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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.” 

 

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.

 

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.”

 

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.”

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.”

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.

NEWS

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

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

50 Years of Healing Presence in Ethiopia

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

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

January 2015 Archives

Sister Emma Panizales

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

The Mystery of Grace

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

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

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

World Communications Day

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

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

Earth Day 2015

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

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

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

What a Difference One Woman Can Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

World Health Day

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

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

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

Easter Blessings

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

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

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

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

Trip to the UN

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

June 28, 2018 
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.”

Mission Changes, But it Never Ends

This blog entry was originally featured in our MMS E-newsletter. 
 
 June 28, 2018 
  
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.”