IHM Supports Nicaraguan Training Center Batahola Notre Provides Security Amidst Political Unrest
By John Stegeman
For almost 20 years Cincinnati’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish (IHM) has partnered with the Cultural Center Batahola Norte in Managua, Nicaragua, but that support took on new importance in April of 2018. Police and paramilitary groups violently suppressed a series of political protests, and the resulting clashes killed hundreds. Many more were imprisoned or forced to leave the country. The crackdown destabilized the nation.
“Over 150,000 jobs were lost,” said Susan Keefe, IHM parishioner and former chair of the IHM Twinning Committee. “The Cultural Center offered workshops on trying to help people feel better about the losses they incurred and the oppression and this new norm.”
While many people in the area won’t venture out past 6 p.m., Batahola Norte, a Catholic organization, gives them a place to feel secure. The center offers classes on job training, cooking, sewing, computers, cashiering, English as a second language and more. For children they have dance, singing, art and music.
“Many people took advantage of these workshops,” Keefe said. “When they come to the center they feel safe, and they might not have felt safe in their own homes.”
Batahola Norte was founded by Sister Margarita Navarro, a sister of St. Joseph and a native of Cincinnati, and Dominican Angel Torrellas in 1983. The founders’ goal was to educate children and adults, empower women and nurture community in a safe and faith-filled environment. It has non-profit status in Nicaragua. Its primary supporters are a Louisiana parish, an Irish group called Trocare and IHM.
In 1998, parishioners at IHM learned of Batahola Norte through the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s mission office. While the Cultural Center is nearly 2,000 miles from Cincinnati, they learned its founder was once a parishioner at Guardian Angels parish in Mt. Washington, less than three miles away.
“Sister Margie would come and visit her family that lived here in Cincinnati and when she came, she would visit with the people of our parish,” Keefe said. “Once we got to know her… we started our twinning relationship in 2000.”
A twinning arrangement is a way for parishes to integrate with other parishes, or other Catholic organizations, inside or outside the U.S. It is sometimes referred to as having a “sister parish.”
“Twinning is building relationships,” Keefe said. “It is a community working together with another community. We have a covenant that says we learn from each other, we pray for each other, we share resources and we strengthen our relationship in Christ. We view it as a partnership.”
As part of that relationship, before the unrest, large groups from IHM and McNicholas High School would visit Managua, and staff members from the center would come to Cincinnati. The two communities still communicate, but via computers. In addition, IHM sponsors Project Education, a program where donors from IHM and elsewhere share resources to sponsor adults and children at Batahola Norte with scholarships. More than 200 of the center’s 800 students receive scholarships.
The community at the Cultural Center prays for IHM parishioners, who in turn pray for them. During the height of the political crisis IHM hosted weekly prayer services for peace.
“We try to do all that we can to keep the people in our thoughts as much as possible,” Keefe said.
IHM also has an annual luncheon to raise funds for the center and for their fellow twinning community, Our Lady of the Mountains in Stanton, KY.
With the 20th anniversary of the twinning arrangement approaching in January, IHM has produced commemorative bookmarks. They will be distributed at IHM school and many will be shipped to Batahola Norte as well.