In With This Light, filmmaker remembers the “Mother Teresa of Honduras”

The Franciscan nun and Honduran missionary Sister Maria Rosa Leggol helped more than 87,000 children escape poverty.

A poster for "With This Light," about the life and work of the Franciscan nun and Honduran missionary Sister Maria Rosa Leggol (Images:

“I went and said, ‘Sister, Sister, I’m here! What can I do?’ And boy, did she put me to work!”

Nicole Bernardi-Reis was reminiscing about Honduran Sister Maria Rosa Leggol, her friend and mentor—and the subject of her latest film With This Light.

“I had a personal relationship with Sister through my family,” Bernardi-Reis explained. “I’m originally from Honduras, and I immigrated with my family to Chicago. As immigrants often do, we banded together with other Honduran immigrants and formed a kind of community group. That group of Honduran immigrants did a lot of charitable work; and one year, they were collecting cans of food, medical supplies and funds to take to Honduras. They took me along.”

Bernardi-Reis was only eight years old when she first met the legendary Franciscan nun, but she was impressed: “I saw this woman, this spiritual leader, who was just a ball of energy – running around, bossing people around. She stopped and gave me a big hug! It was so comforting and loving.”

That warm hug from Sister Maria Rosa remained in Bernardi-Reis’ memory. Years later, as an adult who enjoyed a successful career in business, she presented herself to Sister Maria Rosa and offered her assistance. She worked alongside the missionary sister, helping to establish new ministries and caring for the immigrant children. As a social impact entrepreneur who understood marketing and business structure, Bernardi-Reis helped Sister Maria Rosa to launch a commercial kitchen, and to maximize the agricultural lands which she owned. She also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the children – a task she especially enjoyed. “They needed a lot of love and attention,” she explained, “from a good listener, who could listen to how their day went.”

Bernardi-Reis talked with Catholic World Report about her first encounter with Sister Maria Rosa, about how later, as an adult, she became personally involved in Sister’s ministry; and finally, how her devotion to the activist Sister led her to tell her life story in a new documentary film.

Bernardi-Reis’ film With This Light tells the story of Sister Maria Rosa Leggol’s many achievements, including her founding of organizations such as Global Brigades, an international nonprofit which helps communities to meet their health and economic goals, and the Rapid Clinic health care system, which now operates over 120 rural clinics across Honduras.

The nun opened her first orphanage in 1964, and established the nonprofit organization Friends of Honduran Children (Sociedad Amigos de los Niños, or SAN) in 1966. Over the years, the work of SAN expanded to include housing, agricultural training, schools, and a hospital. Sister Maria Rosa eventually built more than 500 group homes across Latin America for children who are orphaned, or whose parents are incarcerated or otherwise unable to care for them. Today, SAN is an agent of social transformation, offering Honduras’ most vulnerable children shelter and safety in its homes and youth farm, and then empowering them with education, vocational training, scholarships, and work experience – preparing them to lead self-sufficient lives as adults.

Sister Maria Rosa also launched a nonprofit organization which raises funds for Sister’s programs and works, and which supports projects benefiting the Honduran community. For her effective service through international nonprofits, Sister Maria Rosa has been called the “Mother Teresa of Honduras.” She has been honored with dozens of awards, including two honorary doctorates from Marquette University and the University of St. Francis in Ontario, Canada.

In creating a film which tells the story of Sister Maria Rosa’s 70-year career, director Nicole Bernardi-Reis. the film’s financier/producer Jessica Sarowitz, and their team brought together a digital archive which included videos, photos, and a story featuring Sister on the cover of Life magazine. They contacted people and organizations around the world, learning more about her partnership alliances and her passion for the poor. And two of the children whose lives were transformed by Sister Maria Rosa’s work are featured in With This Light.

Sister Maria Rosa Leggol died of COVID in October 2020, at the age of 93. Her work continues, however; and With This Light shows this by including the stories of two young women currently enrolled in Sister’s programs, 18-year-old Rosa and 14-year-old Maria, showing how Sister’s ministries help them to navigate the uncertainty and dangers of modern Honduras.

One of the exciting results of her involvement with the film, Bernardi-Reis confided, was that she was invited for a personal audience with Pope Francis. “We had the great honor,” she reported, “we were invited to the Vatican and had a private audience with the Holy Father. That blew my mind – I couldn’t believe that that would ever occur!”

Pope Francis, she believed, has a special place in his heart for the children, the marginalized, and the most vulnerable in society. He was very interested in hearing about Sister Maria Rosa – about the impact she had (helping more than 87,000 children) and about the great love which the community has for her. “It would be wonderful,” she urged him, “if one day you could consider beatification!” To her delight, he responded enthusiastically, urging her to get started on the required research right away.

That research has already begun; Nicole Bernardi-Reis confirmed that the information that was brought together to produce the film will be a substantial help in preparing the documentation for Vatican review. Already, they have a historian, a priest, who is working to complete the historical research that is part of the beatification process. They are working to identify a priest who understands the canonical process of beatification, who can serve as postulator for the cause and can guide the committee through the detailed process.

They’re also using the film as a teaching tool within the United Nations on domestic worker rights, as they discuss UN Security Council Resolution 190 and its effect in Central America.

Bernardi-Reis had encouraged Sister Maria Rosa to support the film; but at first she was reluctant to be involved. “Your message and your work with children have been so formative,” Bernardi-Reis told the missionary nun. “It’s just an extension of your ministry – this film will be a modern way of reaching young people. You need to have the story out there – and I believe that young people will connect with it.”

It appears that Bernardi-Reis was correct in encouraging the film. Today, there is a YouTube video connected to the film, by Grammy award-winning singer Carla Morrison. Titled “Everything Was For Love,” the video includes footage of Sister Maria Rosa in her later years. Young people in Latin America are responding enthusiastically to the video, riffing off of it on TikTok.

How to watch With This Light

The film will air August 11-17 in select theaters in only five markets: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and New Orleans. On August 15th, the film will be available for streaming on multiple platforms including Google Play, YouTube, Prime Video, AppleTV+, Vudu and Vimeo. It’s also possible to arrange for screenings of the film at your local parish, school or community event. More details are available at the website,

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Kathy Schiffer 25 Articles
Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.

1 Comment

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. In With This Light, filmmaker remembers the “Mother Teresa of Honduras” – Via Nova

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.