“I loved Bolivia from the time I set foot in it. I just knew it was the right place for me.“
Born in Newark, NJ, Sister Anne Marie Kiley attended primary school in Queens, NY, Bishop McDonnell High School, Brooklyn and two years at Adelphi College, Garden City, NY. She was president and on the Board of Governors of the Newman Club Alumni of L.I. After working eight years in the advertising department of Newsday, she entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1960 from West Hempstead, L.I.
On receiving a B.S. in Education from Mary Rogers College in 1966 she left for six months of Spanish study in Cochabamba, Bolivia, followed by a year as a primary teacher in Cobija. Returning to Cochabamba she taught in the primary school of Santa Ana Parish and was supervisor of the religious program. In Mineros, about two miles north of Santa Cruz, she did rural pastoral work, catechist training, and collaboration with health personnel.
For nine years she worked with a mission team in Capinota with the Quechua indigenous people. This is where the Sisters took eight hour trips on horseback up steep slopes high above the 8,500 foot altitude of the valley. In one visit the people told the missioners that no church people had visited the town as long as those living there could remember, except a priest who flew in and left on the plane the same day. In this ministry Sister Anne Marie took six months to study the Quechua language.
She jokes about her next ministry which she expected to be semi-rural on the outskirts of the town of Santa Cruz. A year later urbanization hit and the land was divided into about eight thousand building lots! Again she was involved in pastoral visits and animating lay pastoral leadership.
Since 2001, she has been in Riberalta, Beni. In the southern zone of the parish where there are four chapels, each with its own leaders, programs for liturgy, catechetics, etc., she sees her role as accompanying these leaders. As is her custom, she visits all the people in their homes.
School calendars and pastoral plans have to adapt to the Brazil nut. When Brazil nut harvest time comes, the people leave for the jungle to harvest the nuts for several months. Most of the people came to town from the rivers and jungle areas so they return for the work they’re used to doing. It’s the poorest people who work on the Brazil nuts. When they return to town they spend their days cracking the nuts in long shifts in the nut factories.
Sister Anne Marie says, “The people here are very friendly. They like to talk and they like to have you come and visit. So I spend a lot of time just sitting under a tree someplace in the shade, and seeing how the folks are doing.” Someone asked, “When you first thought of being a Maryknoll Sister, did you think of sitting under a tree chatting with people? Is that a picture you had of yourself?” Her answer was, “Probably not!”
In 2012, Sister Anne Marie returned to the Maryknoll Sister Center for her retirement.