Tribute to first Ugandan Sister

sr_c_nakintu-deskSister Catharina Nakintu, who died on August 25, 2009, was the first Ugandan member of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. In fact, she was the first Ugandan woman to befriend the pioneering Sisters who arrived in Uganda on 4 December 1953. They had been invited there by Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka, the first African to become a Bishop in modern times.

The first steps of the newly-arrived missionaries were very challenging and fraught with difficulty, but Catharina Nakintu became the interpreter and close friend of the two pioneers, Sisters Gemma Breslin and Patricia Ann Devine, both now retired at our Motherhouse in Drogheda. Much more than that, Catharina introduced them to the local culture and helped to pave the way for the new work. She remained by their side for many years, eventually deciding that her own vocation was among the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

sr_c_nakintu_weighingShe completed her novitiate in Ireland, and was professed in 1965. Just as she had introduced the Sisters to her culture, she embraced the Irish ways with enthusiasm. She was always an advocate of intercultural living. She trained as a nurse and midwife in Drogheda, and brought all her genius to her missionary assignment in Tanzania. She studied Swahili and was part of the first team of MMM Sisters to work with the Government of Tanzania in the village of Babati in a far-seeing programme of health care against the backdrop of community development.

The Sisters later settled at Nangwa, at the foot of the Great Rift Wall, and Sister Catharina felt very much at home there. She specialized in primary health care and mother and child welfare. Later she served on the staff of Kabanga Hospital near the western border of Tanzania, and then took up an assignment at a very remote location, Loolera, among the famous Maasai people.

Sister Catharina constantly gave thanks to God for missionaries who were willing to leave their homeland and serve people of another culture. Her great desire was to see other Ugandan women follow her into the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Her prayer was heard.

Today in Rwanda, at the remote health centre at Kirambi near the Congo border, we find Sister Goretti Nalumaga, also a Drogheda-trained nurse and midwife. Sister Benedicta Nannyondo is the Nurse Director of the Health Centre at Makondo, Uganda, while Sister Maria Gonzaga Namuyomba, who qualified in accountancy in Kenya, served in Malawi and then for many years in Nigeria. She is now doing further studies in Ireland in business administration at the Dundalk Institute of Technology. Sister Jacquelline Nalubega, having completed a missionary assignment in Brazil, is now in Angola. Sister Elizabeth Naggayi is Vocations Director in Uganda. The Medical Missionaries of Mary look forward to the first profession of vows next month of Sister Josephine Nabisere and the admittance to the novitiate of Sister Christine Nanyombi. Sister Margaret Grace Nakafu begins the second year of her novitiate.

On morning of August 25, the Community at Makondo had just emerged from Mass celebrated for Sister Catherine. When they entered her room they found she was close to death. She was aged 85 and had been ailing for some time. As the last surviving elder of her family, her funeral was a significant tribute.

At the funeral Mass on August 26 in Makondo Parish Church, the Bishop of Masaka, John Baptist Kaggwa, presided with a large gathering of priests and people. Bishop Kaggwa spoke of her life of prayer, especially in her latter years when she was less active. She was a woman of great wisdom, he said, a person with whom young people loved to be. She loved her family and enjoyed visiting her nephew, Christoper, and his children, all of whom were present at her funeral. She gave a very thorough training to the traditional birth attendants, ensuring the safe delivery of many mothers.

Her remains were brought to the cemetery of the Cistercian Sisters at Butende, where a special plot had been arranged for the Medical Missionaries of Mary, who share with the Cistercians a common spirituality coming from the Rule of Saint Benedict. Sister Catharina will be greatly missed as one of the most inspiring elders of the Medical Missionaries of Mary.