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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.

Mission Changes, But It Never Ends

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.”

NEWS

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. 

50 Years of Healing Presence in Ethiopia

Medical Mission Sisters recently celebrated 50 years of healing presence in Ethiopia.   Our Sisters began their mission in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa with a small medical clinic.  Attat Hospital in Attat, a little over 100 miles away, was built two years later and has grown to include departments for women with at-risk pregnancies, and malnourished children in addition to general medical and surgical services.  Approximately 300 patients also are treated daily at the outpatient clinic.  German Sisters Erna Stocker-Waldhuber and Walburga Kupper, who spent many years in Ethiopia, were among those who enjoyed the celebration.

Caption:  Sisters Walburga (left) and Erna (right) share, “To see the development of the hospital from the initial small emergency room to today’s clinic with integrated health care, to meet an enlightened population, for which healthy life is a high value, fills us with much gratitude and joy.” 

January 2015 Archives

Sister Emma Panizales

Panizales_EmmaSister Emma Panizales was born in Cotabato, Philippines, in 1948. She entered our Community in 1973 and made her Final Profession in 1980. She was vocation promotion coordinator and a member of our formation team in the Philippines, living and working in slum areas of Metro Manila. It was there that Sister Emma began a life-long focus on justice and peace work. In 1983 she was missioned to Venezuela. Over the past 30 years, she has been very active with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Conference of Religious in the country and with the formation of young religious in the Theological Institute for the Education of Religious in Caracas. She served as our Sector Coordinator of Latin America from June, 2008 until May, 2015.

The Mystery of Grace

It’s hard not to be affected by the sincere show of forgiveness that the families of those killed at Mother Bethel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, offered to the person who took their loved one’s life. Their broken hearts became heart-wrenching for any of us who followed the tragic events of a mid-June evening and the days after. There was a very special grace in their sharing. In their deep loss and pain, they reached out to the one who caused their anguish…and they forgave him.

Similarly, we remember the Amish community of rural Pennsylvania, who, in an almost unbelievable expression of grace, forgave the man who lined up and killed their young children while they were attending school. Heart-broken themselves, they went to see the killer’s widow and offered forgiveness for what her husband had done to their girls and boys, their families, their community.

Grace. A gift given by a God who loves us and wants us to love, too. Grace. Expressed in often totally unexpected and surprising ways. The actions in Charleston, and those of several years ago in Pennsylvania, show us the best of humankind even in the most terrible of circumstances.

World Communications Day

As World Communications Day is planned each year, the Pope usually issues a statement about it and its theme. Pope Francis did so for this year’s commemoration a few months ago. “Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love” is the theme for World Communications Day 2015, celebrated on May 17. One of Pope Francis’ comments on it: “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.”

If we really were to take this message to heart, not only our relationships with our family members but also those in our social and business interactions would likely change. If, for just a few of the 24 hours in the day, we turned off our cell phones, put down our iPads, forgot about Facebook and ignored the temptation to Tweet, maybe we would have time to listen to “the other,” to really “be” with someone. We might find that they are hurting…feeling lonely or ignored. Perhaps they’ve been longing for the opportunity to tell us they admire us…or care. We’ll never know unless, even temporarily, we let our gadgets go.

Earth Day 2015

Earth Day, first celebrated on April 22 in 1970 was started “to promote ecology and respect for the planet, as well as to encourage awareness of the growing problems of air, water and sea pollution.” It’s amazing how much personal and public growth there has been in the past 45 years toward these goals…and beyond them. Recycling, composting, an eco-friendly lifestyle, and more, are not only part of our everyday vocabularies, but also of our lives. Globally, we earnestly discuss issues of climate change and the ecological crisis and what we as responsible human beings can and should be doing about them.

As part of our current Community-wide Renewal process, Medical Mission Sisters have been exploring how to deepen our healing charism from the ecological perspective. At our Thirteenth General Chapter in 2009 (our highest decision-making meeting, held every six years), our Sisters said, “The Earth shows us that there is enough for all if each one uses only what is needed. The Earth has its own way to organize and heal itself if human beings stop exploiting it. Understanding ourselves more as part of the whole Earth community brings us to a spirit of kinship with all of life. This leads to living with deep gratitude in a mutual relationship of give and take, and to seeing the integral connection between respecting and caring for the community of life and our increased responsibility to manage resources well.”

The critical “ifs” of this statement and its focused call for us to grow in our understanding of being part of something much bigger, and more wonderful, than ourselves, remains a daily challenge for all.

What a Difference One Woman Can Make

Medical Mission Sisters mark April 17 each year, as “Anna Dengel Day.” On this day, now 35 years ago, Anna’s time on Earth was completed and she returned to God. But what a difference she made in her 88 years of life!

Even before she founded the Medical Mission Sisters in 1925 in Washington, D.C., Dr. Anna Dengel had spent four years among women and children in desperate need of health care in what was then North India, now Pakistan. She cared for thousands of them, professionally and lovingly, in an area in which the Muslim custom of purdahprevented their being cared for by men. In doing so, she picked up the mantle of another lay doctor, Agnes McLaren, whom she never met but who greatly influenced her life. Dr. McLaren, coincidentally (?), also died on April 17, in 1913.

Anna Dengel’s Medical Mission Sisters, now in their 90th year of service to the sick and poor, have reached out to millions of women, children and men in 43 nations on 5 continents over the years. In addition to offering needed professional health care and health education, the Sisters have trained thousands of local women and men–in Asia, Africa, North and Latin America–how to help their own people to experience the best possible health and at least a measure of wholeness in their lives.

Medical Mission Sisters also have recognized how essential justice is to healing…and how the health of our planet greatly affects the health of its people. We have worked hard, wherever we are in mission, to ensure that individuals are treated with dignity, respect, and as human beings created by God.

It all started with Anna Dengel and her vision of “being there” for others. We as a Community are grateful, indeed, for her courage, inspiration and desire to make a difference among those in need in our world.

Read more about Anna Dengel in a new booklet called “Anna Dengel, M.D., Founder of the Medical Mission Sisters — A Woman Called to Healing and Justice.” Request your free copy at: mmsorg@medicalmissionsisters.org

 

World Health Day

World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948. Each year a theme is selected for the day to raise awareness of a special public health concern in our world. The theme for 2015 is “Safe Food: From Farm to Plate. Keep it Safe.”

Our immediate thought about this emphasis on “Food Safety” is probably in relation to the illnesses and deaths we know can and do come from spoiled or contaminated food. Almost 2,000,000 deaths can be attributed annually to them worldwide. The origins of over 200 diseases can be traced to food containing harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses and chemical substances.

With special attention to safety at every level of the growth, harvesting, transportation, storage and preparation of food, these diseases — and a great number of deaths — can be reduced. But what energies can/will we put into helping to change the life circumstances of the millions of people in our world who have only our “throwaway food” to eat?

Easter Blessings

The Easter season is a sacred time of the year.  It is one in which we move from reliving and remembering the suffering and death of Jesus on Good Friday to embracing the joy of the Resurrection, and the deep peace it brings.  The roller-coaster ride of emotions experienced by Jesus’ disciples the week before Easter, the week we call “Holy,” are ours, too.  From a Holy Thursday experience of love, community and service to others, to the agony and crucifixion on Good Friday, then the solemn “quiet”– almost emptiness — of Holy Saturday, we finally come to Easter.  The sun rises on our services, the bells ring out like never before, we don our best light-colored clothing and rejoice!  Alleluia!  Death has been overcome by life — and we can’t contain our joy.

 
But this Easter experience of joy, peace and the love of God (who is more than we can ever imagine) is not to be held onto.  It is for us to share.  While Easter is celebrated very specially in Chapels and Churches, and even on hillsides, it is meant to be lived in the barrios and villages, the crowded cities and centers where women and men long to know that they and their lives mean something, that they have a purpose in life, that they are loved and loveable.  Our 40-day journey through Lent again transitions to a daily journey of life, reaching out to others in their any and every need, being “Easter people” in a world in great longing for the new life we have to share.

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.”