Thirty minutes east of Guatemala City, a Franciscan boarding school called Valley of the Angels lives its motto: “Give the best to the poor.” Their emphasis on restoring dignity through service resonates with Franciscan Mission Service Executive Director Kim Smolik.

Executive Director Kim Smolik with girls from Livingstone, Guatemala.  The girls are 
friends of board member, Jack McHale.

“I have wanted to re-establish our presence in Guatemala for a long time. Fr. Tom Washburn, O.F.M., whose Province founded and supports Valley of the Angels, opened the door for our visit. In addition, board member Jack McHale enthusiastically endorsed the trip because of his longstanding relationship and commitment to Guatemala,” Kim says.

“I was able to confirm that Valley of the Angels holds great potential for a future service site for our program,” Kim says, “Also, Jack introduced me to the Kateri Center in Livingston which is a long-time passion for him.”

Jack was introduced to Kateri Center through his friend Fr. Tom Moran, a Claretian priest whose dedication to the Guatemalan people inspired Jack to continue Fr. Moran’s legacy after his passing.
Kim and Jack traveled to Guatemala on February 14 and returned on February 23 to gather information on both the Valley of the Angels school as well as the Kateri Center.

“We’re aiming for a launch goal of 2015 for a new service site in Guatemala, so Class 30 will be able to start their mission there early next year,” Kim said.

Antigua, Guatemala

Located in a small village outside of Guatemala City called San Jose El Manzano in Santa Catarina Pinula, is Valley of the Angels. One hundred and eighty students from grades 1-9 live at the school ten months of the year. The students are among the poorest in the area. Most students come from one-room homes that have dirt floors. At Valley of the Angels, they are provided lodging, three meals daily, clothing, and medical care, but what most distinguishes the school is its commitment to the motto “Give the best to the poor” through beautiful architecture, 30 acres of grounds, supplies, and affirming environment.

The founder of the school, Fr. Rocco Familietti, a Franciscan friar from the Immaculate Conception Province in the United States, served in Guatemala more than 60 years. He originally began Valley of the Angels in 1993 for orphans exclusively before the school opened its doors to all children in need. Today, Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Sr. Doris, Sr. Mirna and Sr. Hilda continue to oversee the day to day supervision of the children, ages 6 through 18.

Dance party at Valley of the Angels

The school strives to offer children “roots” of character, education, and faith foundation as well as “wings” of empowerment. All of this works together with the hope that the seeds planted by their solid education and good moral teaching will grow and blossom, allowing the children to contribute to their society and live a Christian fully alive in Christ.

“Visiting Guatemala with Kim, and seeing first hand the work that our missioners have the opportunity to be involved in, let me see firsthand why the work of FMS is an essential ministry in our Church and world,” Jack says.

There is no substitute in a relationship for meeting people face to face. In Guatemala, Kim and Jack were able to develop opportunities for Franciscan Mission Service through the hallmark of the Franciscan charism: a ministry of presence to each other.

Board member, Jack McHale, with friends in Livingstone.

“The Kateri Center impressed me with their love for those they serve,” Kim says, “and at Valley of the Angels I felt the same spirit of joyful service that St. Francis lived and which God calls us to answer. I believe our missioners will be able to live out the major tenets of our mission: service, solidarity with the poor, community, and love of others.”