Mother Mary and Telling the Story

Mother Mary was sent home from Africa in April 1937 to die. She had just made her First Profession of Vows in a hospital bed in Port Harcourt and Bishop Moynagh did not think she would survive the journey home. But Mother Mary had other ideas! Almost as soon as she set foot in Ireland, she got in touch with all her old friends and acquaintances. She was hoping to spread the news about the new missionary group and to raise funds for the future work ahead. In Dublin she took part in Apostolic Work displays. Also in 1937, there was a Missionary Exhibition in Cork and Mother Mary took a stand there. Always ahead of her time, she concentrated on the visual aspect, rather than the printed word only. There were photos lent by the Holy Child sisters. But the main attraction was a miniature maternity ward with six little cots, complete with mosquito nets and occupied by baby dolls.

By 1939, Mother Mary had persuaded Sr. Magdalen to become an editor and the first MMM Magazine was published in January 1940. Everywhere she and the Sisters went, they distributed the magazines and they found a willing audience. One vocation story I heard involved an old MMM magazine, thrown aside and stored in a loft. It was found twenty years later by a young woman who sat on the attic stairs to read it. It seeded an idea in fertile soil and Sr. Ruth Percival joined MMM in 1967.

Just as the Second World War was ending, Mother Mary’s thoughts turned to film. One of the Irish priests out in Nigeria had given her the idea. She did her research and contacted Andrew Buchanan, an experienced film producer. She explained her ideas and text to him. He enlightened her about production costs and the difficulties of transporting technicians and equipment to Africa. Undeterred, she went ahead with the project. She went by plane to Nigeria and the equipment was to go by land and sea, including a long trek across the Sahara Desert. She was waiting in Ogoja when the equipment arrived and they started filming the next day. Mother Mary was on location the whole time, explaining what should be shown. Back at home there were yards and yards of tape to be edited and finally the film was ready for distribution. The premiere was in London, but the Sisters then took it to parish halls and cinemas throughout Britain and Ireland. Wanting an even bigger distribution, Mother Mary approached Rank Film organisation. She managed to get them to distribute it on the huge Odeon and Gaumont chains. To the surprise of the commercial managers, it was an immediate success.

Given Mother Mary’s vision and energy, there is no doubt that nowadays she would have been a pioneer in the world of social media and use of the internet. But she herself was rarely in front of the camera. By nature a rather shy person, she was not about self-promotion. Her desire was that the work of the Sisters be shown, and funds raised, so that women and children in Africa could receive the medical care they deserved and badly needed.