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Living a Community Life in a Poor Area of Philadelphia

Establishing a new community among the inner-city poor is one of hundreds of ways in which Medical Mission Sisters and our Associates around the world try to be a healing presence to others today.

In May, 2009, four of our Sisters established a community in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. This poor neighborhood is in Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District, which has one of the highest rates of hunger in the U.S. The need for food there has increased 66% over the past two years, and the unemployment rate is very high.

Three of our Sisters in Kensington – Barbara Ann Brigham, Patrice McSweeney, and Juanita Ortega – spent many years in South America and are fluent in Spanish. They chose this area partly because Hispanic people make up 56% of the parish neighborhood. The fourth, Sister Goretti Poovathunkal, is from India. Each one has found a special area of ministry.

Sister Barbara Ann is a trainer for the Alternatives to Violence project programs, which are held in the Visitation Parish Center, among Hispanic men at Graterford State Prison, and at New Jerusalem Now for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Sister Patrice McSweeney visits the home-bound, offering companionship and solace. She also has acted as an interpreter for a social worker and Hispanic woman at a shelter for trafficked women.

Education has always been important for Sister Juanita Ortega, who established the first university nursing program in Venezuela. She has been teaching classes in English as a Second Language. In addition, she has a special talent with sewing, and helps to tailor and alter clothes.

Having recently returned from her native India, Sister Goretti Poovathunkal has resumed her mission at New Jerusalem Now, a residential recovery program in North Philadelphia where she served from 2003-2008. Sister Goretti enjoys accompanying the residents in community service, preparing meals, supervising food distribution in the neighborhood, and participating in justice and peace campaigns.

Although our Sisters still call themselves the “new kids on the block,” they have made many new friends and network with other like-minded groups working for the same goals of justice and healing for all.

May 1, 2011