Sister Gloria Esposito (front row kneeling at l.) spent 60 years as a Daughter of Charity missioning to the people of Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of the Daughters of Charity)
Sister Gloria Esposito (front row kneeling at l.) spent 60 years as a Daughter of Charity missioning to the people of Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of the Daughters of Charity)
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Sister Gloria Esposito, DC, was working at St. Mary’s School in Troy in 1958, when she got the news that she was missioned to Bolivia.

The Daughters of Charity sister on the other end of the line told Sister Gloria to call her father right away and tell him. 

“I can remember saying, ‘Oh, I can’t tell him,’ ” said Sister Gloria, recalling the incident some 62 years later. “But I did call my father and he said, ‘My God, what did you do?’ He thought they were punishing me.”

Sister Gloria always had an affinity for the Daughters of Charity, who taught at her primary school in Bridgeport, Conn., saying, “I liked the work they did, they visited the poor and I guess that’s what hooked me on to them … When I graduated from (Lauralton Hall in Milford, Conn.), I decided I wanted to be a Daughter of Charity. I wanted to follow in others’ footsteps that I had seen; how gentle and caring and loving they were with the students and I guess I wanted to follow them.”

She professed her vows in 1955 and was missioned to Maryland, Ohio and New York, never imagining her footsteps would lead her to a South American country in 1959 that was among the world’s poorest and prone to overthrowing its own government every couple of years. But the mission was right in line with what the Daughters of Charity and Sister Gloria are all about: They devote their lives “to serving the poorest and most abandoned individuals in today’s society (and) minister in the everyday worlds of the poor and the marginalized,” according to the mission statement on their website (daughtersofcharity.org.)

Sister Gloria — along with two other sisters — began her mission in the tiny town of Trinidad, which is in the north-central part of the country in the Bolivian tropics. Little did she know, it was the start of a 60-year mission there.

“We flew for an hour and eight minutes and the plane landed in the middle of the jungle. It was like a little Western town,” she said. “You had the horses roaming around in the street. We had no electricity. We had a well for our water, but they had a school. And I got to teach there in Mother Seton School.”

As for the language? Sister Gloria had two years of Spanish in high school and one year in college.

“That was it … You learned it on the street. I taught third graders and they came to visit me two weeks before I left (Trinidad for her next mission) and they told me how wonderful I was and I was thinking, ‘Did I even know Spanish?’ ”

It was in Trinidad where she first experienced the uncertain and dangerous political climate, as well.

“I was there for 10 years and it was 10 years of the overthrows,” she said. “Bolivia had an overthrow of the government every year and a half and we used to hear the men going under our school. We had a balcony and we used to sit on the balcony and they would go by saying, ‘Down with the North Americans,’ ‘Go home North Americans,’ and one of our sisters said that means us.”

But she added she never felt threatened.

“We were 12 (sisters) and we felt secure because the people loved us,” she said. “And we were with the poor and the people would have defended us if anything had happened.”

After Trinidad, she spent two years in Santa Cruz, started working with the Jesuits and became principal of a school there. Then she was sent to La Paz, the capital city, where she was made superintendent of 50 schools, saying, “I could open a school any place the poor wanted it because the government paid the salaries; the parents had to help put up the schools.”

It was also in La Paz where she had to deal with the kidnapping of two sisters and five Jesuit priests by the army in 1980.

“I got a call and they said two of the sisters had been taken prisoner by the army and to start doing something … and we finally got the sisters out and we got the priests out. But I was told that I was seven on the list to be taken prisoner so I asked to leave La Paz.”

She was sent to the city of Cochabamba, where she again was a supervisor of schools but she also took over a home — St. Ignatius of Loyola — the Jesuits had for orphaned children.

“That was really a beginning for me because the children there were orphan children. They had no one. As babies they were picked up any place; under a bridge, in the bathroom some place. I worked in the schools, but my heart was in that home. I had that home for the next 36 years.”

Sister Gloria soon became principal of the school in the home as well.

“I watched the kids go all the way up,” she said. “And now I have watched them get married and have children and every time there is a child they bring it to me and say this is your grandmother. I ended up with 131 grandchildren before I left.”

It is hard to overstate the impact that Sister Gloria — who turned 88 on Oct. 12 and resides now at St. Louise House in Menands — and the Daughters of Charity have had on the country from founding schools, hospitals and nursing schools to working along the rivers helping the poor.

“The Daughters of Charity did wonders in Bolivia. … It is a tremendous grace of God to think that you could leave and be accepted by other people. I learned a lot from them. I learned to love God as they loved God. I think I was taught many, many things by those people. I was brought to the Blessed Mother there. The Blessed Mother is tops for them; she is in every one of their states and loved in different way. … I imagine not everyone wouldn’t want to leave what they have here but you get an awful lot more there.”