Blessings Among Us, Part I
By S. Georgia Kitt
It was 2008, and I vividly remember the phone call from Assumption College in Denville, New Jersey. Excitement overcame as I listened to the request. The Leadership Council soon began to think of what this could mean for the women we welcomed, for our Community and for the education Mount St. Joseph University (MSJU) could offer them; we cautioned ourselves that all needed to ‘fall into place’ for this opportunity to become a reality. And it did! Now, 13 years later, we can reflect on the gift of presence of these six international Sisters who became a blessing among us.
Sisters Yoon Mi Kim, Rustica Kayombo, Petra Mkongwa, Maria Pham, Marita Mafarutu and Domitille Ndayisenga, religious women from five different communities, and native to South Korea, Vietnam, Burundi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, have lived among us and earned their MSJU degrees while sharing their lives, cultures and wisdom. They are now leaders in their own ministries, faithfully contributing to Gospel living and their communities’ missions.
S. Jean Miller’s connection with several of the resident international Sisters came about due to them missing rice, a staple food in their diets. This was true for Sisters Yoon Mi, Petra and Rustica. Even our Motherhouse kitchen got involved in cooking rice in familiar ways for S. Rustica after seeking her input. Sisters Yoon Mi and Jean would share their missionary experiences over a meal at a local Chinese restaurant. “I learned so much about South Korea and how advanced they are in the technology field,” S. Jean said.
S. Victoria Marie Forde also enjoys an ongoing connection with S. Yoon Mi through shared photos of her current ministry and experiences. S. Victoria Marie believes she has learned far more from each of the international Sisters than she was able to provide. “They have broadened my outlook on the world and the beauty in God’s family.” She usually connected with the Sisters as ‘English teacher’ and helped to not change the content, but convey each Sister’s intent in what she wrote. S. Victoria Marie still communicates with S. Maria Pham from whom she feels she learned the most personally, related to the latest in Catholic theology.
“S. Rustica seemed to be ‘at home’ from the beginning of her time with us,” S. Jean commented. Sisters Jean and Rustica did gardening together in the ‘backyard’ of the Motherhouse, harvesting tomatoes, corn and greens, starting most from seed. Cooking together they offered small dinner parties from their yield and enjoyed great conversation.
Sisters Marie Irene and Mary Dolores Schneider were honored to live in community with the international Sisters in Seton Hall over the past 12 years. “Living with these Sisters from such different cultures has given us a concrete view of how similar we are in our religious commitments and prayer lives as well as our ministry responsibilities,” S. Marie Irene shared. S. Mary Dolores added, “We understand more specifically the difficult lives of religious Sisters in other countries, especially those in Africa.” They saw what a firm foundation each had received at Assumption College (New Jersey), especially writing college essays. Each Sister knew the format very well; their difficulties came with vocabulary, pronouns, prepositions and verb tenses.
S. Mary Dolores learned the importance of taking a relaxing walk from S. Maria after an extended study or lecture time. S. Yoon Mi would sit out on a tree stump to relax in nature, often reflecting on the peace of the trees and the Ohio River. S. Marie Irene was taught the importance of a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the example of S. Domitille. “She would frequently tell me to say three Hail Mary’s before her test or even 10 Hail Mary’s before an important exam. And she would check on me!” Each of these Sisters demonstrated such courage to embrace life in a foreign country and to live comfortably with 80 American sisters.
S. Mary Bookser’s interaction with S. Yoon Mi began when she was on staff, teaching religious studies at Mount St. Joseph University. They would meet outside of class and their discussions have left a special place in S. Mary’s heart. She found S. Yoon Mi to be reflective and gentle with a mission-driven focus.
S.Mary Barbara Philippart usually offered assistance to international students with their studies or with English. They seemed to know that it was wise to have more than one Sister helping them with their English so not to ‘bother’ the same person all the time and to have someone to consult when one was not able to help. Sisters Mary Barbara and Rustica became friends when Rustica needed help in understanding something or how best to write something. She also became an occasional supper guest of Sisters Jean and Rustica’s gardening yield.
Sisters Mary Barbara and Martha became friends because of their teasing. When S. Martha informed her that the leaders of her community expected her to send money back to them, S. Mary Barbara was able to be of assistance. Having missionary experience herself, S. Mary Barbara was able to connect S. Martha with the Missionary Cooperation Plan of the U.S. Bishops and how to become part of it. S. Martha’s first assignment to preach was in 2013 in northern Ohio and S. Mary Barbara traveled with; she helped S. Martha write her talk showing her how to incorporate the Sunday readings. S. Martha has preached every year since, in different dioceses and on different projects, with S. Mary Barbara reviewing each talk. S. Martha has provided money for her community to make numerous repairs and additions to their motherhouse and local community. She returns to her Sisters in her native Zimbabwe annually to offer a retreat.
S. Martha is extremely grateful to the Sisters of Charity. The Sisters at the Motherhouse accepted her, welcomed her, supported her and made her feel one with them as well as educating her. She feels that our Motherhouse is her Motherhouse in the States and she knows that she grew professionally and spiritually during her stay.
Sisters Domitille and Mary Barbara became friends when both lived in the Motherhouse. They said morning prayers, the rosary and evening prayers with a small group in the Rosary Chapel. S. Domitille was not sure she always understood what she was reading so the two would get together in the evening to go over her questions.
Sandy Howe got to know Sisters Rustica and Domitille when taking them on trips to the store and now helping with ‘click it’ lists in these COVID-19 days. She adds minutes on S. Domitille’s phone through her computer to help her remain connected with class and community interactions. Rides back from class are always offered on cold or rainy days. “I so admire these Sisters’ dedication to their studies and am happy to help them where I can,” added S. Sandy.
The sharing, the friendships and the learnings have left deep impressions on the women included in this story. This is only a small sampling of the relationships and experiences resulting from these international women religious coming into the lives of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. God’s presence has been felt!
CLICK HERE to learn more about where Sisters Yoon Mi, Rustica, Petra, Maria, Marita and Domitille are living and ministering today,