Medical Mission Sisters in North America joyfully celebrate the recent commitments of seven Associate members. Making first commitments were Karol Feld, Phil Pryjma, Fran Pelham and Loretta Cody. Carole Roberti, Mary Taylor and Selena Wilson, OP, made commitments for five years. We warmly welcome our new and re-committed Associates who share our Community values and commit themselves to live as a healing presence wherever they live and work.
Caption: Associate Fran Pelham and Sister Joan Foley on the eve of the commitment ceremony.
Click here to read A Further Step Towards Transforming Our World
A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Associate Helen Hyrniuk has always had a desire to help people. “Throughout my life,” she says, “there is a thread of service to others.” After attending an open house at the Philadelphia Police Headquarters in 1971, she developed an interest in the Philadelphia Police Department and worked as a dispatcher from 1973 to 1989.
In 1989, Helen earned a spot in the Philadelphia Police Academy at the age of 34. After four years as an officer, she was promoted to Detective. In 2008, Helen retired from the Philadelphia Police Department, and fondly reminisces, “I was blessed to work with some extraordinary people and formed friendships that would last a lifetime.” After 35 years in various positions with the Police Department, she was ready to embark on the next chapter of her life.
Participating in a faith-sharing group in 2000 had opened Helen’s ears and heart to hear the “whisper of God.” This experience encouraged her to explore her faith further. Reading books and engaging in retreats and various programs were a turning point in deepening her spirituality. Helen, who now works part-time at the Medical Mission Sisters’ Thrift Shop shares, “Working with the Sisters, I am constantly impressed by their dedication and spirit.” A member of our on-campus choir, Helen became an Associate member in 2013. She says, “God has been so good to me throughout my entire life; I cannot forget to thank Him for all the blessings He has given me.”
Medical Mission Sisters in Essen, Germany, recently celebrated the 101st birthday of Sister Gabriela Ehrlich. Born in 1916 in Klagenfurt, Austria, Sister Gabriela completed her medical training in Slovenia and Italy, and before joining the Medical Mission Sisters in 1954, specialized in pediatrics in Bologna, Italy. Sister worked at our Holy Family Hospitals in Mandar, India, and Techiman, Ghana, and helped to facilitate the founding of Attat Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1967. Congratulations to Sister Gabriela, who is our oldest Medical Mission Sister!
Born and raised in the Philippines, Sister Mary Jane Caspillo entered our Community in the early 2000s, making her First Vows in 2005 and her Final Vows in 2013. Her first mission assignment was to San Fernando, a provincial capital in the Philippines, where she developed relationships with farmers and indigenous people living in the mountains. Her healing mission grew out of living with the everyday realities of the people, sharing with them their concerns about family, their livelihood, and their faith life in good times and hard times.
Currently, Sister Mary Jane works in the diocese of Malaybalay in Bukidnon, where she leads our Community and co-workers in mission in responding to relevant issues in the local and neighboring dioceses. She has initiated relief and development programs among indigenous people, including victims of storms, landslides and other calamities. Sister also has served on several of our governmental assemblies and on our global Community’s “Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee.” In addition, she is involved in communications and vocation promotion work for Medical Mission Sisters (MMS).
Sister Mary Jane’s personal contribution towards global solidarity is expressed in her activities with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and the Sisters’ Association of Mindanao. RMP members commit themselves to support the poor farmers’ quest for social justice, freedom, and genuine agrarian reform. She shares, “My connection with the Rural Missionaries helped me discern my response as an MMS member and witness the Gospel values in and with the rural poor, particularly the farmers and the indigenous people.”
Medical Mission Sisters in Venezuela, and our Sisters and Associates around the world, are deeply moved by the situation facing Venezuelans today. Many parents have decided to have one meal a day so their children can have two. Uncertainty and unmet basic needs have led to an increase in crime and violence. Sister Maria Fernanda, a member of our Society Leadership Team, recently visited our Sisters there. She shares, “Our Venezuelan people are suffering, however I experienced that, in the midst of pain, their faith opens them to the pain of others, transcending their own suffering to sow hope and joy in those who feel more oppressed. I think that it is only out of love that we can remain discreetly and lovingly present among those who suffer.”
Caption: A mother and children at our Solidarity Kitchen in Barquisimeto, Venezuela.
German-born Sister Kristina Wolf recalls, “[At the age of 13] I was totally clear about working in and for the Church because I was very much attracted to Jesus and our faith.” Before entering our Community in 2002, she earned degrees in nursing, theology and pastoral psychology. She made her Final Profession of Vows in Germany in 2010.
Sister Kristina’s current ministry is at the Center for Christian Meditation and Spirituality in Frankfurt. The center was established both to help those who are very engaged in their parishes reconnect with their spiritual sources, and to provide an opportunity for spiritual exploration to those who are not “insiders” of the Church. Sister Kristina is involved in individual spiritual guidance and a special group that trains people to guide others in meditation and contemplative prayer.
For a few hours a week, Sister Kristina meets with patients at a psychiatric outpatient clinic, helping them learn to cope better with their daily life difficulties through awareness and meditation. In addition to her spirituality ministry, Sister Kristina is the head of the Council of the Religious in the Diocese of Limburg, accompanies our Associate Members in the Frankfurt area, and has been a member of the Germany District Assembly for over ten years. Last year, Sister Kristina was elected the new Unit Coordinator for Medical Mission Sisters and Associates in Germany.
Born in Kerala, India, in 1969, Sister Regy Augustine Peringarappilly, a lawyer by profession, also works part-time as a social worker. She made her First Vows in 1998 and her Final Vows in 2003. In Kottayam, Kerala, South India, Sister Regy had been involved in mediation, especially in family cases, and has held awareness classes for women’s and children’s rights. Noticing the alarming rate of involvement with the crime among the youth, Sister feels compelled to help, believing that “children are a supremely important national asset.” As a lawyer she can offer her expertise when the juveniles are brought into court and accused of “all sorts of crimes.”
Working with another Medical Mission Sister, Sister Regy helped implement a project for HIV- affected people in Idukki and Kottayam. When participants initially were reluctant to connect with one another, the Sisters organized awareness classes and offered counseling to overcome the stigma of the disease. “The participants developed a feeling of oneness in the group and valued the need for coming together to support each other,” shares Sister Regy. She adds, “As we acted as an instrument of God among them, they became physically and mentally more healthy and capable of maintaining their lives with hope and self-esteem.”
Sister Regy is a determined advocate for women’s rights. She has been designated by the Social Welfare Department of Kerala to provide legal service for distressed women. Since 2013 she has been serving as a “Legal Counselor” in one of the service providing centers, helping women affected by domestic violence. Recently Sister was selected by the district hospital and medical office to serve on two committees which investigate and take action on the complaints of women experiencing sexual harassment in their workplace.
Medical Mission Sisters and Associates are celebrating the 125th birthday of our Foundress, Anna Dengel. Born on March 16, 1892, in Steeg, Austria, Anna was the oldest of nine children. Because her own mother died when she was a young girl, she was especially moved by the unmet health, education and development needs of women, wherever they happened to live. Anna continues to be an inspiration to many and has greatly contributed to the health and hope in people’s lives around the world. Following her vision, and with gratitude to her, we continue to be a healing presence to tens of thousands in need in our wounded world today.
Born in Clarkson, New York, Associate Bonnie Buongiorne’s special bond with horses led her to found Ray of Light Farm in 2000. Ray of Light serves as a special animal-assisted therapy center and large animal rescue farm in East Haddam, Connecticut. “I didn’t know what it was about horses; I simply knew that I felt good when I was in their presence,” Bonnie shares.
The idea for the farm came when Bonnie was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer at the age of 39. “I made a promise to the universe, that if I survived, I’d do something good with the rest of my life.” Bonnie’s connection to Medical Mission Sisters began when she was taught by our Sister Miriam Therese (MT) Winter while attending Hartford Seminary’s Women’s Leadership Institute in 2001. Bonnie lovingly reflects, “The day I learned of the MMS charism of healing presence, I bought the farm!”
An Associate member since 2004, Bonnie continues her work at the farm and is also a licensed massage therapist. She says, “I hope that my hands will be instruments of healing.”