Author Archive for Administrator

Read About Sister Roselyn Ninsiima

When Sister Roselyn Ninsiima studied agriculture at a monastery in Kenya, the priests and other religious were surprised that a Sister would be sent to practice farming. Indeed, the experience broadened even Sister Roselyn’s conception of the existential nature of farming.

She shares, “Agriculture is not just having farms and animals, or cultivation and harvesting as many would look at it, but it is also being mindful of what God has created and appreciating its usefulness to our being.”

During her studies, Sister Roselyn developed a way to use microscopic living organisms to boost plant growth and eradicate unpleasant smells, impressing her supervisor.

Sister Roselyn, who was born in Uganda in 1982, made her First Vows as a Medical Mission Sister (MMS) in 2012. She was first assigned to the Rubanda community in the South West of Uganda, where she worked with orphans and other youth, helping to dispense medicine as well as working as a relief cashier at an MMS health unit.

During that time, she shared her passion for gardening, and MMS in the Rubanda community continue to harvest a variety of vegetables. and have a promising banana crop. After three years, Sister Roselyn went to Kenya to study at Baraka Agricultural College. After completing her studies in 2017, she continued her care for orphans as well as those living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. In addition to facilitating a “Come and See,” she helps to give classes to postulants and, of course, she practices her passion for agriculture in her community’s garden. Sister Roselyn plans to make Vows for Life in September 2020.

United in Mission: Being a Healing Presence as a MMS Associate

It was clear to Mother Anna Dengel when she founded our Society in 1925 that the Catholic Church needed to evolve to have a greater impact in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and, as our Society has grown, so too have we evolved. The establishment of non-canonical Associate membership more than three decades ago has allowed Medical Mission Sisters to have greater impact by incorporating lay persons who, as described in official Associate literature, have a desire “to serve the people of God according to the mission, philosophy and charism of the Medical Mission Sisters,” making an official commitment to “extend the healing mission of the Community within the context of his/her ordinary life.” In the following article, we happily share the healing stories and reflections of three of the many gifted and devoted members of our Associate community.

Every year in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Associate Dr. Marian McDonald joins other local women at Little LeHigh Parkway for the Women’s 5K Classic run. Emblazoned on the front and back of Marian’s shirt, and even on the sleeves, are the signatures of more than 50 of her patients who have survived cancer. Running to promote fitness among women, as well as to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, Marian shares that “getting to the finish line is an affirmation that we’re all not just still alive, but we’re all living in health and happiness and peace.”

Following Mother Anna Dengel’s call to be a healing presence in the heart of a wounded world, Marian made a recent trip to Peru, where she performed 60 surgeries. Some patients travelled six hours by bus to see her. She felt pride when community members asked her about the cross around her neck, and she happily told them about Medical Mission Sisters (MMS).

Marian’s story reflects the experiences of so many Associates who, because of their connection with MMS spirituality, have joined our Society as non-canonical members.

Conversation about developing an alternative membership program began in the mid-70’s, when the MMS Sector Assembly launched a committee to investigate the possibility, conducting interviews with members of other congregations, people who were formally committed to a religious community, former members of our Society and the executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Around this same time Rita Engelhardt, a former MMS who left the Community in 1967, was reunited with Sisters and former Sisters at our Society’s 50th anniversary commemoration. The energy she felt was electrifying and, at the end of the celebration, Sister Mary Louise Lynch made a request that she would not forget. “Rita, do something to keep this going,” she said. A resident of Atlanta, Rita got in touch with other MMS living in Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas and, together, they formed the “Southern Gathering” who reunited annually.

The seed was planted, and in 1979, MMS leadership encouraged moving forward with Associate membership, stating in a Constitutional supplement that “there are different ways in which a person can become involved in the life and work of the Society.”

At a Southern Gathering meeting held at Red Top Mountain in the early 1980’s, Rita graciously accepted an invitation to join an affiliation committee, composed of MMS and 15 lay persons interested in affiliation. Soon afterwards, the group humbly committed themselves to the mission statement of the Society’s constitution and our seven Core Values, in addition to signing a Covenant that read in part: “we choose to live… with intention, in study, prayer, reflection and action… supported by the love we have for one another.”

In the following years, a process was developed in which applicants to the Associate program connect with a committed Associate or Vowed Sister and experience an orientation before eventually making their first official commitment. Today, the program is composed of men and women, living in countries around the world, who work in a variety of professions and, as described in the MMS Associate Handbook, “[integrate] their lived experience with the core spirituality of MMS – personal prayer, shared reflection, continued growth toward wholeness and participating in community.”

Writing from Venezuela, Associate Diana Reyes recently described the gritty realities that her students are exposed to. A computer science teacher and educational coordinator in a Jesuit education institution, Diana tries to apply the lessons she learned by witnessing MMS committed to helping the most vulnerable in society.
Diana shares, “I have learned from the Sisters that we need to give the best to our people, so the education has to be quality education. Accompanying [my students] has been a privilege for me. I have hope that I can gradually heal those wounds that block them and do not let them be free.”

Similarly, Marian McDonald, who plans to return to Peru in June, describes feeling inspired by the MMS charism of approaching the world with a “passion for life.” She shares that “my mission is to promote that wholeness and healing in all that I do, in all aspects of my life – medical, spiritual and personal.”

A Dream of Peace in Venezuela

Medical Mission Sisters join our Sisters and Associates living in Venezuela in prayer to our God of life, that all those who invoke war, feel in their very core, God’s dream of peace and union among the citizens of Venezuela.

Sister Rose Vypana

Despite the years of experience she had under her belt as a Medical Mission Sister (MMS), it was a group of youngsters who helped to ignite Sister Rose Vypana’s passion for environmental justice. When the young people came to her at Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Hospital in Kerala, South India, to express their concern about the sewer draining from local hotels into the river, she joined them in a protest march.

“Their voluntarism touched me deeply as they opened the doors of a new ecological awareness for me,” Sister Rose shares. “Through them I was exposed to the needs of empowering women and children and protecting trees. I began to make songs and slogans to spread ecological awareness.”

Born into a loving family of 12 children in Kerala, Sister Rose has had a lifelong passion for caring for others. Because her family had a relationship with MMS at IHM hospital, Sister Rose saw and was inspired by the enthusiasm the Sisters showed in caring for their patients.

The experience led her to enter MMS in 1969 and to later study general nursing and midwifery at Holy Family Hospital, New Delhi. Today she works as a community health nurse and serves as the head of the Department of Community Health at IHM. In addition to participating in community activism, Sister Rose is especially concerned with providing healthcare to those who are disadvantaged.

Sister Rose shares, “Tireless service to the sick and the needy gives me internal joy and happiness. Nursing is a noble profession. My mother always used to say that she hoped one of her children would be a nurse.”

Embracing the Power of Alternative Healing Methods

Through their interactions with people from various walks of life, our Medical Mission Sisters and Associates (MMS) have been fortunate to learn valuable truths about the utility of traditional healing modalities that are sometimes overlooked, sometimes scoffed at in the western world. Time and experience have allowed MMS to see and understand the process in which alternative medicine helps people get better. In the following passage, several of our Sisters and Associates share their experiences with this powerful form of healing presence. 

At the Ayushya Center in South India, MMS offer a nutrition program in which participants eat only raw fruits and vegetables to clear their bodies of toxins.


When ten-year-old Anila Sanil Kuthirankavil awoke to the welcome sensation of dry sheets against her skin, she couldn’t resist running up to Sisters Therese Cheruvallathu and Mary Sebastian with a grin on her face. After just three acupuncture sessions, her bed-wetting problem had halted.

Anila Sanil, who has Down’s Syndrome, came to Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Hospital from the Kottyam district of Kerala, South India. She learned to walk at the age of five, though her gait remained unsteady throughout the following years. In addition to experiencing chronic bed-wetting and excessive drooling, she had little appetite and frequent coughing fits and other ailments. Through continued acupuncture, each of her symptoms have diminished considerably and, after a brief relapse, she stopped wetting the bed completely.

Such is the case for each of the 14 children with special needs Sisters Therese and Mary care for in IHM’s alternative health department. The children have a variety of challenges, like the child who was 13 years old but had not yet learned to talk. Several were chronic bed-wetters. In each case, after acupuncture treatment, their symptoms improved or disappeared completely. The 13-year-old has even begun to speak a few words.

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe the thin needles used in acupuncture treatment re-balance the body’s energy, referred to as “Chi” in China and as “Ki” in Japan, that flows through passageways called meridians. Much remains unconfirmed about what precisely makes acupuncture work but, as demonstrated by the stories from our Sisters in Kottyam, the treatment has consistently been shown to correlate with an improvement in the patients’ symptoms.

Sisters Therese and Mary report that “improved quality of life of the children, happiness of the parents, job satisfaction of the staff, gratitude of the patients who receive timely financial assistance and joy of being able to reach out to the needy cannot be measured in physical terms.”

Like acupuncture, integrated energy therapy (IET) was developed to balance energy that flows through meridians in the body. As people progress through life and experience physical or emotional trauma, their energy pathways become blocked. It is believed that these blockages can lead to a decline in spontaneity, energy depletion and even disease. Instead of using needles, those who practice IET apply pressure with their hands on specific integration points where the flow of energy comes closest to the surface of the body.

When Associate Rita Maute was treated by MMS who operated the Center for Human Integration (CHI), she was fascinated by the power of holistic medicine. Shortly after she began studying different healing modalities and became a certified IET instructor, offering classes at CHI from 2000 until the organization closed in 2008. Since then she has continued practicing various healing modalities and visiting MMS in a local nursing home to offer her healing touch.

“It has been my passion to share this powerful healing modality which has helped me during the darkest time of my life when I lost my son Peter,” Rita shares. “I have witnessed profound healing also when working on clients who faced a variety of stress situations in life.”

In various missions throughout the world, MMS have embraced a holistic approach to healthcare. At the Ayushya Center in Kerala, South India, MMS host several programs to teach local people, especially youth, about “the rhythm of the universe.” Knowledge about earth is a crucial aspect to their psycho-nutrition cure camps, in which participants embark on a 40-day raw food diet, an approach that the Sisters call “fruitarian therapy.”

MMS at the Ayushya Center have found that this form of therapy allows the human body to use its own healing power, thereby healing itself from within.  Raw foods like fresh fruits and vegetables clear toxins from the body, reduce acid levels and bring the alkali base to a higher level in the blood.  Their approach is supported by several research studies from Calicut University’s department of psychology. 

Reflecting on the youth who participate in Ayushya’s programs, Sister Eliza Kuppozhackel shares: “Value education takes place under these trees. The trees teach them to be interconnected, self-giving, loving, and caring. They listen to the singing of birds and various sounds in nature and learn to tune in to the rhythm and music of the universe.”


Sister Agatha Titi Prawati

When Indonesian Sister Agatha Titi Prawati was studying to become a Medical Mission Sister, she was struck by our Society’s message of empowerment.

“Empowerment is a part of our life and mission as MMS,” Sister Agatha shares. “I also began to understand that empowerment was what I received when I was in formation [to become an MMS].”

After earning a degree in education and entering MMS in 1992, Sister Agatha set about helping others to become empowered.  She provided welfare services for children living in slum areas and income-generating projects for adult women. Working in Pakistan, Sister Agatha participated in a nutrition program for malnourished children. Today she has returned to Indonesia and is a healing presence at Fatima Hospital, accompanying people who are suffering from diseases like leprosy.

Sister Agatha reflects: “This a world with many nations, cultures, languages, ethnicities, traditions, backgrounds and ways of doing things. These realities make me more aware that I am part of this larger world and that I cannot live in isolation. This understanding helps me to connect to the people and all of creation as I become more conscious that what I do will have an effect on others in the world.”  

Before They Were Sisters, They Were Soldiers: MMS in the United States Military

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.

Sister Agnes Hager, 1944.

Several of our Sisters are proud veterans of World War II.  Before “enlisting” in the Medical Mission Sisters, they served in the U.S. Naval Reserve (WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), and of course, the Army Nurse Corps (ANC).  This wartime experience was transformative for the Sisters, and in some ways, started them down a path that would lead to MMS. 

The WAVES were established in July 1942 to release shore-stationed naval officers and enlisted men for overseas duty.  The women in WAVES filled a variety of functions for the U.S. Navy, including encoding and decoding messages, working in administrative positions, delivering mail, serving in hospitals and dispensaries, and working as mathematicians, technicians, and weather forecasters.  More than half of all WAVES were stationed in Washington, D.C. – including Sr. Agnes Hager, who served from 1944-1945.  Sr. Agnes, who completed post-high school studies in accounting, worked in administration and bookkeeping, and oversaw the linen department.

In addition to enlisted women, the WAVES also had commissioned officers.  Officers were required to have college degrees, or an equivalent combination of education and professional experience.  Sr. Helen Elizabeth Leary, a dietician from Reading, Pennsylvania, served as a WAVES officer from 1943-1945.

Sister Helen Leary, 1940s.

 Sr. Helen worked as Assistant Commissary Officer at naval stations in Illinois and Washington, D.C.                                                 

The U.S. Army had its own women’s branch, known as the WAC.  The WAC was founded in 1942 as an auxiliary unit and converted to active duty status in 1943.  WACs served in a variety of supporting, non-combat roles as mechanics, weather forecasters, cryptographers, drivers, and switchboard operators, among many other positions.  Sr. Rose Laliberte was a Sergeant in the WAC from 1943-1947.  Sister initially drove a shuttle bus in the Transportation Corps and was later promoted to command a platoon of WACs who served as technicians in an army hospital.

Sister Elizabeth Dougherty, date unknown.

Four of our Sisters served in the Army Nurse Corps.  The ANC was established in 1901, and its nurses were granted full military rank in 1944.  During World War II, army nurses were assigned to hospital ships, trains, and planes, as well as field hospitals, evacuation stations, and station and general hospitals.  Sr. Elizabeth Dougherty joined the ANC in 1943 and served in England, France, and the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI).  She and her fellow nurses worked in field hospitals set up in barns, tents, and schoolhouses.  When the War ended, she was transferred to occupied Germany, where she remained until being discharged in 1946.  Sr. Kathleen Fitzgerald served as a nurse in the ANC from 1943-1946.  Stationed in England at the 231st Station Hospital, Sister and her fellow nurses cared for Air Corps aviators and Army infantrymen.  Following the invasion of Normandy in 1944, the hospital staff managed to find dozens of additional beds to receive wounded soldiers.  On the other side of the world, Sr. Martin (Helen Mary) Heires served as an ANC nurse in the Pacific Theater from 1944-1946.  Stationed in both general and field hospitals, she cared for wounded soldiers following the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  Sr. Karen Gossman enlisted in the ANC in 1945 and served on hospital ships in the Panama Canal Zone, the Philippines, and Germany.  She was discharged in May 1946. 

Sister Kathleen Fitzgerald, 1944.

Antithetical as it may seem, these Sisters’ wartime experiences provided job training for life as Medical Mission Sisters.  They experienced communal living in a mission-driven environment. They developed the ability to respond quickly in an emergency, be flexible, and “make do” under less than ideal circumstances.  These skills surely came into play when, as MMS, they worked in hospitals in Pakistan, Africa, Vietnam, and the United States. 

In the words of Sr. Elizabeth Dougherty, our MMS veterans “traded allegiance to the military army for the army of God.”  As Sisters and as soldiers, these women upheld an oath to heal others and serve with dignity. 


Sister Pat Gootee Visits Immigrant Detention Center

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.

Read About Sister Dr. Ursula Maier

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.”




70 Years in Ghana

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. 

Helping to Create a Healthy World

Sister Elaine Kohls helps with the final stages of adding cement rings to a well built in 1986 in an Ethiopian village, Koromea.

Some may consider it rude to decline a drink from their host but, for Sister Elaine Kohls, politeness would have been too risky. The water her Ethiopian hosts offered to her was from the local river and, while some people believed “it tastes better” than water from a well, Sister Elaine was more concerned about what might be in the river water.

When she arrived at Attat Hospital in 1984, Sister Elaine was troubled to find that many beds were filled with people suffering from preventable diseases. Ailments as seemingly benign as diarrhea, worms and eye infections were killing some and causing permanent damage for others. Patients who suffered from repeated trachoma infections- a condition that can cause the eyelashes to turn inward- experienced corneal damage and eventual blindness. Many of the illnesses people endured could have been prevented if they drank clean water. Even the trachoma eye infections were an indirect result of unclean water, since the water attracts flies that spread the bacteria.

“Changes in the ways of doing takes time,” shares Sister Elaine. When Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) first arrived at Attat Hospital in 1969 and offered their neighbors clean water from their freshly dug well, their efforts were initially met with resistance. Over time, and with Sister Elaine’s determination and persistence, the first village well was completed in Koromea Village in 1986, and today there are 133 safe water sites in and around Attat, serving an estimated 144,300 people. With the water project, along with pit latrine use and public health outreach, the diseases that had plagued so many have declined with each passing year.

Sister Elaine recalls: “At first, as the program was started, we were told, ‘the children no longer die.’ As the program developed… we were told, ‘even the old people don’t die!’ Now we are told, ‘the poor do not get sick any more often than the rich!'”

Throughout the world those made poor, especially those who live in rural areas, are often at risk for diseases that could be prevented with clean water or, in other cases, with modern vaccines. In the mountains of Peru, a measles epidemic had intermittently attacked the pueblos of Caylloma since the 17th century. With each outbreak, nearly an entire generation of children would perish.

Until the 1980’s, the Peruvian government’s efforts to provide vaccinations to rural areas had been disorganized and ineffective, according to Sister Pat Gootee, who accepted the government’s invitation to oversee what would turn out to be a successful vaccination program.

A previous vaccination team had failed to warn people that a temporary sore would form in the injection spot, and parents were suspicious and fearful. Sister Pat recalls a few instances in which a child would run up to her and ask her to quickly give them an injection, before their parents could catch them. For one year, Sister Pat and a group of volunteers traveled around the entire province, building trust and administering the vaccine. As the women and men discovered that she was indeed someone they could trust, Sister Pat and her team were able to end a nearly 400-year-old plague.

Sister Pauline Sadiq teaches children in Pakistan’s Lahore community about the nutritional value of an apple.

Today in Pakistan, where federal funding for vaccinations isn’t always so easy to come by, MMS in the Lahore Community are nevertheless working against the odds to reduce the nation’s childhood mortality rates, offering a nutrition program as well as vaccines to fight diseases like tuberculosis, polio, measles, diphtheria and hepatitis B.

In so many ways, Medical Mission Sisters continue to carry the torch of MMS’s four founding Sisters, who carried the fire and flame in their hearts, and were determined to bring health and healing to those most in need.

Read About Associate Evelyn Godwin!

A native of Lorain, Ohio, Associate Evelyn Godwin entered the Medical Mission Sisters in 1960. Following first vows, she was sent to Pakistan in 1964, where she worked at both Holy Family Hospital Rawalpindi and Karachi as a nurse-midwife.

Although she chose to end her canonical membership in 1975, Evelyn realized afterwards that “I had taken gifts with me from the MMS community: a love of good liturgy, the need to meet and know people concerned about the impoverished and unjust situations facing our city, and ways to reach out to help alleviate these conditions.”

Evelyn continued her work as a nurse midwife, first in Kingsport, Tennessee, and then in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1981 she married Norman A. Godwin and, a few years later in 1984, they both made Associate commitments. Unfortunately, Norman passed away that same year.

Following her husband’s death, Evelyn worked as a school nurse in a Catholic High School before her interest in clinical pastoral education led her to a program at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation where she completed a yearlong residency in 1989. She then worked as a lay staff chaplain at a local hospital for ten years while earning her BA degree from Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio, in 1994. She later became director of spiritual care for a large health care center, retiring in 2002. Throughout her career, she often left a memorable impression on both the people she served and her coworkers, one of whom described her as “gentle and compassionate, warm, peaceful and accepting.” Today, Evelyn lives in Brook Park, Ohio, and volunteers with St. Timothy Missionary Baptist Church, helping to prepare bags of food that are distributed to community members.

Evelyn shares, “In my own small corner of the vineyard I try to do some of the hundred and one small and large things that make life livable and joyful for all of us.”


Sister Mary Jo Grethel

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.

Partners in Mission Part II

Like Sister Estelle Demers who shared her insights in a previous newsletter, Sisters Jane and Joan reflect on the power of cultural exchange when it occurs in the context of community partnership rather than in the “culture of domination” in which those with power impose their will on those with less.

From left to right: Sisters Jane Fell, Evelyn Godwin and Joan Foley in the 1960’s with the tower of the Rawalpindi Hospital in the background.


Sister Jane Fell doesn’t think eating beetles is really any stranger than eating shrimp. She reasons, “You take it out of a shell, it’s got long legs and so on.” And once you try beetles, a new world of cuisine opens up to you, one where the menu features flying ants and locusts, as she discovered during her mission work in New Guinea.

Exposure to new foods is just one result of Sister Jane’s broader experience with cultural exchange during her years overseas. In her memoir, At Home in Many Worlds, she recalls her early attempts to learn Urdu while working at the Holy Family Hospital (HFH) in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, which included a humorous incident in which she confused the words for “feed” and “eat,” leading her to mistakenly advise a young mother to “eat” her baby.

While she was still completing her language studies, Sister Jane, a trained nurse, was put in charge of the hospital’s pediatric ward. She recalls the joy she felt in seeing critically ill children’s health restored. However, it was also her first time seeing children die. “I soon learned that, deeper than words, there was a universal non-verbal communication,” Sister Jane reflects. “I quickly came to understand that simply holding a grieving mother in a hug was more powerful than offering words of sympathy.”

In her memoir, Sister Jane recalls yet another important lesson from her time in Rawalpindi. She was at first alarmed by the sight of mothers attempting to crawl into bed with their babies or, more concerning, unhook their tubes and sleep next to them on the floor. Over time, however, their reasons for this behavior began to make more sense to her. “We’ve found out now that positive support from friends and family decreases the time in which someone regains their health,” she explained. “Their healing after surgery is much quicker if they are surrounded by love.” 

As was typical for MMS nurses at the time, Sister Jane also studied midwifery. She went on to eventually supervise five nursing departments, providing clinical supervision for nursing students and helping to train graduate nurses to become head nurses and department supervisors. 

Shortly after the 1967 General Chapter ushered in revolutionary changes for building community partnership, Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) in Rawalpindi developed a plan to train qualified community members who would later take over the Sisters’ positions. They also developed a governing board that would eventually become entirely composed of local community members. 

Sister Joan Foley, a trained laboratory technologist, and Sister Jane both trained their local counterparts in clinical laboratory and nursing service, respectively, to take over their positions at the appropriate time. 

For Sister Joan, this was quite an accomplishment considering that, when she entered MMS in 1954, she was certain that she never wanted to work as a teacher. However, after starting the HFH School for Laboratory Technicians, a two-year program, she found the experience rewarding and was touched by the bond she developed with her students; in some situations, she was even able to get to know their families. 

“It was an exciting challenge,” Sister Joan reflects. “The development of people was exciting. We took the best of what we knew professionally and certain elements of our culture and shared it with our counterparts. There was a combination of both cultures. I felt an enormous sense of trust.” 

In 1973, the decision was made to turn the hospital over and today HFH has evolved into a much larger hospital with 850 beds. The MMS positions on the hospital governing board were also replaced by competent people from the local community. 

Sharing a final reflection as she prepared to say good-bye to those at Holy Family Hospital, Sister Jane describes a time-honored Asian custom in which, before leaving, a person goes to each person he or she knows and asks to be pardoned for any faults that may have disrupted their relationship. Sister Jane recalls: “I first experienced this from an older, Pakistani doctor who was leaving Pindi Hospital, and I was deeply touched. Now it was my turn to honor this custom, and I was grateful that such a ritual was available.” 


An Update on Venezuela

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.

Sister Smita Pamar

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.”

The Medical Missionary: Our (Occasionally) Forgotten Treasure

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.

This past September, Medical Mission Sisters gathered on our Fox Chase campus to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the founding of the Society.  As part of the celebrations, Sisters met in our community room to share tea, cookies, and memories of their time in mission.  To inspire conversation, issues of The Medical Missionary, the Society’s first magazine, were placed on tables.

As Sisters chatted and casually flipped though the magazines, exclamations could be heard around the room.  “Oh my goodness, that’s me!” a Sister would say, pointing to a grainy black and white photograph from the 1940s.  Images of their shared past unfolded in the room –  pictures of Sister-Doctors in surgery, eyebrows lowered in concentration, or smiling young women making first vows.  These pictures hadn’t been seen in forty, fifty, even sixty years.  For a moment, the Sisters were transported back to some of the most pivotal moments in their lives.  This experience served as a reminder of what a valuable resource The Medical Missionary is, not only for Sisters, but also for scholars and students of Catholic medical missionary life.

The idea for The Medical Missionary was conceived in June 1927, less than two years after the Society was founded.  At the time, there were several Protestant and Catholic missionary magazines in circulation.  However, there were no Catholic medical missionary publications on the market.  It was this niche that Dr. Anna Dengel and her budding Society hoped to fill.  “We want our magazine to be a voice for non-Christian women,” she wrote.  “In this purpose lies its special appeal, uniqueness and the justification to start a new magazine.  Of course,” she added, “we also need it as a voice for our Society.”

Indeed, The Medical Missionary was a means of promoting the work of the Society.  For $1 a year, subscribers received ten editions of the magazine.  Each edition included eight pages of articles dedicated to Catholic medical missionary activities in India, Asia, and Africa. The magazine featured editorials written by Dr. Dengel, accounts from SCMM members in mission, articles by Catholic clergy, and even health reports for major hospitals and international cities.  Perhaps the most striking aspect of these early editions were the honest, sometimes unsettling photographs of patients and people in need.    

As the Society grew, so too did the magazine.  No longer did Mother Dengel have to write the editorials; there were soon Sisters aplenty to contribute articles.  With new missions established in India, Africa, and the United States, The Medical Missionary ran recurring columns such as “Twi Talk,” “Chits from India,” and “Profession and Reception.”  In addition, the evocative photographs that peppered earlier editions were replaced by artwork created by the Sisters.

The 1960s were a decade of great change for MMS, and this evolution was reflected in the magazine.  As the Society adjusted to life in a post-Vatican II-era, and the international world emerged from its colonial past, the magazine featured fewer but more in-depth articles about the Sisters’ work in mission countries.  Poignant photographs were again used to highlight the Society’s need for both financial and prayerful support.  In 1966, the magazine rebranded as Medical Missionary

Despite winning several journalism and printing awards, the Sisters began to question the magazine’s efficacy and relevance.  In 1968, editorial staff launched a readership survey to determine the future of the magazine.  The response convinced the magazine staff that a format change was necessary.  And so, the final edition of the Medical Missionary magazine was printed in Winter 1970.  It was replaced in 1971 with a short newsletter simply entitled “MMS News.”

For our Archives patrons, The Medical Missionary is often the first step on the research journey.  It is our best source for first-hand accounts of life in mission; of the public health struggles of the Global South; and the history of the entire Society.  We even use it to help our Sisters rediscover friends from their earliest days in MMS!  The recent Foundation Day events serve to remind us of the value of The Medical Missionary and our wish to share this important resource with the greater MMS community.


Associate Tom Sexton

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.”

Partners in Mission.

Since building the first Medical Mission Sisters hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, MMS have sought the expertise of people in the local community. As our Society evolved, the benefits of seeking community involvement – and of developing working partnerships with community members – became increasingly evident, leading to a General Chapter meeting in 1967 in which a “great turning” occurred. In the first of an ongoing series about the experiences of MMS serving as “partners in mission,” we are excited to offer the observations Sister Estelle Demers has graciously shared about her encounters and lessons learned in mission around the world.

Sister Doctor Anke Boeckenfoerde enjoys a conversation with several of her Indonesian patients.

In life, very few people get the chance to turn down a million dollars, and Sister Estelle Demers is among that minority. In the late 1970’s she led an effort to establish a community health center in Edmonton, Canada, and she was quite serious about the community aspect. Sister Estelle, a seasoned missionary, understood the importance of ensuring that the people she served were an active part of her mission work. When a funding group offered a million-dollar donation in exchange for ownership of the health center she wanted to build, she knew that the risk of losing community involvement would be detrimental to the center’s effectiveness.

Ten years earlier, Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) were having serious discussions on how we are to be a healing presence in the world. It had become clear that the old way of doing mission – going into a place and working to fulfill the needs of its people – was in some ways a byproduct of a “culture of domination” in which people from developed countries, intentionally or otherwise, impose their will on people from marginalized societies.

“We had to be liberated from the idea that Westerners have all the answers,” Sister Estelle explained. “What we perceive as the right way of doing may not always be the only right way. There can be many right ways.”

Sister Estelle recalls consulting with African witch doctors who, despite their reputation in some circles, are trusted in their communities for providing effective herbal and psychological remedies. Similarly, midwives are trusted for their wisdom and experience. Instead of disrupting these norms, MMS could help build on their effectiveness by teaching doctors and midwives better antiseptic procedures to prevent unnecessary infections, for example.

“That’s what happens when you are a partner in mission,” Sister Estelle reflected. “The people are enabled to develop according to their needs, their priorities, their potentials and their resources available to them. Their involvement evolves according to their authentic cultural possibilities – their social, religious values, their hopes and aspirations. So, their culture changes as they change, but it changes in a way that matches who they are, not that matches us.”

In the decades since the 1967 General Assembly, our Sisters and Associates have experienced the undeniable fruits of community partnership. The Core Aspects of MMS Spirituality, a booklet published in 2001, includes a reflection that describes the tremendous effect of relationships developed with those of other cultures, languages and religions. The writer says, “Despite visible disparities between the rich and the poor, the “poor” have much to share in their own way and culture: they have taught us how to share freely from whatever is available, how relationships are more important than things, and how to live in trust of God’s providence.”

Beyond merely transforming communities themselves, mission partnership has contributed greatly to the personal growth of our Sisters and Associates. In our next edition of e-news, we will share the story of Sister Joan Foley, who spent ten years working as a lab technician and helping to train people in lab work at Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, before eventually helping to facilitate the hospital’s turnover to the local board. In a recent interview, Sister Joan reflected: “Rawalpindi was my most rewarding mission experience because of the development of people and my development.”


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.

Bonding Across Cultures


October 19, 2018

Sister Christine (Christi) Kancewick will never forget the girl she met while visiting a children’s choir rehearsal facilitated by a Medical Mission Sister (MMS) in Germany. The child was about ten years old and, when she realized that two of the Sister’s guests understood English and not German, she expressed concern to the Sister in charge. This prompted the group to include in their practice some songs they knew in English.

“To experience a child who was so sensitive to other people’s feelings was beautiful,” Sister Christi reflects.

Sister Christi would make many more cherished memories during her five-week visit to Germany as part of MMS’s Gathering of Newer Members (GNM), an opportunity for Sisters from around the world who have made Final Vows to connect with one another, often meeting for the first time. This year, they gathered in small groups at various missions in Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K. Sister Christi, the only MMS from North America eligible to participate in this year’s gathering, began by visiting Sisters in the Ruhr region and was introduced to the mission involvements there. She then traveled to Frankfurt and joined a small group of GNM participants to experience the culture and MMS mission in that area – in particular, work with refugees, migrants and the homeless.

All the Sisters participating in the GNM then met at the Missionary Benedictine Abbey in Germany. The gathering, Sister Christi reflects, was a “rich experience of mission, deep prayer and discernment, living as a ‘witnessing community,’ powerful input sessions, along with treasured bonding experiences with other Sisters and a lot of fun and laughter during times of recreation and entertainment – learning each other’s dances, telling jokes, performing skits and sharing stories.” During their time together, the Sisters celebrated several birthdays and shared meals together. On a beautiful, bright Saturday they went for an outing together in Wurzburg, where they enjoyed visiting the “Landesgartenschau,” a large garden exhibition.

“Every day had special moments,” Sister Christi shares. “It was interesting for me to see a place I have never been in, like Frankfurt, and see it not only through my own eyes but be enriched by taking in and appreciating responses from other participants who have had different life experiences.” For example, while grocery shopping with other GNM participants in preparation for cooking a blended international meal, Sister Christi noticed something intriguing.

“When you are with a Pakistani Sister meeting a Pakistani vendor, you have a greater connection and very friendly experience,” she said. “It was also fun to be with an Ethiopian Sister and meet other local Ethiopians while waiting at a stop light or at a bus stop and have them help direct us to the stores with Ethiopian foods.”

To top things off, the Sisters enjoyed a day trip to the birthplace of our foundress, Mother Anna Dengel, in Steeg, Austria. “What a thrill to walk where she walked and to see some of the sights she looked at!” Sister Christi says, recalling the experience of visiting the waterfall where Mother Dengel often went to meditate. The Sisters had the added treat of visiting the Dengel family home and meeting Mother Dengel’s niece and grandnephew. That evening, they had a celebration with her family members and people from the village.

Before returning to their home countries, the Sisters agreed to stay in touch with each other. Shortly after arriving back in the United States, Sister Christi had her first “video chat” with one of the participants. Now as she prepares for her mission assignment in Uganda, she cherishes “the joy of being one with my Sisters from many other cultures,” an experience she describes as transformative.

Overcoming Obstacles in Education

September 28, 2018


In many cases, a person migrating from rural Ethiopia to the city of Addis Ababa has a lot more to get used to than just living among 3.4 million other people. Back home, they may have awoken when the chickens did and went to sleep when the sun disappeared. They may have had no running water or electricity in their grass huts, let alone books. They may have even become addicted to chewing the popular narcotic leaf called khat, a stimulant that, among other side effects, can eventually lead to lethargy and difficulty concentrating.
Sister Carol Reed, who teaches English to many students who moved into Addis Ababa from the countryside, observes: “Their reality is just very different. They’re not stimulated and learning, they don’t have a custom of reading. Following a time table is an incredible adjustment. It just strikes them as completely foreign.”
In mission in Ethiopia since 2002, Sister Carol, who teaches English at Cathedral High School and St. Francis Seminary, found that many youths were learning only to memorize and regurgitate information, reading by memorizing what specific words look like without necessarily knowing how to distinguish one letter from another. To address this problem, she created new course materials that are designed to help students improve their critical thinking skills.
Around the world, families are faced with a variety of other obstacles that stand in the way of education. In places like Chumukedima, a community in the Indian state of Nagaland, Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) noticed many families who were so poor that sending their child to work seemed more practical than paying to send them to school.
In 2005, Sister Mary Alex Illimoottil collaborated with two laywomen to launch a literacy program in colonies composed of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, a group that was particularly marginalized and underprivileged. The migrants were almost entirely illiterate, and some children were so malnourished that their growth had been stunted. Some were infected with worms and many were anemic. So, in addition to offering literacy classes, the program also provided healthcare and nutritional aid.
Some of the students were child laborers and working women who attended classes only whenever possible. Still, they were eager to learn and studied their copy books in the dark of night. In just six months, 70 children and 20 women learned to read. While there were some children who left the program in favor of finding work, there were many reasons for Sister Mary to feel hopeful when the program ended in 2011 when public schools were declared free by the government. Although the schools still charged an admission fee, MMS and others from the community provided financial assistance to the families. With Sister Mary’s encouragement, parents who now understood the value of education began sending their children to school.
Reflecting on the program’s successes, Sister Mary shares: “What inspired me most was the joy radiated by the children on receiving the colorful textbooks in their hands. Also, the women who were very shy would come out of their houses begging for the books while carrying their babies on their backs.”

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.”

The “Blessed Flood”















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.”

Sr. Madeleine Sophie

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

New Jerusalem

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.”

Reflections on Art and Spirituality

“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.” 


“Empathy is a Character Trait”

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.”

Meet Associate Bonnie Templeton!

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.

Reflections on Eco-Spirituality

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

Read About Our Sisters’ Trip to the UN

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.”


Mission Changes, But It Never Ends

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.”

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 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.”