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Number 158 - November 2015
November is a special time of remembering. On 1 November we recall the communion of saints, those people known and unknown, who witnessed to the love of God with their lives. It is a day celebrated by many denominations, encouraging us to give thanks for all those who have made our world a better place.
On 2 November we remember all those who have died. As Pope Francis said, 'Today we are called to remember all of them, even those whom no one remembers. Let us remember the victims of wars and violence, the many little ones of the world who have been crushed by hunger and poverty; let us remember the anonymous ones who now rest in collective graves.'
In this newsletter we also have a theme of remembering. You can read how the people of Drogheda, Ireland remembered our MMM foundress, Mother Mary Martin, on Mission Sunday. In Nigeria the people of Akwa Ibom State called to mind the work of MMMs in Saint Luke’s Hospital in Anua, especially that of Sister Doctor Ann Ward. We also tell you about a new mission in Bomadi, Nigeria, through which a marginalized people know they are not forgotten.
You, our friends and supporters, have made these memories possible.
On 25 November we also mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Let us work to eliminate all forms of brutality against others, whether from domestic violence or war and conflict.
Thank you for helping us to bring more abundant life to others. You are remembered in our prayers each day. Please pray for us as well.
'Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning' (Blessed John Henry Newman).
On Mission Sunday this year, the people of Drogheda, Ireland, celebrated the life of a woman who, in seeking to discover and follow God's plans in her life, was part of a revolution in health care for people in great need and in women's education and religious life.
Soon after MMM was born in Nigeria in 1937, Marie Martin, now Sister Mary of the Incarnation, returned to Ireland to begin a foundation there. She left behind two of her first companions to finish their novitiate and then staff the small Saint Luke’s Hospital in Anua.
Searching for a home, Sister Mary wrote to Cardinal MacRory in Armagh. When she met him in May 1938, he said her work was one after his own heart and gave her permission to have a novitiate in the diocese. A novitiate was opened in Collon, County Louth in December 1938 and the foundress began the work of building up MMM.
A growing family In September 1939, Monsignor O’Callaghan, Parish Priest of Drogheda, asked Mother Mary to start a maternity hospital in Beechgrove, a property he had acquired. An extension was added to the house already there and the twelve-bedded foundation hospital, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, was blessed on 8 December 1939. In January 1940 the novitiate in Collon was transferred to Beechgrove, to the small maternity hospital. The ground floor was the hospital and the novitiate was on the second floor. Mother Mary lived in a small room beneath the labour ward.
Early in the 1950s she became convinced of the need for a fully recognised training hospital in Drogheda. She dreamed of having a training centre to prepare Sisters for their work on the missions. This evolved into the concept of an international missionary training centre that would cater for students, not only from Ireland, but also from Africa and elsewhere overseas. In 1956, the first three floors of the first wing of the International Missionary Training Hospital were opened.
Time to remember This year, 2015, marks forty years since the death of Mother Mary Martin. Early on, two men from the Drogheda area, Seamie Briscoe and Jimmy Nash, took a special interest in giving more recognition to her role in developing the hospital that she founded. They said, 'We have made representations to various people in authority in the hospital to have her memory restored to its original place of prominence.'
The local newspaper, the Drogheda Independent, noted and encouraged this concern. Hubert Murphy quoted Mr. Briscoe as saying, 'I was absolutely intrigued with the stories these Sisters [in the Drogheda Motherhouse] had to relate following a lifetime spent on the missions....Some of these Sisters told me they had worked with Mother Mary Martin and spoke with reverence of her human qualities, great spirit of generosity and humanity.
'What we are doing, on behalf of the townspeople of Drogheda, is merely commemorating and highlighting the work of a remarkable woman who was so much attached to the town.'
Interest in the campaign grew and the MMMs in the Motherhouse were asked if the townspeople could gather to celebrate Mother Mary’s life. The Sisters were delighted with the idea and it was decided to have a Mass to mark the fortieth anniversary of her death on Mission Sunday, a most appropriate choice. Friends, colleagues, local politicians, hospital and convent staff, and many others joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Church on 18 October to reflect on the life and work of a charismatic woman.
In a few words Sister Catherine Dwyer, our MMM archivist, was asked to speak about Marie Martin. To find inspiration Sister Catherine said she sat on Mother Mary’s chair and asked, ‘Mother, what would you like me to say?’
The answer was: ‘Thank the people for remembering me. Remind them of how much part of our mission they became and remain.’
Sister Catherine continued, ‘I think it would be very difficult for us to grasp what that meant [Msgr. O’Callaghan’s gift] to this frail, gentle determined woman, who had waited, prayed and planned for all of fourteen years to get her work started. The Church did not allow women religious become involved in obstetrics and surgery until 1936. Marie Martin wrote: “The crux of the problem is to get the work started and to accomplish this in such a way as not to cause embarrassment to the Hierarchy.”
‘So she would have recognized in this generous gesture of the Diocese of Armagh and the parish of Drogheda as our God leading her and approving of her great desire to found a religious congregation dedicated to the care of mother and child.'
Humble beginnings ‘The original small hospital of twelve beds grew into the IMTH – “The Lourdes” - and many of your parents and grandparents were part of this development. Employment in construction became available at a time when factories were closing. Employment in the hospital and laundry for every cadre of staff helped many a family, and provided a health service and a training school for missionaries.
‘Drogheda was always part of the fund-raising for these developments at home and for the overseas missions. Ladies and men’s committees were very active until recent times. From the start, the local clergy were members of these committees....
‘Some of you may remember the visit of Cardinal Cushing of Boston. He was a generous benefactor, as were the people of the USA, Germany, England, Scotland and people from all over this country. So truly, the hospital was international in its bricks and mortar....
‘As the hospital developed, people of different nationalities, cultures and religions who came here to do their training were welcomed in the town. Some of your men folk met and courted their future wives from the hospital and many of your children were born in "The Lourdes".
‘The people of Drogheda took the infant Congregation to their hearts, supporting all its endeavours at home and abroad....In June 1966, Mother Mary became the first woman to receive the Freedom of Drogheda. That meant a lot to her and to all of us.’
In conclusion, Sister Catherine said that MMM was very grateful to the people who organized the celebration. To the people of Drogheda, we say, ‘Thank you for remembering.’
A love story
In August 1934, as the seeds of MMM began to grow in Glenstal Abbey, Marie Martin’s plans to found a society of medical missionaries suffered a setback when a heavy radiator fell on her foot. She had long periods of treatment at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.
During this time Monsignor Joseph Moynagh visited Marie. He had been appointed Prefect Apostolic of Calabar, Nigeria and wanted to reopen a Catholic hospital in Anua that had been closed from lack of staff.
Marie thought she could find two nurses. She also told him that she wanted to found a medical congregation to help mothers and infants in Africa. She asked if he would be willing to accept such a group in his prefecture. Despite the prohibition at that time for women religious to practice obstetrics, she believed she would get permission. Msgr. Moynagh was so impressed by her cheerfulness and courage that he agreed.
He later remarked, 'The thought in the back of my mind was that she would never be able to come, but I did say yes and I did feel that she had something extraordinary.'
Promises to keep In 1936, Rome gave permission for medical missionary institutes of women to be founded but Marie was unable to find a bishop in Ireland to accept her. When it was decided to begin MMM in Africa instead, Msgr. Moynagh was asked to keep his promise.
On 28 December, Marie Martin, Bridie O’Rourke and Mary Moynagh sailed for Nigeria. They arrived in Calabar and travelled on to Anua and the small hospital. Soon Marie became very ill. Even so, the Medical Missionaries of Mary was established when she made her first profession of vows in Port Harcourt on 4 April 1937. Her two companions were to complete their novitiate in Nigeria while Marie returned to Ireland to begin a foundation there. Those who saw her off on the ship thought the great enterprise was at an end.
God had other plans Meanwhile, the two nurses from Saint Vincent’s Hospital, Miss D’Arcy and Miss Powell, had also arrived at the hospital in Anua. They stayed until the early summer of 1937. A German doctor and his wife, a nurse, came in August and accomplished a great deal. On 18 December the newly-professed MMMs, Sisters Magdalen (Bridie) and Joseph (Mary), took over the first MMM medical foundation at Anua.
There was a mud block female ward and a male ward of fifty beds. These were adapted school buildings, with a cement building between them with an operating theatre, sterilising room, drug store and pharmacy, and an outpatients department.
Ma Agnes, from Anua, supervised the female ward, and lay doctors came from Germany. They were to suffer greatly during World War II.
Dr. Connolly came from Ireland and had antenatal and postnatal wards constructed. Dr. Feeney arrived, as did John Turner, a bacteriologist, who had decided to devote his life to the missions.
New MMMs arrived from Ireland to staff the hospital, even in the difficult war years. Nursing lectures began in 1945, with the first examinations in 1947. By 1949 the General Nursing Training School was established. A Grade I Midwifery Training School started in 1952.
The work flourished, and the MMM Silver Jubilee book (1962) notes: 'Saint Luke’s Hospital is widely used by people from all over Eastern Nigeria and has the usual departments of surgery, medicine, radiography, obstetrics, gynaecology, ophthalmology, and dentistry, staffed by specialist MMMs. The original ward has developed into the present 300-bed training hospital, affiliated with the Royal College of Nursing and with reciprocity with hospitals in England...The old mud block house where the MMMs lived until 1948 has been renovated and is a postulancy for Nigerian girls wishing to be MMMs.'
Fast forward to the present On 22 September 2015, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, unveiled the maternity and gynaecological block at Saint Luke’s Hospital, Anua, built in honour of Sister Doctor Ann Ward, MMM, in recognition of her work for the people of that area.
Many who attended the ceremony had availed of the hospital services. Those who were born there identified themselves with a show of hands and a loud cheer, including the hospital administrator and many government officials. The loudest cheers came from the mothers who had given birth at Saint Luke’s.
MMMs were present from nearby Itam, including Sister Therese Jane Oguh, who worked alongside Sister Ann for many years.
There was much singing and rejoicing and a number of speeches acknowledged the work of MMM. A huge cheer erupted at every mention of Sister Ann's name.
Sowing and reaping Sister Ekaete Ekop, recently-elected Assistant Congregational Leader, thanked the other MMMs for the commitment and dedication that had made it all possible and prayed that we would continue to sow seeds that others will harvest.
She said, 'It is a privilege and an honour for me, a daughter of Akwa Ibom State, to be here today on behalf of my Congregation, the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and particularly on behalf of Sister Doctor Ann Ward, to receive this honour bestowed on her....This is [also] significant for me as my parents met and married in this same hospital. Sister Ann Ward was in attendance at that wedding.
'Sister Ann Ward spent close to fifty years, her best and most fruitful years, on Akwa Ibom soil. Apart from the uncountable number of lives saved and enhanced...in true MMM spirit, she trained a lot of personnel: doctors, nurses, theatre assistants, hospital orderlies and even cleaners.
'Sister Ann Ward is ours...and we cannot blow our own trumpet. But nothing prevents us from dancing if someone else blows it. Thank you for blowing this trumpet, Your Excellency [the Governor]... MMM in Nigeria is dancing and in Ireland today, Sister Ann (even in her wheelchair) and all the other MMMs are also clapping and singing.
'Sister Ann was thankful that the Lord had granted her life till the age of 86 to witness this event. She asked me to convey her extreme delight and profound gratitude to you. She also sent her thanks to the staff, past and present, of St Luke’s Hospital, who imbibed and kept alive the charism of the Medical Missionaries of Mary: to share Christ’s healing love with all, especially the poor and marginalised.
'She receives this honour for the MMM Sisters past and present who lived and worked on this sacred soil. [She is] grateful to Mother Mary Martin, who founded the Medical Missionaries of Mary, an international missionary congregation in 1937. It spread from here to give a healing service to over twenty countries worldwide.'
For the future 'The comforting way in spiritual things is not to be humanly sure of tomorrow. Tomorrow belongs to God' (Dom Bede to Marie Martin).
“I have heard the cry of my people.” Ex. 3:7
In an article in Deutsche Welle (DW) on 20 March 2015, Ruth Krause said that Amnesty International was blaming two oil giants for huge numbers of oil spills in Nigeria's Niger Delta in 2014. Ms. Krause said the Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s fourth largest company, and ENI, Italy's biggest industry, were pitted against the local people, with 70 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
Drilling for oil in the Niger Delta began in the 1950s. Now, 2.5 million barrels of oils are produced every day, making Nigeria the most oil-rich country in Africa, but there is little environmental oversight or regulation.
Ms. Krause quoted Mark Dummett, a researcher on the business and human rights team of Amnesty International. 'Last year Shell reported 204 separate oil spills, while ENI - which operates in a smaller area - reported 394 spills.'
According to the companies, 5 million liters (1.3 million gallons) of oil were spilled during that time. Dummett doubted that those figures were correct, saying that 'according to past research, companies underestimate the amount of oil that is spilled.'
Mr. Dummett traveled to the delta. He told DW, 'I met people who were forced to take their children out of school because they couldn't catch the fish that they needed to earn a living.'
The Niger Delta, an area of 20,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles) makes up more than 7 percent of Nigeria's total land mass. It is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, with four ecological zones: coastal barrier islands, mangrove swamps, freshwater swamps and lowland rainforests. Because of oil spills, mangrove forests are being obliterated; fish and shellfish are dying off; and ecosystems are collapsing.
[You can read more about oil spills in the Niger Delta in an article from the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network on 4 August 2015. It is available online here.]
'We call ourselves to deepen our understanding of our healing Charism and to express it in prophetic ways that are fresh and relevant in today’s realities, placing particular emphasis on the emerging needs of women, children and family life' (MMM 2015 Chapter).
In January 2015, our West Africa Area was asked to 'research the possibility of MMM having a mission in Bomadi Diocese in Nigeria', in the Niger Delta. Area Leader Sister Ekaete Ekop sent a team to conduct a study of the area. Bishop Hyacinth Egbebo welcomed them warmly.
The region has a total population of 2,599,041, with many satellite towns and villages making up Bomadi Local Government Area. Despite its being an oil-rich area, most of the people live in abject poverty. There is a high level of unemployment from government neglect and lack of industry. Open to exploitation because of illiteracy, the people appear to be powerless and voiceless. With any attempt to fight for their rights, they are tagged ‘militants’.
'White garment' churches, e.g. Cherubim and Seraphim, are common. Worshippers use the riverine environment to offer sacrifices. According to the bishop, the people are slow to seek medical assistance, increasing mortality even from minor ailments.
The main occupations are fishing and subsistence farming. Fishing is not very viable because the polluted water kills many fish. Farming is mainly along the seashore, where the area is swampy and water-logged. It is difficult to cultivate during the rainy season, when the crops are submerged. During the dry season, the land is fertile because the nutrients are retained on the soil when the water flows away.
'The globalization of indifference' (Pope Francis) The MMM team found that there is no potable water due to oil spillage but the people still use the polluted river and streams. They add alum to the water, which only removes debris. Clean drinking water is obtained from Ughelli, fifty-three kilometres from Bomadi town.
There are frequent cholera outbreaks due to poor hygiene and lack of sanitation. Patent medicine shops are rampant and people rely on unregulated local medicines. Malaria and anaemia are common among the children. The creeks provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Maternal and infant mortality rates are high, with high rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion. Care for pregnant women is done by untrained traditional birth attendants. Complications sometimes lead to death because of the distance to the government referral hospital at Ughelli. There are cottage clinics but facilities appear to be in dire need of maintenance.
The women bear the burden of caring for the family. Children are in school because their mothers contribute.
A need for infrastructure Before a bridge was constructed seven years ago, boats were the only means of transportation to and from Bomadi town. There are still only a few bridges connecting settlements and transportation by boat is expensive.
Despite large-scale drilling for oil, there is no electric power. It worked once, after a political rally in Bomadi.
Of the several areas the Sisters visited, the bishop said that he would like MMM to work in Torugbene, a very poor, densely populated settlement with poor hygiene and sanitation and a low life expectancy. It has no health facility. At the moment access from Bomadi is half by land and half by boat. Qualified lay staff may not want to work in such a place. The community will require more than primary health care and this will call for strong collaboration and advocacy with the government and other stakeholders.
Torugbene has the advantage of having the biggest market in the Creeks. It is central to the other settlements so health services may attract people from these districts.
The MMM team felt drawn to Torugbene because it seemed to be the place of greatest need. They prepared their report and were full of enthusiasm.
What do the people want? Sister Ekaete made a follow-up visit to Bishop Egbebo to share the Research Team report. They visited Torugbene, first driving for about fifteen minutes and then taking a twenty-minute boat ride. The local people came to greet them and Ekaete learned that the Catholic population is small but committed. They had levied themselves to build a church and parish house.
Most of the buildings in the town are poor, with many made of mud with thatched roofs. A government health centre was built but never staffed. It is overgrown by weeds. A private hospital asks a deposit for a Caesarean section that is more than thirteen times what MMM asks in Mile Four Hospital in Abakaliki, another semi-rural area.
When Sister Ekaete asked the local women what service they would want if MMM came to Torugbene, at first they found it hard to imagine that Sisters would come. They were in such a poor and remote place.
Finally they said, 'Let them teach us how to take care of ourselves and our children.' They wanted guidance for the youth, especially the young girls, who get pregnant very young, and affordable health care. The death of a child meant nothing; it was so common.
The Religious Sisters of Charity, who run a clinic in Bomadi town, concurred. The creeks are where the real needs are.
Bishop Hyacinth said he wanted an MMM presence that would show the people that the Church cares about them and is concerned about the quality of their lives. Sister Ekaete told him that to do this we would offer basic community-oriented health services.
It would be a challenging mission but a greatly enriching one. It would call MMM to remember and live our founding spirit and goals. From these visits came a strong belief that there was a call for MMM to be in Bomadi Diocese. It was recommended that a mission be established in Torugbene.
A special birthday And so on 1 October 2015, while the nation of Nigeria marked its 55th birthday, the Medical Missionaries of Mary celebrated the opening of Torugbene community. Bishop Egbebor, his secretary, people from Torugbene, and others were waiting at the bishop’s house in Bomadi to welcome the pioneer Sisters: Francisca Maduike, Chibuzo Aloka and Cecilia Kanulor. All joined in a spontaneous dance that expressed their joy at the unfolding of this new venture.
In his words of welcome, Bishop Egbebor said, 'So you have come to help us - to feel our pain. I think that is the reason you are here.' Remembering 'I am overjoyed at the thoughts of the Sisters getting the bush stations started. This and this alone, for our congregation, will be the best means of contact for souls. Yes, a hospital will do good, great good, but little compared to getting out among…the people first' (Mother Mary Martin, 1946 letters).
What you can do to challenge practices of oil companies – and others that damage the environment Taking all investments out of fossil fuel companies may not be the best action. Companies need to be part of the solution. They are meeting a demand. Investors can use their voices to encourage ethical practices. • Challenge company strategies: encourage reallocation of capital within fossil fuel companies, with a certain amount given to research in renewable forms of energy. In countries with a lot of sunshine, solar power is now competitive. • Support national and international action to curb carbon emissions. • Demand that companies disclose risks to the climate [and environment]. (from Sarasin & Partners)
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