For a quarter of a century, Mary Pat Rives, RSCJ, and her friend Mary West have taken a group of students on a mission trip to a group of villages just outside San Miguel de Allende in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, where they spend a week in service and reflection. Each year, the group of high school students works on such service projects as planting trees and gardens and building dams while engaging in cultural exchange with the native Mexicans. They also bring along solar ovens – a particular godsend for people where energy resources are scarce.
Sister Rives has a personal mission to raise funds to provide solar ovens to people in Mexico, Uganda, Kenya, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, personally distributing some of the ovens herself. Solar ovens, as the name implies, convert energy from the sun to heat for cooking and purifying water. Solar cooking is a safe alternative to cooking over a fire made of wood or dung, or even kerosene. It frees up time otherwise used to gather fuel, and it is less-expensive than any system requiring a consumable fuel.
Accompanying high school students to Mexico is just one of the activities that engages Sister Rives, a veritable legend for her efforts over the past three decades to support people in developing countries. Her full-time ministry is as a school nurse at Villa Duchesne/Oak Hill School in suburban St. Louis. She is also a major booster of a Sacred Heart school in Uganda and of a Mexican/U.S. student exchange.
Sister Rives has lifelong ties to Mexico. Her mother, daughter of a mining engineer, was raised there, and Sister Rives lived in Mexico City and Tampico for the first five years of her life, until her father, a banker, was robbed and killed. Those were tumultuous post-revolutionary times in Mexico, so her mother moved north, to San Antonio, Texas. During her subsequent travels to Mexico, Sister Rives has developed an extensive network of friends, including the families of ninety-nine children who, with her help, have spent a year at a Sacred Heart school in the United States.
Sister Rives holds a bachelor’s degree in education from College of the Sacred Heart, Grand Coteau, Louisiana; a master’s degree in education from St. Louis University; and a second bachelor’s degree in nursing, which she earned at age 56, also at St. Louis U. She received the Servant of the Poor award from the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1999, the Women of Conscience Award from Associated Alumnae/i of the Sacred Heart in 2003 and was honored as an “ageless-remarkable St. Louisan” in 2005.