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The “Blessed Flood”

09/13/2018 9:00 am

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On one of her trips to help with relief efforts in Kerala, South India, Sister Dolores Kannampuzha noticed something that struck her. Despite the country’s traditional caste system, she saw rich people and poor people working together and helping one another.

“That is why I say it was a ‘blessed flood,’” Sister Dolores reflected. “Throughout this time the unity of the people in prayer and helping each other was remarkable.”

Unfortunately, it is a blessing that came with a heavy cost. The floods started in July, caused by unusually heavy rainfall during the monsoon season. By the beginning of August, the government decided without warning to open the overflowing dams and the result was catastrophe. Thousands of people had no choice but to flee their homes without enough time to bring anything with them. The water level rose minute by minute, destroying or greatly damaging every building in its path. Of the more than 400 people who lost their lives, many were killed by falling debris and building collapses, while others died because they had no access to food and clean water. It is likely that the death toll would have been in the thousands if not for the prompt response of rescue workers. Thanks to social media, footage of the flood got out quickly and volunteers joined with fishermen, as well as government, military and navy officials to rescue people from flooded areas, register them in relief camps and find supplies.

On their trips to the camps, Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) were touched by the people’s resilience in the face of such great loss and uncertainty.  In Kottayam, Sister Mary Joseph Pullatu observed that people were able to “smile even in their difficulties.” She met a family whose home was nearly destroyed by the waters, and most of their belongings ruined or greatly damaged. Still, the mother proclaimed: “We got our life back. We are healthy. We have everything we need.”

While some Sisters were busy bringing much needed supplies to the camp, others in the Ayushya community welcomed more than 40 people from the camps to take shelter in their facilities. When the government approved the Ayushya Center as an official relief camp the number grew to more than 70. For one week, the people practiced yoga, prayed and received health education, counseling and relaxation therapy.    

Sister Theramma Prayikalam worked in the kitchen at Ayushya, helping to sort out provisions and ensure that enough food was provided. The work was exhausting, but she also found it meaningful. For those few days, she says, God gave her the inner strength to step outside of herself and forget the pain caused by her rheumatoid arthritis. She describes what for her was the most touching moment of the week, when the Sisters, staff, volunteers and their guests shared a meal and sang songs together during an Onam celebration.

Sister Theramma shares: “It was a very meaningful celebration as we reflected on how God’s intervention is being continued today, just as in the Onam legend, through the good will and dedication of people in a time of natural calamity and disaster.”

By the end of August, the water had receded in some areas and the people left to return home and face the daunting challenge of rebuilding their lives. Despite the hardships ahead, many expressed their gratitude to the Sisters and felt they had learned valuable life lessons from MMS and the other families they met during their stay.  

Sister Elizabeth Vadakekara shares: “God’s invitation ‘fear not’ and the promise that ‘I am with you always’ is indeed a big consolation and keeps us going with renewed strength and enthusiasm.”

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Sr. Madeleine Sophie

08/30/2018 1:03 pm

In this monthly blog series, we share tales of faith, ingenuity, and derring-do unearthed from the Medical Mission Sisters North American Archives.  Please join us in re-living the expression of our charism in the early days of our organization.

There’s a phrase that almost all Medical Mission Sisters can be heard to utter from time to time.  When faced with a difficult situation, the sisters often shrug and say, “What to do?” before diving headfirst into problem-solving.    This good-natured acceptance of life’s trials is a trademark characteristic of Medical Mission Sisters.  Today, we share the story of an MMS who embraced this grace while interned in a German prison camp during World War II.

Sr. Madeleine Sophie, born Louise DuVally, entered the Society in 1936.  The 36-year-old from Providence, Rhode Island, worked as a boarding school nurse and housemother before joining the Medical Mission Sisters.  With this background, she was assigned to be postulant mistress in the MMS house in Osterly, England in 1938.  Within a year of moving to England, she was sent to Heerlen, Netherlands, to assist with the foundation of the Society there.

In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands.  Life in an occupied country grew increasingly tenuous for Sr. Madeleine Sophie.  At one point, she was given the opportunity to return to the United States through the services of the American consulate.  She turned down the chance, unwilling to leave Sr. Eleonore Lippits, who was the only other professed sister in the house.  In September 1942, Sr. Madeleine Sophie found herself interned as an enemy alien in a concentration camp in Amersfoort.

Amersfoort served as a transit camp, and Sr. Madeleine Sophie was interned there for six weeks.  In her letters, Sister was optimistic and reassuring, even going so far as to make jokes about her circumstances. In a letter from October 23 she quipped, “We can do our laundry now.  You would laugh if you could see the array of hankies and underwear spread out over the barbed wire.”

In early November, Sister learned that she would be transferred to an internment camp in Liebenau, Germany.  “I am so glad we are leaving here,” she confided to Sr. Eleonore.  “This is a place of horrors.  One sees much, hears much and feels it all around one and one really learns the wretchedness of hate and fear but horrible stories and talking about it doesn’t help, one can only hold on in faith knowing God sees and it will all come to an end sometime.”

At Liebenau, Sister was relieved to find a much different camp.  Whereas she was one of the only Catholic sisters in Amersfoort, in Liebenau she was surrounded by religious men and women, with a chapel and the opportunity to celebrate mass twice a day.   She tended the sick, helped serve meals, and taught English to the other internees.  “I offer this for all good things for you and our Society,” she wrote to Sr. Eleonore.  “I can be a real missionary here with God’s help and only pray that I am and keep close to God in any circumstances.”

Sr. Madeleine Sophie was released from Liebenau in a prisoner exchange with Germany in January 1945.  She sailed home on the Swedish ship M.S. Gripsholm, arriving on February 21.  The sisters in Philadelphia were happy to see her again – but not as thrilled as she was to be home!

 Sr. Madeleine Sophie DuVally’s experience during World War II is an example of how the MMS spirit can be expressed in even the most trying situations.  As she wrote to Sr. Eleanor in November 1942:

“I find everything can be put to good use for God…I do not know when I may be able to come home, but if everyone prays for me, I shall try to be a good Medical Mission Sister.”

 

Submitted by Jenna Olszak, Archivist

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New Jerusalem

08/30/2018 9:42 am
August 30, 2018

At 23 years old, Calvin is the youngest member at New Jerusalem Now, an addiction recovery program in Philadelphia. The child of Cambodian immigrants, he doesn’t flinch as he recounts his parents’ story of standing in an “execution line” at a concentration camp. They don’t understand, he says, why he can’t overcome his drug addiction, just as they overcame their own struggle.

 
For the 30 or so of those recovering from addiction living at New Jerusalem, it’s just not that simple. Sister Margaret McKenna compares addiction to a desert. In her words, either “purification happens or you lose your life.” Many people in recovery don’t get it right on their first try, of course, and Sister Margaret accepts that. The good news, though, is that they have a better chance in her program. Studies have shown that programs like New Jerusalem which are founded on the concept of “addicts helping addicts” are more successful in preventing relapse than more traditional outpatient treatment.
 
Sister Margaret was introduced to this model for recovery after moving to North Philadelphia in 1989. She met Reverend Henry T. Wells who was running One Day at a Time, a program for those in recovery, and then decided to establish a program for repeat relapsers, a population that One Day at a Time wasn’t supporting.
 
Nearly 30 years later, Sister Margaret’s program, New Jerusalem, encompasses four houses, and a community garden that is spread out over a dozen vacant lots, tended to over the years by the hundreds of members who have come and gone and, in some cases, come back again. Members of New Jerusalem live in self-sufficient houses, pooling their wages and SNAP benefits, and taking on leadership roles. Don, who is a returning member and professional sous chef from Baltimore, finds joy and a sense of purpose in his role as kitchen coordinator for the entry-level men’s house, where he prepares three meals a day for residents.“It doesn’t feel like a facility, it feels like a second home,” Don shares. “A lot of people are re-discovering themselves; it’s eye-opening. It can be like looking at your own reflection in the mirror.”
 
Of course, there’s something else that sets New Jerusalem apart from other treatment programs- the Medical Mission Sister who founded it. New members soon learn about Sister Margaret’s passion for social justice activism. She takes the New Jerusalem residents out to marches, rallies and other political events.
 
Sister Margaret links political action to the overall recovery process, explaining: “It’s a very important dimension of human and spiritual life to be concerned about others and to root that in something that’s deeply interior to you.”
 
Indeed, a key part of recovery is helping members discover the selves they had previously masked with drugs and alcohol. At New Jerusalem, people have learned to read, have earned their GEDs, and gone on their first camping trip.
 
“The nature of our program is to embrace life and make it right,” Sister Margaret explains. “Getting a taste of a good, authentic life, of mutual support. We try to enhance life for others while advancing our own understanding in the process.”
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Reflections on Art and Spirituality

08/30/2018 9:32 am

“Freedom,” by Karol Feld, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 16, 2018

As a child, Sister Angelika Kollacks moved from Canada to Austria, and then from Austria to Germany. Music and singing were the only constants in her life as she learned to speak new languages and acclimate herself to new cultures. In many ways, music was a sort of therapy for her, a way of reconnecting with herself when everything else was foreign and confusing.  Her passion in life now is to share that same form of healing with others.

In Sister Angelika’s therapy practice, clients might experience one of several healing techniques involving the use of sound, like the “sound cradle,” for example. In this experience, the client lies on their back in what looks like a canoe. On each side of the “canoe” is a monochord with ten strings that are played to elicit the sensation of being held, inducing images and leading to a spiritual experience of being loved and held in God’s hand. 

“Music touches us on a deep level and evokes memories, emotions and different worlds,” Sister Angelika explains. “It helps us to connect with the spiritual ground in ourselves, with the cosmos, with God.” She describes what she does as soul work, helping people to discover their own personal “tone” and express inner thoughts and feelings that would be next to impossible to describe with words. 

Sister Angelika reflects: “I rely on God being present in every person, and I trust in the healing power inside everyone.”

Like music, visual art also offers a mode by which to transmit our innermost thoughts into something tangible. In other words, Sister Eunice Cudzewicz explains, an artist tries to make the invisible become visible.

A graphic artist, Sister Eunice began exploring her talent as a young Sister when she was asked to do “paste-ups,” a method of page design that involves literally cutting and pasting words and images onto a poster. She looks back on those “olden days” with a chuckle, recalling how she sat at a table with a glue pot, a ruler and a T-square, making sure everything was as straight as possible.

“In those days you had to have an eagle eye,” she says.

Over the years, her work continued to evolve as she produced drawings and other creative images for various publications. She uses colors and shapes to create visualizations of love, hope and sorrow. When people ask her about the meaning of a given piece of her art – for instance, someone may ask “why did you use the color blue? What does blue mean?” – she will respond with a question of her own: “well, what does blue mean to you?” The way that Sister Eunice sees it, the meaning is always subjective – art is meant to give the viewer an insight into their own experience more so than that of the artist.

Sister Eunice shares: “I am of the opinion that the liturgy work I do, even [for our MMS publications], they’re all connected to spirituality- they are work that comes from your heart, your soul, that communicates on a level that’s deeper than the image or the words on a piece of paper.” 

 

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“Empathy is a Character Trait”

08/30/2018 9:04 am
May 24, 2018
 
Tucked away in a back office of our North American Headquarters in Philadelphia, Sister Teresita Hinnegan is hard at work on a documentary film project that is perhaps the culmination of her years of work to fight human trafficking. At 90 years old, she may not have as much of a spring in her step as she did in her younger days, but her “fire and flame” for gender equality burns as fiercely as ever. It is her passion that drives her to continue raising awareness about the plight of women around the world.

On the surface, she and her film-making partner, Camille Whitsett, might not seem to have much in common. Now a specialist in sexual trauma for the Community Health and Rehabilitation Facility, Camille prides herself on the scrappy streak she inherited from growing up in rough-and-tumble North Philadelphia. The two women’s worldviews inevitably clash from time to time, but they make a point to always hear each other out when they disagree. From behind their laptop screens, they laugh and banter through what can at times be a very tedious research process.

Interestingly, they have wildly different stories of how they became involved in the fight to end violence and trafficking. After retiring from a faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Sister Teresita helped to co-found Dawn’s Place, a center for trafficked women, in 2007. During that same year, she also opened the Center for the Empowerment of Women in Philadelphia. Since then, she has been an active voice in the struggle for human rights.

 Meanwhile, Camille was living in Italy. One day as she strolled through a piazza, waiting for a friend to return from running errands, she noticed a strange man following her. When he finally approached her and began speaking to her in Italian, she noticed that he had a foreign accent. She would later find out that the man was from Albania, a well-known source country for human trafficking, and that he lived in a house with two foreign girls who were undocumented. Even without that piece of information, her gut was telling her that something wasn’t right, that she needed to get away from this strange man.

He knows I’m here by myself, she thought. Luckily, just as she noticed that the man was not alone, her friend finally appeared. She could never confirm for sure that the strange man was involved in trafficking, but the mere possibility that she may have had a brush with such a terrible fate was enough to leave an indelible impact on Camille. When she returned to the United States, she began volunteering at Dawn’s Place and was introduced to Sister Teresita at a local Salvation Army.

Over the last five years, they have worked together on various projects like training hospital workers to recognize signs that a patient has been trafficked. The idea to create a documentary came about last year when Sister Teresita was contacted by a friend who works in production. After reading countless books and articles, she and Camille are now preparing to interview men involved in anti-violence programs.


Sister Teresita explains: “At the present time we’re looking at causes- the demand not only for prostitution, but also the relationships between women and men, the cultural context, how men dominate women. When boys grow up, what happens to them? How are they conditioned by culture, by history?”

Through these interviews, they hope to learn what information is most effective in counteracting the messages that teach young boys to be violent from an early age.

“Empathy is a character trait,” Camille reflects. “People aren’t born to be angry and nasty and malicious toward each other. It’s all learned.”
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Meet Associate Bonnie Templeton!

08/30/2018 8:59 am
May 3, 2018

When a Medical Mission Sister (MMS) invited Bonnie Templeton to a Sunday liturgy back in the late 60’s, she couldn’t believe her ears when, as she drove up to the building, she heard bongo drums, guitars and tambourines.

“It wasn’t like any music I’d heard in a church before,” Bonnie said. “I felt right at home and I’ll never forget that.”

Life soon took Bonnie all around the country. A native of Northeast Philadelphia, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing and started working for the Air Force, where she met her husband, Monty. Bonnie ultimately retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1995, having served as a civilian nurse in a total of eight states and, for a little while, in England. After retirement she spent ten years establishing and promoting satellite hospices in Montana and South Carolina.

Throughout her experiences, Bonnie never lost the connection she felt with MMS. As a nurse, she identified even more strongly with the Sisters she’d met while volunteering at MMS in high school, helping to pack medicines to ship overseas.

“MMS were in my backyard,” she said. “I felt like I’ve always been a part of their landscape. I’ve always thought about the beautiful liturgies I was exposed to.” No matter where she went, she kept copies of MMS music with her. She has always been especially fond of “Joy is Like the Rain” by Sister Miriam Therese Winter.

While Bonnie and her husband were visiting in Philadelphia in 2014, she took him to the MMS headquarters. There she ran into Loretta Whalen, who told her about the Associate membership program she had helped to start. That conversation with Loretta never left the back of Bonnie’s mind. In fact, her curiosity grew stronger, so she started researching Associate membership and even attended an Associate commitment ceremony. Her husband, who was a member of the Vincent de Paul Society that offers services to those in need, was also considering becoming an Associate before he passed away in 2016.

Bonnie’s grandchildren, who live in Montana and Colorado, have been a consistent source of joy in Bonnie’s life, particularly as she grieved the loss of her husband. She also has been grateful for the support offered by our Sisters and Associates over the past two years. She grew particularly close to Associate Jane Jones. Bonnie says she wouldn’t dream of missing a zoom meeting, when she and Associates from around the country share on-line with each other about their faith and the paths they are taking in life, supporting and affirming each other in their personal journeys. Bonnie reflects: “You don’t always have to be doing something, but just by your very presence you can be available to [someone] during a very difficult time.”
In just a few days, Bonnie will make her first Associate commitment on May 6. Having grown up so close to Medical Mission Sisters, she feels as if she is now coming home. As an incoming Associate, Bonnie looks forward to “integrating the charism of healing presence more deeply into my life, embracing it a little more deeply and doing more self-examination as to how I’m living that out in my everyday life. I’m hoping to live the healing presence more fully as a mother, a grandmother, a sister-in-law, a friend. 

Bonnie currently lives in her husband’s home state of South Carolina. She serves as a eucharistic minister for St. John the Beloved, taking communion to Catholic hospital patients. Three times each month, she volunteers as a “docente,” or tour guide, who explains the origins of monastic life at Mepkin Abbey.
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Reflections on Eco-Spirituality

08/30/2018 8:54 am

From left to right: Medical Mission Sisters Seema Bhalrai, Jeanette McDermott and Pauline Sadiq

 April 20, 2018

When Sister Jeanette McDermott speaks of eco-spirituality, her thoughts gracefully dance from theological perspectives of the intellect to body memories of running down the grassy slopes of her childhood farm, gathering in the cows for milking. Her connection to the earth was cultivated by her father who would show his children a clump of clover he pulled from the ground: the rich soil, the earthworm who cleanses and aerates the dirt, the leaves that feed the cows. Sister Jeanette remembers the symbiotic relationship her family had with the cows, her appreciation for an early morning barn, warmed by the bodies of the cows, who needed to deliver their milk. “The connection with Earth is in my blood,” she says, and then she goes on to describe her understanding of the ongoing evolution of God, of our human evolution as God’s created, and how we are all one – humans, animals, plants, water. We are “sitting on the edge of the mystery,” Jeanette says, “if we don’t stay aware, we miss it.”

Around the globe, our Sisters and Associates of all ethnicities, ages and backgrounds are bound together by their connection with the Earth that sustains us. Like Sister Jeanette from North America, Sister Pauline Sadiq also grew up on a farm. Some of her fondest childhood memories are of her contact with Mother Earth – crawling around in the clay, playing in it and using it to make toys. In her native Sindh, Pakistan, being a farmer’s daughter wasn’t something that people thought she should be proud of – it was associated with poverty. But now she feels pride when she remembers her father walking across the clay with bare feet to bring home fresh, organic vegetables. His connection to Mother Earth made him a gracious, peaceful person and Sister Pauline is proud that he passed his eco-spirituality on to her.

Sister Pauline reflects: “It is part of my heritage. It flows in my blood stream and I carry it in my being. I am grateful to our Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) for making me aware, affirming my roots and enlightening my spirit with the values and richness of being the daughter of a farmer. It means a lot to me indeed!”

Reflecting on the “special purpose” God has in placing the precious gift of Mother Earth in the hands of its living creatures, Sister Seema Bhalrai of South India suggested some simple ways that we can fulfill our purpose in an age when our planet is suffering more abuse than ever before. Aside from perhaps planting more trees or taking time to educate others, we can also help by merely changing some of our daily habits – we can drive a little less and take more walks, use a little less water, turn off the air conditioner and open a window instead. By respecting Mother Earth, we also show respect to the other living creatures living here in communion with us.

Sister Seema shares: “God extends the work of creation to humankind and makes them co-creators. The Earth belongs to God, however, God created the land for created beings. He kept human beings as stewards so that while using and taking care of the land, human beings may maintain the relationship with one another, with nature, and with God, and thus glorify God.”
 
“To be present in nature is to stand in sacred space, to touch the holy, and to be connected to God. The experience of awakening to Earth as sacred ground, of encountering God’s presence in nature, of learning about creation spirituality, the new cosmology and the universe story has led us to understand Earth, our relationship to Earth, and to God in new ways.”   –Core Aspects of MMS Spirituality
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Read About Our Sisters’ Trip to the UN

08/30/2018 8:50 am
April 6, 2018
At the United Nation’s 62nd Commission on the Status of Women in March, Medical Mission Sisters were greeted with a message of resilience in the face of great odds. It was a message that our Sisters and Associates, many of whom have witnessed the suffering and discrimination inflicted on women across the world, can understand well.
     
     Sister Celine Paramundayil, who serves as our United Nations representative, was a moderator for one of the conference events. She was joined by Sisters Evelyne Mballa, Mary Jo Grethel, Frankie Vaughan, Maria Hornung and Immaculate Tusingwire, who is visiting the United States from her native East Africa. Speaking at one of the workshops with Sister Celine, Sister Maria had the opportunity to share insights from her years of teaching and engaging in interfaith dialogue.
     
     Addressing the audience, Sister Maria said, “I have experienced that resilience is applying a person’s inner strength to face crises, change, attacks; it is the backbone of empowerment.”
     
      The conference was dedicated to the empowerment of rural women and girls. With more than 4,000 participants from six continents, the stories shared by many of the women from around the world were not pleasant ones: they told stories of rape, trafficking, incest and other forms of unimaginable abuse.
     
     Their stories struck a nerve for Sister Immaculate and initially she wasn’t sure why. She hadn’t even been aware that some of these problems existed in the modern world. Nonetheless, she connected their experiences with the sexism and misogyny that she saw growing up in her own culture. While women in her culture are still expected to be subservient to men, things were even worse when she was a child. Women were expected to kneel when greeting men, even men younger than themselves, and in some cases they did not even eat the same foods as men- it was  considered taboo for women to eat chickens or eggs.
     
     “Everyone took it as culture, no one thought of it as oppressive because culture was all a good thing,” she recalls. “No one thinks of it as oppressive because respect is a good thing, but no one questions why only women should be respectful and not respected.”
     
     For years, she had second-guessed herself, wondering why she wanted so badly to be a voice for women’s issues. Was it just her ego that was driving her passion for female empowerment? Listening to the stories at the conference, she found the validation she had been searching for.
     
     Sister Immaculate shares,”God’s answer for me was at the UN- ‘Imma, you are not alone and you are not wrong, things are not alright with women as they seem to be from the outside.’ I realized there were many women more passionate than I am and they did not regret their passion. It was touching, relieving and hopeful.”
     
     While the problems faced across the world are complex, the overall message of the conference was one of unity. On the second day of the conference Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, proudly declared himself a feminist and announced the radical steps he is taking to achieve gender equity in the UN’s leadership. Much work remains to be done to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of achieving global gender equality by 2030, but the Sisters recall feeling heartened by how many people are showing commitment to the fight. If people continue spreading the message at the grassroots level, Sister Immaculate observed, only then will we be closer to achieving “the dream.”
     
     Sister Evelyne reflected on the hope she feels for the potential she sees in young people to transform their world, sharing “I have been touched by the youth attending the CSW 62, their generosity, their enthusiasm and their knowledge of international relations and global strategic issues.”

 

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Mission Changes, But It Never Ends

08/23/2018 1:56 am
This story was originally featured in our Healing Presence e-newsletter. 
For a Medical Mission Sister, retirement is a vague concept-even our Sisters in their eighties and nineties can’t sit still for too long. When missions end, they carve out new ways to be a healing presence in the world. Sisters Patrice McSweeney and Patricia Gootee are two Sisters who, after decades of cherished missions in South America, continue to find ways to be fire and flame.
 

Sister Patrice McSweeney engages playfully with a child of one of her patients in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, in 1987.

Sister Patrice McSweeney says she will never forget the day her youth ended. She was 60 years old, give or take a few years. As she drove into the barrio where she was working in Venezuela, the local children came running up yelling “Grandma! Grandma!” She scoffed at the idea but took a quick look in the mirror. “Goodness,” she thought, “Those kids are right!”
 
“That was my introduction to old age,” she recalls with a chuckle. Sister Patrice is in her 80’s now, and lives at our North American Headquarters, where she volunteers each week in the Mission Development Center. She walks with a cane, and her voice is soft, but it is worth leaning in to listen to what she has to say, often something funny.
 
Maybe Sister Patrice’s good humor is a natural part of her personality, or perhaps the result of contentment with a life well-lived. Born to American parents in Colombia, Sister Patrice lived in Venezuela as a young girl. Years later, after making her Final Vows as a Medical Mission Sister, Mother Anna Dengel called her aside. She was still trying to decide to which country Sister Patrice would go.
 
“Is there any reason you would not want to return to Venezuela?” Mother Dengel asked her. Sister Patrice stood as stiff as a board and answered with a simple “no.” On the inside, however, she says, “I was doing cartwheels!”
 
Sister Patrice would spend nearly 40 years in Venezuela, ministering as a rural health nurse and doing parish work. If she was sad when she left her mission she doesn’t say so. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if she had been.

Sister Patricia Gootee changes the tire on her car in Peru in this photo from 1995.

 
It took Sister Pat Gootee more than a year to get over the blues she felt after returning to the U.S. from more than 40 years of mission in Peru. Over time, her sadness became overshadowed by a feeling of joy. A trained nurse, Sister Pat’s legacy in Peru includes helping to end a smallpox epidemic that had periodically plagued villages throughout
the Caylloma province since the 17th century, and establishing the Anna Dengel Center, which serves preschool children and empowers local women.  She also co-founded the Community of Families and Comprehensive Rehabilitation (COHARI), which serves primarily low-income children suffering from cerebral palsy. When Sister Pat first arrived in the area, children ran away in horror – the only women with white skin and blue eyes they had ever seen were the witches in their story books. By the time she left, however, she had inherited a multitude of godchildren, many of whom still keep in contact with her.
 
Currently, Sister Pat lives in Camden, NJ, where she visits elderly people who live alone, all but forgotten by their busy relatives. She hopes to soon join an ongoing project working with Spanish-speaking people, perhaps something related to health.
 
“In Spanish we don’t say ‘retirement,’ we say ‘jubilación,'” said Sister Pat Gootee. “That means ‘a celebration.’ You have arrived at the point where you’ve been there, done that and you turn over what you have done to the younger people who are going to carry on what you have been doing doing it the same or better than what was done by me. That’s something to be joyful about, not something to be sad about.”
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Pressing for a Safer Future

08/16/2018 2:15 pm

 

 In a particularly memorable campaign led by Heeding God’s Call, several MMS, including some of our most elderly Sisters, helped to rally and hang t-shirts depicting victims of gun violence along Pine Road in Fox Chase.

June 13, 2018
 
Only three months had passed since her son’s death, but Associate Marge Sexton felt hopeful when she walked into a Philadelphia gun shop in March 2015. She stood in front of the counter just as her son Ron had three months earlier when he purchased the gun that he later used to take his own life.
 
She thought of this visit as an “unusual ritual,” something she felt in her soul that she needed to do as part of her healing journey. Instead of buying a gun, she read a heartfelt letter explaining how a routine and perfectly legal purchase had nevertheless turned her life upside down.
 
Accompanied by her husband, she read to everyone in earshot: “I am just another weary mom whose life has been upended by the tragic convergence of the easy availability of guns and Ron’s own depression that would cause him to come in here and walk out with a handgun, which is the worst thing imaginable.”
 
After she finished, she and her husband embraced each other in the parking lot and, together, they cried. Sometime later, Marge learned that another young man visited that same gun shop, purchased a gun just as her son had, and then walked out back to the shooting range and took his own life.
 
Tragic stories like these are what drive Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) and Associates to do their part in our nation’s battle to stop the epidemic of gun-related deaths and injuries. Of the 96 Americans who are shot and killed each day, seven are children and teens. Sister Vera Sheenan knows all too well the pain those children’s deaths inflict on families. In 1993, she was assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Germantown, Philadelphia, where visiting mothers who lost children to stray bullets became a routine part of her mission. At one point, a ceremony was held in Center of the Park, where a tree was planted in honor of children who had died.
 
She recalls one experience that especially unnerved her: Meeting a mother who had already lost a son and Iater watched her four-year-old daughter suffer after a gunshot wound to the leg.
 
“Four-year-olds have these skinny little legs,” Sister Vera said, placing her thumb and index finger together in the shape of a small circle. “That affected me very deeply.”
 
Sister Vera left Germantown in 2006, but the images of those mothers’ pained faces stayed with her. It wasn’t long before she took action, joining other MMS in calling local lawmakers about safe gun legislation. They also protested with members of Heeding God’s Call, an interfaith grassroots movement to stop gun violence, outside of a local gun shop that was known to sell to “straw buyers” who then sold the purchased guns illegally. The link between this practice and the deaths of children in places like Germantown was not lost on Sister Vera. Eventually the picketing worked and the store stopped the practice, though it remains an all too common occurrence in the U.S. 
 
Medical Mission Sisters and Associates continue their efforts to shed light and raise awareness on the toll of gun violence in our communities.  They are deeply aware that most at risk are the neighborhoods who are particularly vulnerable due to poverty and disempowerment and all its implications.  “This degree of gun violence just doesn’t exist in other parts of the world,” says Sister Barbara Ann Brigham, who served for many years in Peru and India. “[In the U.S.], somehow poverty is just not the same. You can be poor and you can maybe get a gun or get someone to buy it. In other places poor people couldn’t dream of getting a gun.”
 
Understanding that gun legislation is a complicated, complex issue, MMS act with passion and compassion, in a living hopefulness that the world can be a different place, more whole, more loving.
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