough to lend me some of his bottled water. Jennifer Suyapa was gently laid on a gurney and the nurses and medical staff immediately began to examine her. It looked as though she was going to be moved to begin further treatment.

“Before we go anywhere,” I interjected, “I am going to baptize Jennifer Suyapa.”

The response of the medical staff reminded me that I was living in a Catholic country. There were no sideways glances, no snickers, nor impatient sighs.

“Of course,” the nurses responded.

As I carefully poured the water and invoked the ancient Trinitarian formula, the medical staff stood patiently and reverently by.

“Jennifer Suyapa,” I prayed, “Yo te bautizo en el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo.”
A day that had begun like all others had taken a different, dramatic, holy turn. At that moment, as I poured the water and spoke the saving words of our Lord, I experienced powerfully the Lord’s presence. In the filthy chaos of that emergency room I sensed God’s voice: “I claim you Jennifer Suyapa as my own. You are my child, my daughter, my beloved.”

Everything at that moment came into focus for me: the little soul before me; God’s loving providence; the gift of grace through the sacraments; the work of the priest; the very meaning of life.

Thankfully, after two weeks of intensive treatment, Jennifer Suyapa was able to return home. Today she is healthy and growing. The experience made me grateful in many regards. I am thankful for the life of Jennifer Suyapa, the work of the doctors and staff at SBJ, and the mission of the friars in Honduras, of which I am privileged to be a part. At St. Benedict Joseph the poor from our neighborhood and from the mountain communities find a welcome and loving home. Jennifer Suyapa and her family came for the sake of her life on earth. And the Lord met them for the sake of her life eternal. Jesus met them in a difficult moment, transforming suffering into a moment of grace.

Light of the World Surgical Mission
May & August, 2007 - 120 Surgeries & Procedures

Fr. Juan Diego Dr Dave
Fr. Juan Diego is pictured here with little Jennifer Suyapa, the now healthy baby he writes about in his cover article.
Dr. David Barbara, a general surgeon from Indiana, on one of his many surgical missions to SBJ.
Maura dental

Maura Guadagno, RN, checks on a small patient in SBJ’s recovery room.

Dr. Paul Sigfusson is assisted by Felipa Portillo, RN, on a recent dental brigade.



Fr. Herald Fr. Juan Diego

It is with a certain sadness, yet not without deep gratitude and joy, that we honor
Fr. Herald Brock, CFR, whose vision and efforts brought St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center from conception to birth. Father Herald has recently been assigned to serve his community of friars in New York. He is currently living at St. Leopold Friary in Yonkers with the student friars who are studying and preparing for priestly ordination. It is Father Herald’s ardent desire that after his sabbatical he may once again live and serve in Honduras.

From “day one” Father Herald gave his time and talents to turn the idea of a medical facility in Comayagua into a reality. It was his initiative, enthusiasm, and industry which brought St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center from a simple pencil sketch to the beautiful building which stands and serves the needy today. His religious community, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, along with Light of the World Charities, are deeply grateful and applaud his faith-filled efforts on behalf of the sick poor in Comayagua and the surrounding area.

Father Juan Diego Sutherland, CFR, who came to New York from Canada to join the friars, has been assigned to assume the responsibility of friar-liaison to the hospital. Ordained in May, 2007, Fr. Juan Diego is no stranger to Honduras since as a student friar he spent many months living and serving at San Serafin Friary in Comayagua. The newly ordained Fr. Juan Diego is noted for his bright red beard, hearty laugh, and love for the Honduran people.

We thank you, Fr. Herald! We welcome you, Fr. Juan Diego!




Thank you, Marcela

It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who is like family. Marcela Alfaro Stengel has been a part of the St. Benedict Joseph team before SBJ even existed! Almost from the beginning, Marcela assisted the friars and Light of the World Charities as a translator during the early surgical missions at Roberto Suazo Cordova Public Hospital in La Paz. When SBJ was ready to open its doors, Marcela – then a recent graduate from the national university – was the natural choice for administrator.

From 2004 to the present she has put her whole heart into the job of managing the finances of SBJ, keeping track of patient statistics, serving as a liaison and a contact person for visiting surgical teams, translating, and an endless list of other tasks. During the course of her time at SBJ, she married Adam Stengel and gave birth to their first child, Maria Teresa.

As Marcela and her family relocate to her husband's home state of Arkansas, USA, it is with sadness, mixed with our sincere prayers for God's blessings, that we offer her our heartfelt gratitude for her generous service.

We will miss you, Marcela!