by Sr. Mary Howard MMM (1939 – 2009) England/ Nigeria 27.12.2023
Editor’s note: Sr. Mary told this story back in 2003 when an understanding of Hansen’s Disease was increasing, and a cure had been found.
He was always known to us as Papa Dennis, though he must have been a very young man when he first came to Ogoja back in 1944. He was suffering from leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) then. He was among the workers who built the small houses that were dedicated as Marian Village, just across from St. Benedict’s TB and Leprosy Hospital.
Papa Dennis remembered the great programme initiated by Dr. Joseph Barnes in the mis-1940s. He was there when the crew came to make the MMM film “Visitation”. He remembered the visits of our foundress, Mother Mary Martin, and the MMMs who pioneered the care of leprosy in that vast area.
All that is a long time ago now. For his whole life since, Papa Dennis lived in one of the small mud-block houses, sharing the village life and its many activities.
With the advances in medicine, he had been cured many years ago. Now he was suffering the usual effects of growing old. He had visited his people on several occasions but preferred the companionship and independence the village offered. However, recently he had changed his mid about that and wanted so much to return to his family home. His niece told him they would be happy to help him to return and live among his own kin. He told me this with great pride, as we chatted together whilst the vehicle that would carry him home was being packed with his belongings.
For some time in Nigeria there have been various educational programmes in support of the repatriation of people who had formerly lived in segregation villages, and about self-reliance of those who were cured. This includes repatriation of handicapped residents of the former leprosy segregation villages.
Papa Dennis seemed contented as he said goodbye and took a last look around the village that had been his home for most of his life. He died a few weeks later and was buried among his people. Times and attitudes have changed. He was no longer considered an outcast, but one who was honoured because, as a young man, he had made the sacrifice of leaving his own home for the common good.