Former St. Ansgar nun helps in El Salvador

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 7, 2000

It was fate and a trip to El Salvador that brought together Austin resident Knowles Dougherty and St.

Saturday, October 07, 2000

It was fate and a trip to El Salvador that brought together Austin resident Knowles Dougherty and St. Ansgar native Sister Nancy Meyerhofer. He was there to see friends and revisit the area where he’d worked for the American Friends Service Commission (a Quaker organization) in the late 1950s. She was there because that’s where she has lived for the past 10 years.

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"My friends had met Nancy on a previous trip," Dougherty said. "When they said ‘would I like to go and see Sister Nancy?’ I thought it the politically correct thing to do. I went along, and suddenly there’s this lady opening the door to a courtyard, and she’s talking about this wonderful center. And then I find out she’s from a farm outside of St. Ansgar.

"We had instant rapport, which is fortunate since I was falling in love with her," he adds with enough seriousness to make one wonder if the former publisher/educator is headed for a rude awakening.

He settles that question quickly, explaining that it his belief in what she’s doing and a desire to help that is behind his bringing the nun from El Salvador to Austin in the second week of November.

It won’t be Meyerhofer’s first visit to this southern Minnesota city. Austin is where the family used to come for major shopping trips when she was growing up on a farm in northern Iowa. This time she will be in Austin not to shop, but to speak to anyone who will listen about the wellness/trauma center she is operating in El Salvador.

"They’ve got trauma – emotional trauma – coming out of the woodwork there," Dougherty said, explaining that El Salvador was embroiled in a civil war from 1979 to 1991. "But they don’t have a lot of money, so the center is using a lot of alternative methods. There is a psychologist, yes. There’s also a massage therapist and other alternative type therapies going on."

Enter Pam Urick and Art Bauer, both well-known for their Tai Chi/Qigong teaching in the Austin area, both partners in Austin’s Center for the Healing Arts, which opened earlier this year. The Austin center offers classes in Tai Chi/Qigong, chakras and yoga, Healing Touch therapy, hypnotherapy and soon-to-come acupuncture and healing herb consultations. The partners at the Center will be spending part of a day with Meyerhofer when she comes, and hosting an open session the evening of Nov. 7 for anyone who would like to hear more about Meyerhofer’s efforts in the Central American country.

No one in Austin but Dougherty has met Meyerhofer yet; his enthusiasm about her center and what she’s doing there has spread without contact to the partners at the Austin Center for the Healing Arts. She also will be speaking at the Noon Kiwanis Nov. 8 and will also address churchgoers at the morning mass at St. Augustine’s that day.

"She has a marvelous spirit," Dougherty said. "Not high-powered really, but after you’ve been with her 30 or 40 minutes you figure out she’s the type who gets things done. She would be worth coming to hear ; I’m sure she’ll have some slides of what they’re doing there and some great stories to tell."

In the center’s first year in the town of Suchitoto in El Salvador, 217 people used its services. Its expenses paid largely from donations, the center is experimenting with inexpensive ways to deal with emotional trauma. It is the only center of its type in all of Central America, but Dougherty said there are other countries in Central America that want to know more about what Meyerhofer and her people are doing at the center.

"My goal is to encourage Sister Nancy financially," Dougherty said. "So any organization or group that would like to hear more about the wellness center while she’s in town can contact me. However much money she can raise – that will be cool.

"I also think that her sharing information with Art and Pam will be a good thing."

Urick is looking forward to Meyerhofer’s visit.

"It sounds like she’s doing what we’re doing in an area of earth that desperately needs it," Urick said. "I’d love to share ideas. Maybe we can see if we can’t get this idea to grow."