This nearly 100-year old woman cared for Oscar Romero’s family AND had 19 of her own children AND is still going strong!
Ciudad Barrios (formerly known as Cacahuatique) is a municipality in the rural area in northern San Miguel department of El Salvador. Its claim to fame is being the birthplace of Monsenor Oscar Romero who the Roman Catholic Church recently sainted. A statue of him graces an arch into the community.
Visitors will not see a statue of our storyteller. She worked behind the scenes within the childhood home of Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdamez serving as the family’s housekeeper and caregiver. As she approaches 100 years old, she is still able to name his siblings, and recall memories from her time spent within the household.
She is talkative and funny making us laugh as she shares her story.
Can you share a little about your own family when you were young?
My family was very poor. I grew up as a cheerful child who got along with my eight siblings – Hildo, Silvestre, Porfirio, Fidelia, Fidelina, Sebastiana, Lucia, and Ana Julia.
Did you attend school?
No, back in those days only the big cities had schools.
How did you come to work in Oscar Romero’s household?
When I was twelve years old, my family sent me to live and work in their household at the invitation of Oscar Romero’s mother, Jesus Galdamez. She always treated me as a member of the family rather than a maid. The six children, Gaspar, Arnoldo, Mamerto, Gustavo, Saida, and Oscar worked in the nearby coffee fields or hunted for long days and sometimes I waited until midnight to serve their evening meal.
I cared for Oscar’s mother when she became gravely ill by bathing her, helping her to the toilet, and moving her. She reached a point when she no longer could walk. I remained with her until she died.
Did you have private conversations with Oscar Romero?
When he became a seminarian and returned to visit, we frequently talked about many topics including faith, family, work, and charity.
What two words would you use to describe Oscar Romero?
Humble and generous
Were you aware of the threats to his life?
Yes, his whole family was in danger and his mother worried about him.
What or who has been most inspirational to your life?
The witness of Monsenor Romero to Christ. He gave his life for the people in the same way Jesus Christ did. I call him “Mi Santo Romero,” My Saint Romeo. It was a privilege to know him all his life.
Did you marry and/or have your own family?
I had 19 children (14 sons and 5 daughters) by the same man, Miguel Angel Amaya, but did not marry. The birth of my first child was my greatest joy in life. I consider myself a good mother.
I separated from Miguel after a quarrel. He was an alcoholic. Choosing him as my life partner was the hardest decision I had to make in life, and then I came to regret having done so although I never regretted having the children. Only four of our children remain alive.
If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?
As a child I never had the opportunity to go to school and so I cannot read. If I were born again, I would learn basic subjects in school like reading and writing.
How do people describe you?
Cheerful and peaceful.
What have you enjoyed doing for fun in your lifetime?
Taking care of my children when they were babies. Although I have been criticized for having so many children, I consider having children a blessing. I also enjoy going to the countryside where there are trees and pure air to breathe.
What has been the best decade of your life?
The first decade when I was a carefree child even though we were poor and had no toys. We all lived in peace.
What would you like to see change in your country?
I would like to see the gangs disappear and see no more killings. I also would like to see respect and tolerance shown for those who have different doctrines or belong to different churches.
Where are you happiest?
I’m happiest in church. My parents, Gabino Amaya and Encarnacion Lara, raised me as Roman Catholic. I was baptized, take Holy Communion, and have attended Mass from the time I was a child and continue to do so. I used to attend Mass with my family until I began living and working for Oscar Romero’s family and then I attended services with them. I see God in my community and neighbors and enjoy helping them.
Editor’s Note: Just a few months shy of 100, Mariana leaves our interview to go visit a sick person while interacting with her parish priest and neighbors along the way. She was so pleased to be asked to do this interview.