Your Questions Answered
If you have a question about the vocation of an MMM Sister please Contact Us and you will receive a personal reply.
What is the difference between life as an MMM Sister and being a volunteer or a lay doctor in a developing country or an NGO worker?
Anna, we are often asked that question! An MMM Sister makes a life-long commitment to live in a religious community and to put her talents to work in the place where she is most needed. Like Abraham, she hears God calling ‘Leave your country and go to the land that I will show you’. Volunteers are great, but somebody has to be there for the long haul. Sisters go to a people, live among them, help them to become self reliant and remain with them until they are no longer needed. Because Sisters belong to a community they don’t have to worry about keeping a job open at home, long-term career options or even an old age pension!
Anna wants to know more.
Does a Sister stay in the same country for the whole of her life?
That depends, Anna. Some Sisters have stayed in the same country for several decades, just returning to their home country every two or three years for a break. But as situations change, Sisters may be re-assigned to a new country. Saying goodbye to one mission and being free to embrace a new one is never easy. Neither is the transition a quick process. It needs help and support to work through all the transitions of life, whether one is a Sister or not! In this picture you see Sister Brigid Archbold from Ireland who has spent more than 45 years in Angola and wouldn't want to be anywhere else!
Lucy asks about spirituality.
In what way does your spiritual life help MMMs to do the work you do?
Thanks for asking that, Lucy! Our commitment is to Christ who calls each Sister to her vocation. That is what drives us. While we are very busy serving people through health-related professions, we also make time each day for prayer, both privately and in community together. It is during these quiet hours that we find the strength to renew our dedication and find security in situations that are often very demanding and even dangerous.
Nadia wants to know what a day is like.
What is a day like in the life of a Sister?
Hi Nadia, it is hard to sum up a typical day, because it varies so much! In Africa and Latin America the day begins very early. How early is often determined by the time Mass is celebrated in the local church. It may be at 6 a.m. or even earlier. After a quick breakfast everyone is hurrying to work or to study. In the northern hemisphere, the day starts a little later, unless it means getting out ahead of the traffic or to the airport for an early flight! In Africa it is common to take a siesta after lunch, while the sun is at its height, and resume work when it gets a little cooler. Whatever our working day may be, by sunset Evening Prayer calls together all who are free to attend. Preparing this liturgy can be very creative, especially if there are younger members in the community with guitars and drums and castanets. For special festivals it may involve dancing and liturgical movement and other symbolic events. The psalms will usually be chanted, or sung, or it may be a quieter prayer in communities where members are older.
Raquel would like to know about personal hobbies.
Do Sisters have personal hobbies or interests besides work and praying?
Yes, Raquel, of course we do. In fact, every Sister is encouraged to have an interest in something beyond her work. You'll find many Sisters engaged in arts and crafts of all kinds. Some enjoy photography - that is how we have so many pictures for our website! Some are really good at flower arrangements. Still others are music lovers - those who have musical ability and play an instrument are always a great asset in a community. There is plenty of scope for developing this side of a Sister's giftedness in addition to our healthcare work. Sister Marian Scena, from USA is a busy doctor in Tanzania. She is one of those who have become quite expert in the field of bird-watching. She writes about 'how my hobby helps my professional life'.
Elizabeth says she is not clear about what exactly MMMs do.
What exactly is the work MMM? I am not clear about it.
That is not surprising, Elizabeth, because there are so many sides to the MMM vocation and mission. If you browse through our website country by country you will see how wide is the variety of things we do in meeting the demands of very different local situations! Healthcare, especially the health of mothers and their infants, is the priority for MMM. In practice, this often means either working in a hospital or health centre, but it could be parish-based teams - as in Brazil and Honduras.
Of course, besides medical work, many Sisters are involved in administration at one level or another. When we go to a new place, we listen to the local people as they tell us their needs and involve them in carrying out a baseline survey to determine the way forward. As a rule we go to the places that are in most need and try to fill the gaps between government and other NGO initiatives. We try to be as inventive as possible. That also means we often go to the places or undertake the roles that will not bring any prestige! Our picture here shows Nigerian MMM, Sister Felicitas, who was called out at sunset to the home of a newborn infant in a rural village in northern Nigeria. After she tended to the young mother and infant, the people brought lots of other children with various ailments for her advice.
Kate asks about professional training.
Do I have to have medical or nursing training before I join MMM? Does it matter what sort of qualifications or degree I have?
No, Kate, it is not essential to have a professional qualification before joining MMM. You need a good standard of the final exams at secondary school level in your country. However, many women who join MMM today have already been for some years in a career. The average age of those joining us now is about 25 or 26, but some are older or younger than this. Many of those joining MMM come with basic qualifications in health-related professions, a few have advanced further in their career. Also we have women coming with qualifications in business and IT, catering, social science, teaching, theology etc. There is a job for them all in MMM! Sister Bridie Canavan, pictured here, joined the MMM novitiate in the USA, and after her first profession of vows trained as a nurse and midwife. This picture was taken in Kenya, where the patients like to lie under a shady tree during the day, and only move indoors in the evening.
Christina asks about religious vows.
What vows do the Sisters take, and what are the advantages of having no family or property?
That is a big question, Christina! In an ordinary adult's life you would have a lot of freedom to choose where to go and who to live with, but you could also be tied down by family commitments. By the vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience, a Sister is available to serve wherever she is needed. She is supposed to be uncluttered by material things so that she can travel lightly and go in haste to answer her call, living on just a small personal allowance.
Sister Maura Lynch, pictured here was a surgeon with many years of experience in Angola and in Uganda. If she were in private practice, those she served would never be able to afford the fees. Instead, she took on the challenge of establishing a specialised unit for the repair of obstetric fistula - a problem which many women experience in rural parts of Africa. Sister Maura was completely focused on helping women with this problem, and has little concern about anything like personal luxuries!
Renata asks about community life.
What are the obligations towards community? What is an advantage of being in community? What kind of support do you get from being in community?
Much the same as in any family. A Sister finds in her community a place that is home, a place for companionship, support and relaxation. This comes at a price – being there for others, being there to pray together and offering hospitality to all who visit. Sisters share all their income and material goods. The needs and preferences of each person in the community are taken into account. This requires a generous spirit of give and take. The two Sisters pictured here are Nigeria, Sister Felicia (left) is a doctor and Sister Anastasia is a business Administrator. The variety of works Sisters are involved in all add to the spice of life in our communities.
Renata has another question.
Is it hard to live in community?
The answer is both Yes and No, Renata. Community life, like all life, has its ups and downs. On the plus side, there is usually good company and understanding and a shared sense of purpose. There is someone to help carry the burden when things are hard. We try to live in inter-cultural communities. This is enriching - but it means learning about the things that are important in other cultures, the kinds of food and music that are important, and so on. On the down side, this often requires patient listening and acceptance of difference, and a willingness to go outside your 'comfort zone', beyond what is traditional and familiar and stretch to accommodate what is important to others.
MMM Sisters follow the basic rule of Saint Benedict which is very tolerant. For instance, he says that at mealtime two dishes should be provided so that those who cannot take one can have the other - showing respect for those who are different. In the above picture you see Sister Christina Gill, taken in Nigeria as she set out on a mobile clinic among the nomadic Fulani people. By evening when she returned, she was very glad to be back home and get a warm shower, powered by solar. Then after Evening Prayer, over a meal, the community of 3 or 4 will share the ups and downs, the adventures and the obstacles they all met during the day.
Natalia wants to know why some Sisters wear a veil.
In my country, Poland, there are Congregations whose Sisters wear a veil and other Congregations which don't. It is clear, one or the other. From your website it seems some do and some don't. Can you explain?
Natalia, long ago almost every Sister wore a veil, but nowadays it is optional. Each Sister decides herself. However, we are all very sensitive to the expectations of the local people, and where it seems right to do so, everyone wears a veil while on duty or going out. For official occasions we wear a simple grey outfit, not uniform. In Africa this could be all in white. We wear a symbol of the Visitation, where Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth and help her during her pregnancy. This may be made in silver, or crafted from coconut shells locally made. Each Sister receives receives a plain gold ring during the ceremony where she makes her final vows. However, in some countries, especially in Latin America, the Sisters prefer to wear the well-known simple black ring which symbolises commitment to the poor and to the environment. Does that answer your question?
Sandra wants to know who goes where.
Does a Sister have an influence over which country she goes to?
Yes, Sandra, she has some say in it, but she does not make the final decision. The whole principle of life as a Medical Missionary of Mary is to give one's life to God and be available to serve God's people where you are most needed. However, there is always dialogue to ensure that the Sister is happy and willing to risk it even if it seems quite daunting! Most of us are surprised by how well it all works out in the end. Sister Dumka Michael, pictured here says she didn't have any preference about where she would be assigned as the only countries she knew were her native Nigeria and Kenya where she did her studies in Business Administration. She has been in Malawi for several years now and just loves it. In this picture she is testing a simple system for hand washing outside a rural homestead.
Petronilla enquires about personal health.
Can the state of my health disqualify me?
As you can see from our website, Petronilla, religious life and missionary life are very demanding. Therefore, good general health and a healthy psychological outlook are required for those seeking to join MMM. A person's health would also be part of her discernment during the Novitiate and early years of initial formation. But once final vows are taken, nobody would be asked to leave on health grounds. Sooner or later we all suffer some illness and our Sisters who are ill or very elderly become a real powerhouse of prayer. Our picture here shows our Motherhouse in Ireland where many retired Sisters pray ceaselessly for our missions and for all those who support us.
Maria wonders about keeping in contact with family.
How often does a Sister meet with her family?
This is flexible, Maria, depending on circumstances. During the novitiate, Sisters do not normally travel out of the country, but a bereavement is an exception. When on mission abroad, three months' leave is arranged every three years, some of which is usually spent with the Sister's family. In severe climates or countries where there is a lot of stress, this happens every two years for two months. In many cases the ceremony of final religious profession takes place in a Sister's home parish. Sister Cecily Bourdillon, pictured here, is the doctor responsible for Primary Health Care at Kasina, Malawi. She is a native of Zimbabwe, but her family live in several different countries, so she doesn't see them very often. She was one of the first MMMs to use e-mail, back in the early 1990s! Now with modern communications she finds it is much easier to remain in touch with her family.
Nilza is wondering about the language question.
What languages are required? Is fluent English necessary? Which languages are used by Sisters for communicating with local people?
That's an important point, Nilza! The official working language of the Congregation is English. Some young women come to MMM with very little knowledge of English and take courses to get sufficient fluency before entering the novitiate. Of course, living in a community where the language is spoken every day helps the process of learning! Other languages commonly in use are Swahili, French, Spanish, Portuguese.
As missionaries, Sisters strive to become proficient in the main language of the country where they are missioned. Some Sisters have also studied the language spoken locally as well as the official language of the country. In some places it is necessary to work through interpreters. In this picture, Sister Clara (sitting) is from Malawi. Because she knows the local language and the culture of the country she is a great asset to our work at Kasina Health Centre. Otherwise, Sister Mary McNamara (standing) would need an interpreter.
Joan has a question about how it is all financed.
How do the Sisters get funds?
The Congregational Business Administrator of the Congregation together with the Congregational Leadership Team has responsibility to ensure that there are sufficient funds for the programs and that funding is accounted for with transparency. All income earned by the Sisters is shared in common, and each Sister receives a small personal allowance in the currency of the country where she is on mission. The Congregations takes care of air fares and all the other needs the Sisters have to carry out their mission and to take care of those who are sick. Pictured here is Sister Kathie Shea from the USA who has a Master's in Business Admin. She is based in Chicago and helps our communities with financial issues. Sisters who are business administrators present our various projects to funding agencies. We also have people who work hard in association with MMM to raise funds to keep the work going. We are always grateful to receive donations, no matter how small, from individuals who would like to support our work. Website donations are also very important for us. Anyone can donate now!
Karina asks about development work.
As well as health care, from looking at your website I think some MMMs are deeply involved in development work. Is that true?
You are quite right, Karina. The main areas of development would be women's development, income generation, provision of clean water and nutrition projects. Providing clean water is often central to our work. Obviously Sisters don't drill the wells themselves, but they work closely with local government officials and they play a key role in animating the local people to get together to plan a well and take care of it. Many Sisters are quite expert at getting the funds and finding the qualified workers who will do the job. Sister Dympna Hannelly, who worked for many years at Makondo in Uganda, was an expert in community health.
Teresa wonders what difference we can make when there are so many problems.
How can you hope to make a difference when there is so much poverty and illness in most of the countries where you work?
Well, Teresa, you are absolutely right when you say poverty is widespread and this is the reason so many people have poor health. But we feel it would be an easy way out to say we can do nothing useful. Two big things we can do are to help communities to look at their nutrition levels and their water sources. The picture above shows Sister Dympna who helped to get dozens of wells in Uganda. Here you see a picture of Sister Nkeiru, who works as a nurse-midwife at Zaffe Health Centre in the Republic of Benin. She takes a great interest in our model farm, and the health centre works closely with local farmers to improve their methods. MMM also works in co-operation with the famous Songhai Centre for Development Education.
Ciara asks about emergency relief.
Is there a difference between your work and emergency relief agencies?
Yes, Ciara, there is a big difference! We go to a people who invite us to help them with their healthcare problems and we remain with them, passing on our skills, but with a view to one day moving on elsewhere. That can take many decades! Sometimes we have gone to a place in response to an emergency, and then remained on with the people for a long time after the emergency had passed. An example would be the great famine that struck the people in the Turkana Desert in 1962. We only finally withdrew from that mission in 2009!
Another example is Rwanda. We first went there in June 1994 in response to the genocide. Our picture here shows Sister Helen Spragg, a pharmacist from the UK, carrying out a baseline survey in Rwanda when things returned to some level of normality. We handed over our programmes there in January 2017. MMM Associates are still carrying on the work, inspired by our healing charism.
Honduras is another case. We went there in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch, and subsequently set up two missions where MMMs are still working among the local health teams. Some Sisters can be released for short-term work with emergency agencies, in time of famine or other disaster.
If you have a question about the vocation of an MMM Sister please Contact Us and you will receive a personal reply.