Medical Mission Sister Pat Gootee recently spent two weeks volunteering in McAllen, TX, the site of the U.S.’s largest immigrant detention center. Among the many touching gestures of love she observed were women teaching single fathers how to care for their infants, and nursing mothers feeding hungry babies in the absence of their mothers.
When she entered the Medical Mission Sisters in Duisburg, Germany, in 1999, Sister Dr. Ursula Maier was just shy of her 30th birthday and, by that point, thought she had her career ambitions figured out. She planned to become a surgeon. However, after working with a boy with disabilities and his family, she felt the calling to become a pediatrician.
In 2009, Sr. Ursula went to Holy Family Hospital in Techiman, Ghana. Initially she saw only a few malnourished children, some of whom weighed less than half of their normal weight. Because severely malnourished children cannot handle normal amounts of protein, sodium and high amounts of fat, they are given a specialized formula for 2-7 days to become stabilized.
After “great success” with two of the children, an increasing number of malnourished children began showing up at the hospital. Half of the children suffered from HIV/AIDS, Sister Ursula reported, but unlike their parents’ generation, the children now had access to life-saving drugs. For this reason, people in the community refer to them as “the hope generation”.
Today, Sister Ursula is earning a specialization in neuro-pediatrics back in her home country of Germany. She shares, “Having experienced that God is love, the source of healing and wholeness, my understanding of health and healing has been widened. This has drawn me to live with passion for life in all its aspects and life itself shows me how God is and seems to be. This experience of God’s love leads me to learn to be present to life in a way that fosters healing and life in its fullness.”
Medical Mission Sisters in West Africa are joyfully celebrating 70 years of MMS healing presence in Ghana. their healing ministries have included establishing Holy Family Hospitals, a fund for those made poor as well as a Cooperative Credit Union that now has branches in several towns.
Caption: Students from St. Mary’s Primary School in Odumasi, Ghana, where Sister Colette Beru serves as headmistress.
Raised by devout Catholic parents in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sister Mary Jo Grethel realized as a child that she wanted to devote her life to God, she just wasn’t sure how. The answer came when she was in the 8th grade, after a close friend confided that she wanted to become a missionary. Almost instantly, Sister Mary Jo realized that she wanted to do the same.
Entering the Medical Mission Sisters in 1962 she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, then began her first overseas assignment in Afghanistan, where she served as a nurse-supervisor and then as a program director in a new government nursing school.
Sister Mary Jo reflects, “That was exciting. It was my first mission abroad. My experience was fantastic. I will always hold it dear to my heart.”
After leaving Afghanistan in 1974, Sister began vocation work in Philadelphia. She later served 15 years in Ghana, first at a retreat center and later training catechists, after which she became MMS Vocation Director and served at the national level as Executive Secretary. In 1998, Sister Mary Jo went to Kampala, Uganda, where she would stay until 2017. There she was active in vocation ministry for seven years, taught nursing ethics and was involved with the Christian Caring Community that had an informal school for HIV/AIDS orphans. Today, Sister Mary Jo serves as Integration/Formation Coordinator for Unit North America.
Medical Mission Sister Maigualida (Mai) Riera del Valle, visiting from Venezuela, shared with our Sisters, Associates and staff in Philadelphia what is happening for our Sisters and their neighbors in her home country. Although Sr. Mai’s sometimes trembling voice expressed the emotional toll of seeing her neighbors in Barquisimeto suffer, she also described hope in the children singing in the Latidos Choir she founded and in the powerful experience of seeing neighbors helping neighbors.
Caption: Over 200 children from the barrio have joined the Latidos choir, bringing joy and healing to a neighborhood staggering under devastating hyperinflation and lack of resources.
Born and raised in the North Indian state of Gujarat, Sister Smita Pamar is a fearless activist in the fight against India’s oppressive caste system. Entering the Medical Mission Sisters in 2002, Sister Smita was later assigned to the North Indian city of Hajipur, where she works to empower the Dalits and Mahadalits who occupy India’s lowest caste system. Bravely, she has stood up to high caste authorities, demanding justice and, through her efforts to help local women develop leadership skills, Dalit women have begun to do the same. For instance, when a high caste man beat a low caste named Tuntun Manzhi so badly that Tuntun had to be hospitalized, Sister Smita and outraged local women marched for miles, some bare-footed with babies in their arms, to demand that the village council compensate the injured man.
Even though the council members were visibly furious about having to meet with people from a lower caste, the women refused to be intimidated. Sister Smita recalls feeling “deeply touched” by the sight of Dalit women speaking without fear. Thanks to their courage, the case was won and the council compensated Tuntun.
Sister Smita shares: “The women we work with have become fearless. They raise their voices whenever the need arises. My heart is dancing with joy, and it makes me humble and grateful to God for calling me and calling us.”
Associate Tom Sexton has been on a “search for self” for as long as he can remember, and says that he was a very idealistic young boy. He left his home in New Jersey at age 17 to join the U.S. Marine Corps and, in 1959, he entered the seminary at St. Jerome’s College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Although he left after three years, opting to finish his education at Villanova University instead of entering the major seminary, his experience contributed greatly to his spiritual growth. He later found a job teaching English and Latin at Pitman High School in New Jersey, where he discovered his passion for coaching cross-country. He accepted a job at Cheltenham High School in Philadelphia in 1966, eventually publishing a book about motivating athletes respectfully called Creating a Team Like No Other.
Tom has been married to his wife, Marge, since 1982. They both had children from previous marriages and lovingly embraced their new “blended family.” When the couple lost their beloved son Ron in 2015 they were both devastated, and Tom did everything he could to be a healing presence for Marge. He shares: “I can’t describe what an honor it is to be married to Marge and to know that I am making her daily life more peaceful and manageable.”
As part of her determined effort to transform her grief into a healing presence, Marge made her First Associate Commitment in 2017 and, in October 2018, Tom made his First Commitment. He shares: “I feel God’s love here. I feel very grateful that the Sisters allow me to worship here and to be a part of the Community.”
Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) in Hajipur, Patna, are working to secure education and financial support for seven recently orphaned Dalit children. Sister Smita Parmar says that the children were in shock when she visited them shortly after their parents’ sudden deaths. Collaborating with other local groups, MMS organized a program called “Help to Each Other” to provide the children with food, clothing and other necessities.
Caption: Sister Smita Parmar is pictured second from right in the first row, along with the children and others from their village.
In the early 1970’s, Sister Dolores Kannampuzha came upon a group of police officers in the town of Kottayam in Kerala, South India. Their batons raised, they were clearly intent on beating several local women engaged in prostitution. When Sister Dolores stepped in the way and asked them to beat her instead, the officers walked away.
“The war ended for the time being,” Sister Dolores said. “At that time what came to my mind was the Gospel story of the adulterous woman. The crowd and all those who came to stone her put down their stones and went back one by one. Jesus and the woman left at the end.”
Since entering the Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) in her native Kottayam, in 1952, Sister Dolores has devoted her life to helping the most marginalized members of society, including those incarcerated and those without homes. Since its founding in 1999, she has led the Cancer and AIDS Shelter Society (CASS), helping to spread awareness of AIDS/HIV as well as provide homecare and life-saving treatment. On a recent International Women’s Day, Sister Dolores was honored by the Kottayam YMCA as an outstanding woman in social work. In summer 2018, when South India was hit by a devastating flood, she and other MMS in the community opened their facilities to survivors and helped to distribute food, clean water and other supplies.
There was a time when Associate Dr. Erika Voss wrote secret letters to the Medical Mission Sisters. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, her parents worried about her moving too far away from home. After attending Marquette University and securing a summer job in the local County Hospital, she realized how strongly she wanted to be involved in the medical field. Eventually Dr. Voss’s parents accepted the idea of her leaving home and she entered MMS on her 21st birthday in 1949. She completed medical studies in 1956 at Georgetown University and afterwards served as a physician and surgeon in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Pakistan and Uganda. In the U.S., Erika joined two other MMS in Rossville, Tennessee, helping the Poor People’s Health Council establish their clinic. In 1974 Erika left the official MMS community and, returning to Wisconsin, she spent six years in a rural community that had been without a doctor for twelve years. She later worked in an inner-city clinic which served the poor and volunteered at a medical clinic for those without homes. Now retired, Erika Voss has been an MMS Associate since 1984. Her activities center around helping with projects at a homeless clinic, being a medical consultant at a local food pantry, doing water quality testing in the river and gardening. She shares, “The two greatest gifts I have received in life are my two families: The one I was born into and Medical Mission Sisters.”