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SERMON IN A SMILE

Updated: Apr 27, 2021

Fruitland’s Jackelyn Monserrat brought healing to others, preaching the gospel with her smile.


The following story appeared in the April 16 Idaho Catholic Register.

Bishop Peter Christensen gives the Sacrament of Confirmation to Jackelyn Monserrat as Father Camilo García, pastor at Corpus Christi Parish in Fruitland, assists. (Photo courtesy Núñez family)


by Vero Gutiérrez

Staff Writer


FRUITLAND – One day, Jackelyn Monserrat was a perfectly happy and healthy 12-year-old. The next day, she could not speak or move. Over the course of the next three years, even though she could not speak and much of her body was motionless, she never stopped preaching the gospel with a splendid smile that did not fade despite her severe pain.


Jackelyn’s parents, José Israel and Laura Adriana Núñez, came from Mexico to live in Fruitland in 2002, where José Israel got a job at an onion packing plant. Laura worked in the home, dedicated to raising her three children: Jackelyn, Scarlet and Brandon.


The Núñez family is Catholic, but only Laura attended Mass every Sunday. Her husband, José Israel, said Sunday needed to be his day off, spending many Sundays playing soccer.


Their eldest daughter Jackelyn was born on June 16, 2004. She and her siblings witnessed their parents’ Church wedding in 2016.


Jackelyn’s parents affirm that she was always a healthy girl, but in January 2017 when she was 12, she suddenly became ill, vomiting with a high fever. Her parents took her to the emergency room, but after several tests, doctors found nothing, giving her Tylenol to bring down the fever.


One day after her visit to the hospital, Jackelyn’s father called her from work to ask her how she was feeling. “I am fine, dad, I am feeling fine,” she said. Those were the last words José Israel heard from his daughter.


On the same day, while her aunt was preparing her favorite food, Jackelyn began to have difficulty breathing. She lost consciousness. Her mother tried to revive her while her dad rushed her to the hospital.




She became comatose and her blood was not circulating properly. An infection in her blood caused severe damage to her skin.


The family temporarily relocated to Utah in search of more medical help. There, they were told that Jackelyn’s lungs had considerable damage and because her skin was badly damaged, she would need many surgeries. The doctors did not think she would be able to survive the ordeal.


Most difficult after the first surgery, was seeing her wounds and how parts of her skin had to be removed. “The doctors said that she could not hear, and she did not feel. However, it was very hard not being able to do anything to help her,” José Israel said.


They performed five more surgeries to take the skin off her back to replace severely damaged skin on her arms and legs. She was then returned to a Boise hospital.


It was during this difficult trial that the entire family turned their eyes to God, seeking help for Jackelyn. “Long days in the hospital could be endured only by constant prayer and reading the Bible, to gain strength and continue,” José Israel said.


As if that wasn’t enough, Jackelyn’s kidneys began to fail. But even during these trying times, Jackelyn was able to prepare herself to receive Confirmation at her parish, Corpus Christi in Fruitland. Not strong enough to receive Confirmation with her class members, Bishop Peter Christensen came to the hospital to confirm her.


For José Israel and Laura, the experience made them stronger in their faith. God, to whom they prayed at dawn and all day long, became their closest friend, they said.

They asked God to put everything in His hands.


The illness and the surgeries eventually resulted in the loss of Jackelyn’s beautiful smile. “When I asked the doctors if she would smile again, they definitely said she would not,” Laura said. “Then I asked God to allow me to see that smile again, even if only in a dream. God’s answer came very soon because without waiting one day she not only smiled, but laughed out loud, and then she didn’t stop laughing,” Laura said. “I just told the Lord how great He was, giving me more than I asked for.”



From that point on, communication with Jackelyn was through her smile and her ability to open and close her eyes.


Eventually, Jakelyn was able to have her endotracheal tube removed, which made it possible for her to come home in November 2017 after ten months in the hospital.


At home they continued with their care. Those were the best moments, Laura said, because they were able to spend time together as a family. Jackelyn’s smile was always on her face as she kept her physical therapy going, without giving up. She even managed to go back to school in her wheelchair and with some assistance.


However, eventually her kidney condition worsened, and she had to return to the Utah hospital for dialysis. After two months, the doctors told José Israel and Laura that they had decided to withdraw Jackelyn’s dialysis to allow her to spend her remaining days at home.


“I just left the office crying and went to the chapel,” Laura said.


The nursing staff that Jackelyn had won over with her smile and her story said goodbye to her, sharing their favorite memories about her with the family. Unfortunately, Jackelyn, heavily sedated, was not able to witness the farewell.


Back at home, Jackelyn received visits from many people. Many people said they came to see that smile that gave them strength and reminded them that their problems were minor compared to what Jackelyn was experiencing.


Laura’s prayers for her daughter intensified because she knew she was suffering. “I asked God to give me a sign that she will be fine.” By that time, Laura had not opened her eyes for some time and the family was told that her eyes would likely not open again. But, at the moment of Laura’s prayer, Jackelyn opened her eyes. “She gave my husband and me a kiss and closed her eyes again.” It was her way of confirming that she was going to be fine. Jackelyn passed away a few days later on Oct. 29, 2019. “It was very strange because I had such a great pain, but there was also a deep peace because I knew her pain had stopped,” Laura said. “ My heart is in pieces, and I will always miss her, but I know that she will be fine.”


Her family dressed her in her quinceañera dress for her funeral.


For José Israel, the grief experience was different than Laura’s. “I had a very great faith in God and I hoped that she would heal, so morally and spiritually, I fell to the ground. I felt disappointed and did not know what to do,” he said.


The answer for him came one day while he was reading the Gospel of John, when Peter answers a question from Jesus with, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)


José Israel said that since Jackelyn’s passing he often receives answers to what he is asking in a reading or from another person. “Now I ask God for eternal life. My journey now is to get where she is,” he said. “I am helping in the parish, and I try to be a better person every day like my daughter was.”



For Jackelyn, faith was not difficult. “Jackelyn was different. Ever since she was little, she was very obedient,” Laura said. “She was always worried about others and always helped children who had problems at school. She wanted to study to become a doctor and take care of us,” Laura said.


While she may not have become a doctor, “in her illness, she not only brought healing to us but also to the people who knew her because she preached with her smile,” Laura said. On the day of her funeral, the therapists and nurses formed an honor guard. “She won everyone’s heart.”


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