The Medical Mission Sisters and Sister Judith Kroska

Sister Kroska (far right) of the Catholic Maternity Institute in Santa Fe along with the other signers of the incorporation of the American College of Nurse Midwives, November 5, 1955

Sister Kroska (far right) of the Catholic Maternity Institute in Santa Fe along with the other signers of the incorporation of the American College of Nurse Midwives, November 5, 1955

by Elizabeth Rose

 

It’s important that we keep the legacy of our community of birthworkers and healers alive. That is why I created a page on our MothersMandala website called “Honoring a Birth Community Ancestor.” Today, let all of us honor The Medical Mission Sisters of The Catholic Maternity Institute and Sister Judith, Rita Kroska.

Back in 2005, prepping for my upcoming Prenatal Massage Certification as an Instructor, I was drawn to explore the history of midwifery in New Mexico to add to my repertoire of teaching knowledge. I was astonished to discover such a rich heritage of midwifery In New Mexico, including the story of the famous curandera/patera, Jesusita Aragon of Las Vegas who delivered more than 12,000 babies in her 77 years of midwifery (see her story below).

Also astonishing, was the story of the Medical Mission Sisters, who arrived in Santa Fe in 1943 at the imploration of the Diocese of Santa Fe. At the time, Santa Fe County had the highest infant mortality rate and the second highest maternal death rate in the U.S. in part due to the grim fact that there were only two obstetricians in all of New Mexico for a total population of 500,000.

When I Googled for more information about the Medical Mission Sisters, I found an archived TIME article about them, and loved reading about how, “by jalopy and on foot, Sister Theophane and Sister Michael, traveled by day and night across the rough desert, often curled up in sleeping bags outside adobe huts while they waited for the baby to come. “ Could you imagine!

While they continued to do home deliveries, the Sisters founded the Catholic Maternity Institute (CMI) in Santa Fe in 1945 and opened the doors of the first nurse-midwifery run birth center, La Casita at 417 East Palace Avenue (which closed in 1968). The CMI also became the first nurse midwifery education program to award a Masters Degree in collaboration with the Catholic University in Washington D.C. And, several of the Sisters chaired the committee to found the American College of Nurse-Midwives in 1955.

I had the unique pleasure of speaking on the phone with one of the four Sisters who came from Philadelphia in 1947 to join the CMI, Sister Judith Kroska. She also helped open La Casita, signed onto the incorporation of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, herself attended the birth of more than 500 babies and educated 40 nurse-midwives.

Again, in the spirit of exploration, I was able to find Sister Kroska (now referred to Rita Kroska) on-line in 2005, who was at the time living at a retirement community in Arizona. The receptionist gladly gave me Rita’s phone #. At the time I was also practicing as a Labor Support Doula. When she answered the phone and I introduced myself as a Doula in Santa Fe, she lit up with excitement and launched into a sweet monologue about her time here in the City Different. Clearly, she had very fond memories! Sadly, she died in 2012, and I understand has written a book, though I have yet to read it, called The History of Nurse-Midwifery in Santa Fe, New Mexico by Rita CA Kroska

Thank You Sister Judith, Rita Kroska for your Love, Determination and Devotion to the families of New Mexico and in helping to establish CMI, La Casita and the American College of Nurse-Midwives. You are cherished and remembered!

 

Jinny Erderly

Jinny Blue shirt

 

It’s important that we keep the legacy of our community of birthworkers and healers alive. That is why I created a page on our MothersMandala website called “Honoring a Birth Community Ancestor.” Today, let all of us honor mother, midwife and friend to many, Jinny Erderly.

At some point in my career as a doula, I felt the need to invoke the support of those in the “unseen dimensions.” As many doulas know, our profession can be a very isolated one; entering into the realm of birth work with little collegial interaction and often spending long hours at a birth in a solo effort to support a safe, satisfying and deeply meaningful experience for the new family. One night, while driving to Los Alamos to attend a birth, inspired by the August Perseoid meteor display of light showering the New Mexico sky before me, I found myself calling forth those in the unseen dimensions that might be willing to assist me in the birth journey I was about to embark on. To my surprise, I no longer felt alone in my singular doula effort, and instead experienced a newfound connection of strength, wisdom and guidance that I could tap into during my solo hours of attending a birth.

Years later, with my involvement with Family Constellation work, I began to prayerfully invite my own ancestors to assist me at births, particularly those of my matriarchal line, whom I understand were notable wise-women healers in their European farming villages. Again, the quality and effectivness of my role as a doula was noticeably strengthened by my conscious inclusion of my matrilineal ancestors.

Then another beautiful layer was added to my support team of those in the unseen dimensions. In the breadth of Family Constellation work, it is acknowledged that we also have ancestors in the area of our workplace/trade/profession. Honoring our “workplace ancestors” and inviting their presence in our birthwork is a powerful way to strengthen and enrichen our connection with the lineage of those amazing women and men that came before us; again uplifting the vitality of the next generation of birthworkers and healers. We are very fortunate in Northern New Mexico to have a very rich history of midwifery and midwife ancestors to draw on.

One such midwife ancestor that I invite to join me at births is Jinny Erderly. It’s been three years since she left her earthly existence to join the heavenly host of healers on the other side.

Proudly, I say, Jinny was one of my midwives, along with the wise-woman caring presence of Lenya Reese. These amazing women magically entered my life during my first pregnancy and birth of my daughter 24 years ago in Tesuque, New Mexico. Just a year before, I had attended my second home birth as a massage therapist with Jinny and Lenya, and knew from that moment on, that they would indeed be my midwives when I became pregnant. Little did I know, what a vital role they would play in my transformation from woman to mother and as a professional working with women in the childbearing year. Indeed they would lovingly provide a safe, healing sanctuary for me during my pregnancy, birth and as a new mother, enhancing my peace of mind, self-confidence and overall health of body, mind and soul. Professionally, they inspired and ignited, my “way of being” with families.

I loved Jinny’s presence at my daughter’s birth – she was deeply rooted in her unwavering belief in me, that I could have my baby safely at home. When in doubt during my labor, Jinny would smooth away any fears I had with her warm, kind voice and gentle touch. Alternately, she also had a fierce, protective lioness essence about her, like the goddess Kali, assuring no dark shadow would dare enter the sacred space she held for the laboring woman.

Jinny became a licensed midwife in 1982 and along with Lenya, delivered about a thousand babies in the communities of Northern New Mexico. Imagine “catching” that many babies! What a treasure Jinny was to so many of us. Paradoxically, just before her 65th birthday, in March of 2010, Jinny was diagnosed with cancer in her right shoulder; then, one of her arms, that lovingly brought so many lives into this world, was amputated. I think all of us in the community grieved this tragic loss for Jinny. With the help of Christi Bodelli and Harmony Rose West, a joyous celebration and benefit was held in Jinny’s honor that summer. What a delightful gathering of friends, families and colleagues!

Still, the cancer persisted. Jinny would leave this world a few months later, in January of 2011, with her family and beloved midwife partner and friend, Lenya by her side. Along with so many great treasures of Santa Fe, Jinny Erderly, we honor you and your unique expression as a woman, mother, a midwife and a healer and mostly for your unwavering devotion to so many families of our community. You are not forgotten Jinny. Here, with you in our Hearts, we are nurtured, strengthened and divinely guided.

If you feel so moved please light a candle in Jinny’s honor or create an alter for her as we Celebrate her Life. And remember, you too can call on her as a “birth community ancestor” for support and guidance in your interactions with families.

Honoring A Birth Community Ancestor

Today we honor Jesusita Aragon, a legendary “partera” or midwife who in her 77 years of midwifery delivered more than 12,000 babies in the region of Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Jesusita was born into a 400 year old lineage of northern New Mexico healers. You can read her story La Partera: Story of a Midwife. It is mostly written in Jesusita’s words, as transcribed from a compilation of taped interviews by the author, Fran Leeper Buss. Jesusita will touch your heart with the story of the challenging conditions of frontier living, single parenting and the loss of most of her family members, including her mother at age 10. She will also inspire you with her humility, wisdom and love for the many families of her community that she tirelessly and unconditionally cared for. Though she passed several years ago, Jesusita is alive for any of us as a mentor and a revered ancestor in the lineage of women healers of northern New Mexico. Check out this wonderful youtube of Jesusita http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFrBCacJghc.