by Sr. Therese McDonough MMM USA 28.09.2023
“Let us be grateful for the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ~ Marcel Proust
After coming across the above, I was asked to consider contributing a reflection on gratefulness. As I sat down to write, this quote returned to me as gift, offering the inspiration that could help hold my thoughts together, as I, with gratitude, gathered some memories and experiences of my life.
Gratitude came gently. It seeped into my soul from the bountifulness of my parent’s gratitude to God for life, family, friends and faith. They were the first charming gardeners who helped my soul to blossom to the mystery of God, the treasure of family and friends, the joy of service, the sense of adventure of following one’s heart that led me to MMM. I so am grateful. After novitiate and professional training, I joined an MMM team in Brazil who were living in the periphery of São Paulo among migrants who arrived from the drought inflicted, socially and economically deprived area of the northeast. On arrival, they joined hundreds of thousands in makeshift living arrangements, constructing small huts often built from cardboard or plywood. The periphery was continually spreading and expanding with the daily arrival of others who came in search of making a living.
There was no sewage system, electricity, running water, nor medical facilities readily available to them. The sisters, with basic medical supplies, opened small health clinics in these shanty towns and engaged with pastoral ministry. My heart swelled with gratitude to be among these courageous, faith-filled and resilient people. My missionary vocation was taking flesh, becoming more of a reality to me. During the many years I was in Brazil, I joined other MMMs in working in a small, rural hospital down south and eventually was part of a team that opened a new mission in rural Bahia, northeast Brazil. Primary health care and pastoral ministry continued to be our priorities.
I left Brazil at the end of 1998. When I close my eyes I see the many faces, feel the hugs and handshakes, hear the words of encouragement and challenge, and smell the many coffees the gracious Brazilians generously offered us. I am ever so grateful. After twenty years, I returned to the USA. The initial trans-cultural adjustment to Brazil was mild compared to re-entry to the USA! It was like walking through a dense fog, carrying a heavy heart and not too sure where I was going. All part of the grieving process with which we have all become so familiar. Family, friends and MMM sisters were a tremendous support and, eventually, over the next fourteen years, I became involved in a wide range of various and life-giving ministries filled with new experiences and people, all for which I am so grateful. Little did I know I was being prepared for my unexpected and challenging assignment to Angola, W. Africa.
Our sisters run a health care centre offering services in curative and preventive medicine in the township of Viana, in the outskirts of Luanda. The centre also has outreach programs bringing services to those areas that are isolated and deprived of health care. In addition to ministering in the area of HIV/AIDS, I was privileged to follow other MMMs in prison ministry. I visited the prison weekly, facilitating sessions in spiritual leadership. I left Angola in 2012, but my mind often returns to the memory of these people, places and experiences now woven into the fabric of my life. The grief of goodbye lingers and yes, I am most grateful for all.