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MMS in India Help to Launch “Help to Each Other”

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. 

Sister Dolores Kannampuzha

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.

Associate Dr. Erika Voss

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.”

Recovering from the Kerala Flood

Medical Mission Sisters in South India are assisting relief efforts at flood camps in Kerala, India. They were able to access emergency funding from the Hilton Fund for Sisters, and went to the camps last week, helping in any way they could with the immediate needs of flood survivors, such as purchasing commodes for two paralyzed persons, and offering a healing presence to the families they visited.

Sister Angelika Kollacks

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 and they are still her passion today. After entering the Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) in Essen, West Germany, in 1972, she studied music and gestalt-therapy. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1992, Sister Angelika went to Berlin with Sr. Michaela Bank to establish a counselling center to help lower-income people improve their level of wellness. She also worked as a music therapist for local women and, in 1995, she graduated with distinction from the Fritz-Perls Institute in Music and Gestalt Therapy.

Today, Sister Angelika has her own music therapy practice, where clients might experience one of several healing techniques involving the use of sound, like lying down in what looks like a canoe, which has ten strings on each side that are played to elicit the sensation of being held.

“I rely on God being present in every person, and I trust in the healing power inside everyone,” Sister Angelika shares. “Music touches us on a deep level and evokes memories, emotions and different worlds. It helps us to connect with the spiritual ground in ourselves, with the cosmos, with God.”

 

Sister Evelyne-Mathilde Mballa

A native of Cameroon, Sister Evelyne-Mathilde Mballa was a healing presence long before she became a Medical Mission Sister (MMS). She earned social work degrees in Cameroon and later in France, where she eventually became a citizen. Through her positions with various governmental and nongovernmental agencies Sister Evelyne has worked with marginalized groups including migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, indebted individuals and families and HIV-positive pregnant women. She has also worked in child protection services and with those suffering from physical and mental disabilities.

When she first encountered Medical Mission Sisters in Ghana, their mission of being a healing presence resonated strongly with Sister Evelyne. She reached out to our Community, moved to the United States and joyfully made her First Profession of Vows in 2017. Today, Sister Evelyne is engaged in a “ministry of presence” in Camden, N.J., where she is a healing presence to refugees at Catholic Charities Services, helping them to settle into new apartments, teaching them English, and comforting their children as they adjust to their new environment.

“My heart is joyful and refreshed whenever I meet those kids,” Sister Evelyne reflects. “I am also filled with hope knowing that I am beholding the next American generation, because the integration of newcomers in America has been the soul of America and has built the American dream for centuries.”

 

Sister Emily Kottaram

A native of Kerala, South India, Sister Emily Kottaram was deeply affected by her parents’ compassion for those on the bottom of the country’s caste system. Her parents “planted the first seeds” of her desire to become a world citizen, eventually leading her to join the Medical Mission Sisters in 1966. After earning a degree in nursing, Sister Emily was inspired by Mother Anna Dengel’s call to “go to places where no one wants to go.” She spent nine years volunteering for a pioneering Primary Health Care ministry in Abease, a remote village in Ghana.

Sister Emily reflects: “Those years have a very special place in my heart. They are stories of growth, mutuality, letting go, conversion, empowering others, entering lives of people, and learning the richness of their culture, being loved and accepted.”

She came to the U.S., she earned a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. She later served in the ministry of initial and ongoing formation and in district administration in South India, and today she is formation coordinator for the Cochin community in South India. She cherishes her experiences, reflecting that the people she has journeyed with enriched her life, helping her fulfill her dream of becoming a “global citizen.”

Gathering of Newer Members

Medical Mission Sisters who have recently made their lifetime commitment to God through our Society, gathered in small groups to experience various missions in Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K. Coming from India, Pakistan, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia, Germany and the U.S., they will go on to meet in Germany for a cherished opportunity to learn more about each other, forming bonds of connection and a shared vision that transcends international boundaries.

 

 

 

Caption: Sisters visiting the Frankfurt communities arrived to a warm welcome. So far, their activities have included a tour of the city and participating in a protest march for the safety of boat refugees.

Pressing for a Safer Future

 

 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.

Sister Immaculate Tusingwire

Attending the United Nations 62nd Commission on the Status of Women in March 2018 led Sister Immaculate Tusingwire to reflect on her own experiences with sexism. A native of Uganda, she grew up in a culture where women were expected to be subservient to men.

As an adult, Sister Imma says she wants to be a voice for other women. For four years she lived a quiet life as a member of a society of cloistered Carmelite nuns. Yearning to be a healing presence in the broader world, she later joined the Medical Mission Sisters (MMS). She was assigned to the South West of Uganda, where she helped with collating and editing the Unit Africa newsletter.  Discovering her passion for communication, Sister Immaculate earned a degree in communication from Tangaza University in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. She is currently on a year-long stay in the United States where she is deepening her knowledge and skills by working in the communication department at the MMS headquarters in Philadelphia.

“Now as a communicator, I find that I can do advocacy,” she said. “There is a lot of healing that can take place with this work. There are so many possibilities that I have in mind.”  

Yes, Every Child

Medical Mission Sisters believe every child has a right to feel safe and cared for. Over the past few weeks, our Sisters have been busy making calls to local representatives and writing letters, in addition to packing items from our Thrift Shop to be given as gifts at a local immigration event.  Sister Philo Morris, who works for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on behalf of migrants and refugees, snapped this photo of a girl from Pakistan with her new purse.

Associate Camillia Falotico

She may seem a bit shy at first, but Associate Camillia Falotico is known throughout our Philadelphia headquarters for her warm smile and upbeat spirit. She has been a joyful presence here for 42 years. Working in the ministry of finance, she happily welcomes Sisters into her office, occasionally helping them with paperwork or simply exchanging a heartfelt hello.

From an early age, Camillia has enjoyed offering a helping hand. She credits her family for bestowing her with a good work ethic. Growing up, she frequently heard stories about her grandfather who, after emigrating from Naples, started his own business with a horse and wagon, even delivering the ashes to help build the Empire State Building and Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, Camillia’s grandmother answered the business’s telephone calls and her mother managed the books and collected payments.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Camillia earned a degree in business administration from Philadelphia University and soon afterwards she replied to Medical Mission Sisters’ ad for a bookkeeping position. Camillia, who made a five-year Associate commitment in October 2017, now divides her time between work and caring for her elderly aunts.

She shares, “Over the years of working with MMS my life has been enriched. In the Sisters, I see the value of caring for people in many ways.”

101st German Catholic Convention

Medical Mission Sisters from Germany and the United Kingdom recently attended the 101st German Catholic Convention, or Katholikentag, held in Münster from May 9-13. With tens of thousands in attendance, the convention is the highest representative affiliation of Catholic laypersons in the German Church. About 20 MMS and Associates participated, thanks to the efforts of Associate Petra Schrey. In addition to overseeing an MMS information booth,  they attended activities like meditative prayer, international mass, music concerts, dances, talks and forums.

Reflecting on the convention, Associate Linda Maog shares: “Together, we are invited to make some rippled-effect efforts for our world to be a better place to live in.”

Sister Miriam Paul Klaus receives award

Medical Mission Sisters celebrate with Sister Miriam Paul Klaus upon her receipt of the Anton Neuwirth prize in Slovakia in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Sister Miriam Paul’s model for teen sexuality, Teen STAR (Sexuality Teaching in the context of Adult Responsibility) in Slovakia.  Sister Miriam Paul has shared her approach to healthy and safe teen sexuality in over 30 countries around the world.

Sister Christianne Gadiot

When a young boy named Michel entered the Casa de la Juventad in Lima, Peru, for therapy, Sister Christianne Gadiot was almost certain he would never talk. He was so spastic, his moves were “like jelly.” He couldn’t even look a person in the eye. Yet a day finally came when, after some therapy, he gave Sister Christianne a joyful surprise by uttering the words “mi mama.”

With each child that Sister Christianne helped to overcome their challenges, she saw more clearly that “these children understand more than they can speak themselves.”

A trained nurse from the Netherlands, Sister Christianne made her First Vows in 1995 when, while working as a district-nurse in Amsterdam, she was drawn to the combination of spirituality and health care she saw in our Community. After first serving as a nurse in a center for refugees, she was assigned to mission in Lima, Peru, working with persons living with HIV/AIDS. In addition to offering monthly retreats for people with the virus, she continues her work at the Casa de la Juventad and has been in charge of MMS integration process for pre-candidacy, novitiate and temporary vows in Peru since 2004.

Reflecting on her work with children with disabilities, Sister Christine shared: “I thank God for helping me see that my work with these children was a great need and I had something valuable to contribute.”

Sister Marie Ego

Marie Ego, a Medical Mission Sisters Associate and Sister of Loretto, didn’t have to think about her response when the late Sister Ellen Hummel, MMS, suggested she should go to Ghana to work at the Centre for Spiritual Renewal in the Kumasi Diocese.

“Oh no, not me,” she quickly replied.

The Holy Spirit must have moved her because, before she knew it, she and Sister Cathy Mueller, SL, were on their way to Ghana in 1986, where they gave six-week workshops on counseling skills, leadership development, management skills in personnel development and communication skills. Sister Marie returned several times and, in 1989, decided to make Ghana a more permanent home, living with our Sisters in Berekum for 18 years. 

After repatriating to the United States in the mid 2000’s she made her first trip back to Ghana in 2012 to conduct workshops on “Counseling the Victims of Sexual Abuse” for caregivers. Currently, Sister Marie lives in Kentucky and is a part-time pastoral care worker in the infirmary where Sisters and lay people receive care. She has self-published two books of original poetry. 

In 2015, Sister Marie made her life commitment as an MMS Associate, and shares, “I feel that I have grown a great deal in my understanding of health from my association with MMS…I value the focus on healing that is so much a part of the charism.”

Sister Ann Louise Smith

Deeply sensitive to the needs of others, Sister Ann Louise Smith has found fulfillment in a life of service as a Medical Mission Sister. Working as a home health aide for more than 20 years, she became trained as a cosmetologist so that she could better assist elderly women who could no longer care for themselves. Now retired, she remains the resident stylist for our elderly sisters in Fox Chase.  

 “… meeting the needs of other people, being of service, giving support, caring and listening are all part of our call to healing mission,” Sister Ann reflected. It was her call to religious life, she said, that allowed her the chance to develop meaningful relationships with the people in her care.

A native of McSherrytown, Pennsylvania, Sister Ann joined the Medical Mission Sisters in 1951. Before becoming a home health aide in 1979, she served for more than a decade in Pakistan and Venezuela, working as a housekeeping supervisor for three years at Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, and later as a kitchen supervisor in Judibana.

Sister Ann shares with us: “It is in giving that I have received so very much. All of these women whose lives have touched mine have helped me to grow more deeply in my own spiritual life.”

A Call for Action to End Gun Violence

Medical Mission Sisters are women of peace, and women of action.  Fueled with the same fire and flame as our Founder, Mother Anna Dengel, MD, our Sisters today call for action on gun control, especially in light of the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.  The epidemic of gun violence sweeping our country is a public health emergency.  We join with thousands of others in the nation who are marching, boycotting and calling on their legislators for change!

Caption:  Medical Mission Sisters hosted the Memorial to the Lost installation which commemorated the 288 lives lost to gun violence in Philadelphia in 2014.

Sister Carmel Petonyak

Medical Mission Sister, Carmel Petonyak celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this month; she entered our Society in February, 70 years ago!  Sister Carmel was in mission in India for over 30 years, working as a floor supervisor at Holy Family Hospital, Bombay, as staff nurse and instructor at the School of Nursing at Holy Family Hospital, Patna, and as an English instructor and assistant to the novice mistress in Pune.  She currently lives at our North American headquarters in Philadelphia and assists in the Archives Department.

Sister Peninah Lilian Mukabwa

A cherished part of Sister Peninah Lilian Mukabwa’s routine is stepping out into her garden in the early morning hours, after it rains, and reflecting on the interconnectedness of the life forms she sees.  A Native of Kenya, Sister entered the Medical Mission Sisters in East Africa’s Umoja parish in 2011, eventually joining the Sunyani Community in Ghana, West Africa. Now back in West Africa after a six-month inter-Unit exposure in the Philippines, she is considering returning to East Africa to continue exploring her passion for organic farming. In 2013, Sister had started a farmers group to share the methods she had learned, along with the message of our interconnectedness with the Earth.  She had been troubled by how many local farmers were relying on less labor-intensive, inorganic methods, and by the easy availability of harmful chemicals. She recalls going to the market and seeing tomatoes with clear fungicide residue (likely the result of the farmer’s illiteracy) being sold to customers who had no option to buy healthy, organic produce. 

Sister Lilian reflects: “We totally depend upon the rest of the universe… We forget the real truth that we can’t take a breath without the trees and all the green growing things. We would have nothing to eat or drink without the cycle of water and rain.”

Sister Dr. Fernande Pelletier

Medical Mission Sister Dr. Fernande Pelletier was awarded by the Christian Health Association of Ghana (CHAG) for her “historic and immense contributions to Christian health service delivery in Ghana.” After being missioned to Ghana in 1961, Sister Fernande was instrumental in establishing clinics in multiple villages, often under difficult conditions. She continued her service to CHAG long after reaching the compulsory retirement age of 60.

Caption: A photo of Sister Dr. Fernande Pelletier taken before she retired in 2016 at age 84. 

 

Associate Marie Conti

After graduating from Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in Philadelphia, Associate Marie Conti was convinced she should become a nun. The Mother Superior from the Dominican Order who interviewed Marie told her to take one year off to “explore life.”  Marie moved to Miami and after getting pregnant, returned for Philadelphia and made an adoption plan for her baby.

Over the next few decades Marie struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. During this time, she earned a degree from Wharton School of Business at University of Penn, got married, had a child, and got divorced five years later.   For 30 years she worked in healthcare and in risk management/patient safety.

In 1992, Marie entered a twelve-step program and learned about the MMS Peace Hermitages. For the next seven years she came to stay in the hermitages as often as six times a year, a key part of maintaining her sobriety. Through our Sister Jane Burns she learned about MMS Associates and made her first Associate commitment in 2011. Now retired, she devotes her time to ministries like the “Radical Hospitality” programs at Broad Street Ministry.

Marie shares: “The focus of my life has become service, as opposed to material gain. I desire to bring succor to a suffering world. To comfort God’s broken creatures, of which I am one.”

Associate Sister Selena Wilson, OP

Sister Selena Wilson, OP, describes 2016 as grace-filled and blessed.  This was the year she made her first commitment as a Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) Associate, and had surgery to remove her right kidney and a cancerous tumor.  Sister Selena shares that even though she had feared the worse, God’s grace showed her how to pour herself into her ministries at Holy Cross School, in the Heart-to-Heart program and Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP), easing her worried focus on her fate. 

A Richmond, Virginia native, Sister Selena served in the Army Medical Service Corps, earned a Temple University degree in Creative Arts/Recreation Therapy in 1984, and joined the Dominican Congregation. While caring for her ailing mother in 2010, Sister Selena had searched for a religious community nearby with whom to live.  After meeting with Sister Jean Mouch, MMS, she knew she would be happy living with the MMS Community.  She now lives with Sister Lucy Klein-Gebbinck, MMS, in Camden, NJ.

Sister Selena shares: “I believe we take our ‘healing presence’ with us or rather, it’s just a natural part of who we are. God had a plan all along and I’m so glad he chose me to experience such a glorious and strong healing presence in the spirit of Anna Dengel and the Medical Mission Sisters.”

 

Sister Lorraine Ryan Receives Golden Rule Award

Medical Mission Sisters congratulate Sister Lorraine Ryan, who recently received the Golden Rule Award from the Catholic Realtors & Real Estate Professionals of Boca Raton, Florida.  The award was given in recognition of her work against poverty. After serving 15 years in India, Sister Lorraine founded Women’s Circle, which offers classes and job development services to almost 300 immigrant women each year.

Caption: Sister Lorraine Ryan poses with Bishop Barbarito at the award ceremony.

Entering a New Year

Medical Mission Sisters enter 2018 with faith and hope.  In this coming year, may we all move even more deeply into the love of God, with joyful expectation of healing and transformation!

 

Sister Patrice McSweeney

Many years ago, Mother Anna Dengel caught a glimpse of Sister Patrice McSweeney walking past her office and called her aside. Was there any reason, Mother Dengel wanted to know, that Sister Patrice wouldn’t want to return to Venezuela, where she had lived as a young girl, for her first mission assignment?

Sister Patrice recalls: “I just stood there like a poker and said ‘no, there’s no reason at all.’ On the inside, I was doing cartwheels!”

She would go on to spend nearly 40 wonderful years in Venezuela. She first went to Maracaibo, then to Caripito, where she served as a nurse. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Puerto Rico. Afterwards, she went back to Venezuela, this time working in Barquisimeto, helping deaf and handicapped children in Barrio La Paz to receive an education.  In 1999, Sister Patrice repatriated to the United States after she “came down with a bug.”

“The Lord knew that was the only way to get me back here. I loved everything about Venezuela,” Sister Patrice theorizes. It took her about six months to recover and, afterwards, she became active in pastoral ministry, visiting the sick, and working as an office aide for a literacy center.  Sister Patrice now volunteers part-time in our Community’s Mission Development Center.

Sister Pauline Sadiq


At an early age, Sister Pauline Sadiq’s father showed her the importance of being interconnected with the Earth. The eldest of seven children raised in Sindh, Pakistan, she spent her early childhood crawling around in clay, playing with it and using it to make toys. Her father was a farmer, and he brought home fresh vegetables for supper each day. She loved the way that he always walked barefoot across the Earth, soaking up its positive energy.

“This energy made him gracious and a peaceful person,” Sister Pauline recalls. “I am proud to be the daughter of a farmer.”

Entering the Medical Mission Sisters in 1992, Sister Pauline made her Final Profession of Vows in 2002 after training as a nurse-midwife at Holy Family Hospital in Karachi. For ten years, she served in our dispensary in Faisalabad and helped to found the Lahore Community in Pakistan. In addition to serving as formation director, she regularly visits the “bonded” workers forced to work in the brick kiln to pay off family debts.

Sister Pauline shares: “I am challenged to be a voice of the voiceless. I need to trust myself and believe that I am God’s beautiful daughter. God is dwelling in me and is my co-journeyer.  Then I will become the voice of the voiceless.”