Meet the Sisters: Sr. Magdalene Iyua Upev, MMM

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I come from Kwande local government area of Benue State (Adikpo London), Nigeria. I speak Tiv as a local language and I come from a polygamous family. My father Upev Adagi was a traditional ruler. He was a king of 12 clans in our area. According to tradition, the king has to marry many wives. My mother, Martha Alu was married off at about 12 years old and she happened to be the youngest of the wives of my father. I have five sisters and a brother from my mother. At birth, I was given the name Iyuator meaning ‘gift to a king’. I am the seventh child of my mother and the youngest in the family having lost my sister who came after me. I am privileged to have many half-brothers and sisters and one of my sisters is the present queen of the TIV Nation home and abroad. Her husband is the Tor Tiv (King of the Tiv Nation).

My mother’s eldest child and her husband assumed the role of my parents when I was five. I am constantly referred to as the eldest of their four biological children. Our parents are deceased, my father passed on when I was six years old, while my mother died of cancer soon after I joined MMM.

I trained as a nurse and midwife before joining MMM. I graduated from the School of Nursing Makurdi at 24 years old. I got a state government appointment the following year. I worked in a school sick bay. While in the civil service, I went for my postgraduate midwifery programme at the Mutala Muhammed School of Midwifery in Jos University Teaching Hospital from September 2008 to March 2010. I entered MMM in August 2010.

The idea of a religious vocation started when I was about 14 years old. I had been reading about the lives of saints from the World Among Us monthly publication and was inspired by St. Martin De Porres and St. Josephine Bakhita. Furthermore, around the same age, I got actively involved in the Legion of Mary and so was touched by the idea of going on mission. I remained a Legionary until I joined MMM.

Before joining MMM, I knew nothing about the Congregation since MMM never worked in the State I come from. I first came across the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 2005 from a booklet of Religious Congregations in Nigeria, and in the same year, I made contact with the Congregation. A classmate of mine, who was a Missionary Sister of the Holy Rosary and knew I had an interest in religious life, gave me the book and encouraged me to start with MMM. I had been thinking of writing to Our Lady of the Apostles (OLA) second. However, I got a response from MMM the following week after posting my letter, so I decided to go in search of MMM. The fact that MMM was involved in healthcare attracted me more because I was already training to become a nurse.
After my First Profession, I was assigned to the Fuka community in Nigeria. Ten months later, I received another assignment to the Republic of South Sudan where I worked for six years and six months.

In my free time, I love reading, cooking, shopping, housekeeping and watching good movies. When I was in Ireland upgrading, I got serious about walking and jogging; the benefits are tremendous!
In 2023, I upgraded my nursing to a BSc at University College Cork in Ireland. My new mission is in Uganda; I am presently taking classes in Luganda in preparation for ministry. I already love the language and people.

What I have enjoyed the most in life are beautiful and rich liturgies, time to meditate, meeting people and sharing life with them. Some of the challenges I have faced are difficult missions, war, ill health and the worries that come with it. I am quite outgoing and can be talkative sometimes but I make an effort to be sensitive and caring of others needs too.

One thing life has taught me is to value people, listen to them without hasty judgement. Life has also taught me to be kind and reach out to people who need me most as well as take care of myself.

Sr. Nuala Horgan is a great storyteller! So, Healing Touch asked her to share part of her own life story.

She was the youngest of six children, four girls and two boys, and both of her parents were teachers. Her two brothers both became priests, one a Columban Missionary and the other a diocesan priest for the Diocese of Florida, USA.

After school, she decided to do nursing and was a qualified nurse and midwife before joining MMM. As a small child she was deeply moved by the MMM film “Visitation”. But she was not so keen on nuns and swept the whole idea from her head. But it must have been there as a call in the background and finally, she paid attention. She feels now privileged to be a full member of MMM.

Her overseas missionary experience has been wide and varied. She has worked in Tanzania, Malawi and Ethiopia. In MMM she upgraded her nursing education to Tutorship level and was a very effective tutor in all her assignments. She was also involved in public health work and in palliative care.

A keen photographer, Sr. Nuala has many albums from her time in East Africa. Now based in Drogheda, she also enjoys reading, art and drama.

Her most memorable mission experience was the time she spent in Ethiopia at Wolisso Hospital. It was a diocesan-run hospital and training school. This was the only Catholic hospital and training school in the country of Ethiopia. There was a fully international community of Sisters running the institution. There were Ethiopians, English, Indian and Irish, in our group. The Administrator was American. Everyone got on very well and was hugely enriched by the composition of the group. Nuala loved the culture of the country, and loved the students themselves who were full of life and personality. They were heroic as all teaching was done in English while truly the majority could not speak this foreign language. This was a challenge. Another challenge was a huge shortage of textbooks in each of the countries where she taught nursing. They relied heavily on help from donors.

One thing that life has taught her is to always be respectful to everybody she encounters. Also, it is good to be patient and listen to others. It is a wonderful thing to experience other cultures and learn from them.

 

Sr. Maria considers herself as a fish caught by the MMM Magazine and by the late Sr. Ruth Carey’s ‘Diary of an MMM’, which reached her in her secondary school in Malta, before she ever met an MMM Sister in person.  As an economics student, she took the opportunity in 1969 of a 2-month traineeship in Belfast City Public Libraries, from where she would travel every weekend to an MMM community.  By the end of that time, having met in person several MMMs – from pioneers or veterans on the mission field, to those fresh from novitiate or from college, straining at the leash to ‘go out to the missions’ – she was sure that this was the life to which God was calling her.

Her early years of formation followed by her student years in MMM were spent in Clonmel, Drogheda, Waterford and Dublin.  When her mother, who had trained as a nurse with Irish Blue Sisters in Malta, used to break into singing ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary…’ while going about her housework, none of the family dreamt that Maria would be starting her life as an MMM in that very same Tipperary.  During those years, she came to know the hospitality of the Irish, and also discovered the joy of living as a member of an international and multicultural community, working shoulder-to-shoulder with Sisters from at least 3 continents.

As a Medical student in Dublin, she experienced again the friendliness of Irish students, who have invited her to every 10-year reunion since her class qualified in 1980, and many of whom still keep regularly in touch.  After further studies and experience in Obstetrics/Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Tropical Medicine, she was missioned to Tanzania, where she reached in 1984.  Maria has been working there since, starting with 4 months studying KiSwahili, then in MMM Hospitals in Kabanga, Dareda, Makiungu, right up to the present, where she works as a semi-retired Obstetrician/Gynaecologist at Nangwa Village Health Programme, under the shadow of the beautiful Mount Hanang, Manyara Region.

She is thankful for these 50 years as an MMM, to her MMM Sisters, who modelled for her what she might aspire to be like, to her most supportive family, friends and mentors, who have become part of her life over this half-century, which feels to her just like a happy dream.

My name is Nwanneka Judith Uduh and I am a Nigerian, and I grew up in Nigeria. For us every name has a significance, it could be related to events surrounding your conception and birth, your parents’ wish for you and themselves, or an expression of gratitude. There is always a story attached to our names. When I was born my parents gave me Nwanneka, which means “it is better to have relatives than to accumulate wealth because wealth is only useful if there is someone to utilise”. I was given Judith when I was baptised, and my grandfather’s name is Uduh which means fame.

I trained as a nurse and midwife and worked for three years before joining MMM. I heard about MMM from a friend of mine who also joined MMM after me. I always admired the missionaries and I think the missionary life of MMM attracted me, with that “holy” desire to go and save, but the longer I stay in religious life the more I realise that the first person to save is me. God brought me to religious life for my sake. He is saving me through my ministries, my community, prayers, masses, challenges and so many other encounters.

My initial assignment was to Fuka in Northern Nigeria. From Fuka I was assigned to Itam, in the southeast of Nigeria and then to Shogunle in the southwest of Nigeria. Each of these places is different with different cultures, attitudes to life and challenges of life, but in each of them, I recognised Christ walking in the midst of the people. When I have time, I enjoy reading and meeting friends.

In 2022, I completed a one-year BSc Nursing studies programme at the University College Cork, Ireland, to upgrade my certificate. I am now back in Nigeria and living in Ewu, Mafoluku, Lagos, preparing for my next mission. During this time, I have been able to assist in some of our ministries and gave workshops in our facilities on “improving patient experience through respectful communication”, and “improving patient safety through quality improvement”.

I think the best part of being an MMM for me is being able to look into the eyes of my Sister from another tribe, country or race and recognize myself there. Accepting that, as a religious, I need saving like the people I am trying to “save” is a challenge I must battle each day. My greatest learning is that everything is a gift (Grace) from God therefore, there is no room to judge anyone.

This month we are going to meet Sr. Chinenye Gertrude Imoh, from Nnarambia Ahiara Ahiazu Mbaise, Imo State, Nigeria. She is a lively, outgoing person. She describes herself as “noisy” at times, but that side of her personality was not seen on her recent stay in Ireland! She comes from a family of eight children, two boys and six girls. Her parents are still alive. They were business people and ensured that all the children had a good education.

Chinenye trained as a nurse/midwife in the School of Nursing, Joint Hospital Mbano in Imo State, and in the school of Midwifery, Mater Misericordia, Afikpo, Ebonyi State, respectively. As she was discerning her vocation to religious life, she decided to work in Mile Four Hospital, Abakaliki, and see these MMM Sisters up close! She began with the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate (PVMI) and discontinued because she was not at home with the apostolate and then she went for studies.

It was our motto “Rooted and Founded in Love” that caught her attention, and our healing charism. But she was undecided, and so for a time just pursued her studies and left all thoughts of religious life aside. Then, one day, she met an MMM Sister in her parish and took the plunge, asking this Sister who she should contact to join MMM. This happened when she was studying Botany at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike in Abia State in 2003. Her quest for serving God and humanity in the healing ministry made her quit the University for Nursing school in Mbano.

Her journey to MMM started back in 2007 when she visited the vocation directress, Sr. Fidelia Ogujawa, for the first time in Mile Four, Abakaliki. She entered postulancy in 2010. After her period of initial religious formation, she was assigned to Zaffe in the Republic of Benin in 2014. Apart from working as a nurse and midwife, she also was bursar and engaged in youth ministry. “It was quite challenging, trying to get them to reason with me on how to improve their lives. At one stage, I was frustrated, but my Sisters and a few of them encouraged me. The mission helped me to appreciate cultural diversity and respect individual cultures’’, she says.

In 2021, Sr. Chinenye had the opportunity to upgrade her nursing to degree level in Cork, Ireland. In the Motherhouse we loved the visits from the students as they brought such joy with them!

Back in Nigeria in 2022, she assumed coordination of St. Theresa’s Clinic, Amukoko in Lagos.   The clinic is quite a big one and highly demanding.  Although they have 52 staff, there is always a need for extra people to help. They deal with an average of 150 outpatients in a day.  Her work is not only coordinating but also carrying out clinical work when they are short-staffed, and conducting health talks when groups invite her.  Being in a slum area that is highly populated, apart from medical assistance, they also come to the clinic looking for food and financial help. Keeping professional staff is challenging, the medical officer who was there for only three years recently resigned and so did the radiographer.  It will not be easy to replace them.  The economy of the country has made medical personnel leave Nigeria for a better livelihood abroad.

However, the presence of MMMs in this Area gives her joy because many people in this area keep narrating how the clinic has helped them and they are appreciative. The patients so much believe in the sisters and the workers. “The cooperation between the staff and the sisters is highly recommendable, and this makes work a bit easier.”, Sr. Chinenye tells us.

Reflecting on her life, she has learned to let things be and trust more in God. “I can be impatient at times”, she whispers! Moreover, I am task-oriented, and I love working in a team to ensure the completion of tasks assigned to us. I value commitment, reliability, and integrity. I love dancing, reading, and watching movies on my leisure time.

Sr. Cleide Daniel da Silva was one of our first Brazilian MMMs. She comes from a small rural town in the south of Brazil called Santa Inês. She is one of ten children, nine of whom survived into adulthood, five boys and four girls. Cleide is the eldest of the girls and that may explain her sense of responsibility and her devotion to young people.

Cleide at times appears quiet and reflective. She is a deep thinker but is also able to chatter and socialises with ease. She is a warm, generous person, both with her time and her talents. In her spare time, she makes jewellery as a hobby and loves doing word play puzzles. As a young teenager she went as far in her studies as was possible in the small town near where her father farmed land. When MMM came to run a small rural hospital, Cleide watched the Sisters and became attracted to our way of life. “I liked their simple lifestyle and the warm and caring way they treated people”, she says. “I also liked the fact that they were caring for the sick”.

After joining MMM she became a nurse and has grown in appreciation of the many different ways she is called to heal, both physically with care, but also emotionally and spiritually by listening to and responding to the varied needs she encounters.

After her initial religious formation period, Cleide spent some time in the U.S., learning English and working in a centre for drug addicted mothers and their babies. Then she went to Angola and was involved with primary health care at a time when Angola was just emerging from a brutal, prolonged Civil War with the AIDS epidemic beginning to take hold. A spell in Ireland, at the Motherhouse allowed her to nurse our elderly and infirm MMMs in Aras Mhuire and more recently she was assigned to Honduras until MMM withdrew in 2021. Indeed, Honduras was the country which she most enjoyed. There she worked in health pastoral ministry, with young people, women and with human rights. She acknowledged that the levels of violence are high, that it has suffered from hurricanes and other ecological disasters, but says the people themselves are very warm, supportive and share the little they have. She feels privileged to have worked there.

Now, back in Brazil, she is spearheading a new mission in the Amazon region. It is an area of conflict with a high incidence of domestic violence, a high level of rural urban migration, especially among the youth, increase and high investment in agribusiness. (Many people are exposed to pesticides that large farmers use, resulting in skin problems and lung cancer related to pesticide use – especially people who work directly in the agribusiness, for example, soybean farms).

So, Sr. Cleide has a difficult mission ahead of her, but she knows herself to be persevering and determined. We send her a warm, Brazilian hug and will accompany her in our prayers.

Sr. Breeda Ryan, MMM

Let me introduce you to a sprightly eighty-year-old. She is Sr. Breeda Ryan from Thurles, Co. Tipperary in Ireland. Breeda comes from a large family of ten children. She only had two brothers and the rest were girls. Breeda herself is truly in the middle of the family being the fifth child.

Those who know Breeda will tell you how easy she is to live with in community. She is even tempered, never sulky or cross. Throughout her life she has gained many skills – far beyond her initial training and has constantly put these skills forward for the benefit of the community and the people wherever she lived. Breeda is an out-going person and people find her easy to talk to. She is a good listener.

Breeda was educated close to home and then worked for some years in the business of a family friend. But during these years she was also discerning about a vocation to religious life. The only Sisters she knew were teachers and Breeda didn’t want to become a teacher. By chance she came across an MMM flyer in the local church and saw that MMM could use “all gifts and talents” and she felt welcomed. After seeking advice, she decided to enter.

After her initial religious formation, Breeda had ideas of being trained as a nurse. But Mother Mary had other ideas! She mentioned the need for someone trained in Catering for our hospitals. So Breeda did Institutional Management in a Dublin Technical College (Cathal Brugha Street) and then went to work in our hospital in Drogheda for four years.

In 1975, Breeda was assigned to Tanzania. Her skills in administration were obvious. For the next twenty-two years she worked in Hospital administration in some of our busiest hospitals at the time – Kabanga, and Makiungu. One of the many challenges was looking for funds to undertake the work and all the paperwork and project writing this involved!

In 1998, Breeda’s skills at administration were stretched yet again. She was asked to return to Ireland and take over the financial administration of the whole Congregation. She stayed in this role for the next twenty years, “retiring” finally to the Motherhouse in Beechgrove when she was 76 years age. Is Breeda retired? Of course not! She is now in charge of our Philately Department, which still raises funds for our overseas work. So, if you have used stamps looking for a home, send them to Breeda, and you will receive a lovely “thank you”.

Breeda says “I enjoyed all my various assignments in different ways. But Makiungu Hospital in Tanzania was special. The people were so friendly and helpful. We worked well together as a Team in the hospital which was great, and we had a good MMM community with five different nationalities. We received wonderful support from the Singida Diocese.” “Life is about seeing and seeking God in all things, and being grateful for the gift of Faith”, she reflects.

Sr. Breeda Ryan in Making, Tanzania with Sr. Benedicta Nannyondo RIP

First impressions of Petronilla are of a warm, outgoing, cheerful person. But she is also a woman of great depth and wisdom. Petronilla Nwanyieze Irozuru was born the eldest in her family of eight children. Her sense of responsibility and her reliability might stem from this position as eldest daughter. She grew up in a strong Catholic family where attending Mass and catechism class and the Rosary were part of the daily routine. Petronilla herself believes that this gave her a good foundation in the faith and the zeal to know God.

As a young woman, she was educated locally and then went off to train as a Nurse/Midwife in a State Hospital. She met MMM Sister Dr. Leonie McSweeney one day when Leonie came to her hospital to talk to the nurses about Natural Family Planning. “Umm”, she thought to herself, “This Sister is bringing her professional skills to serve God”. She was attracted to the name of the Congregation, to its work and to the great simplicity of Sr. Leonie herself. Petronilla promptly applied to join MMM.

After her initial religious formation, she was assigned to the North of Nigeria – same country but totally different language and culture from her own. She found the people friendly and welcoming which helped the transition process a great deal. She learnt the importance of speaking the local language so that she could communicate more easily and work more effectively.

After Gussorro in the North, she was then assigned to Abujah, to coordinate MMM Primary Health care there. This was the first of other moves, each time growing in responsibility and teaching her skills wherever she went. She has had training in Health Management, Planning and Policy in an English University, did upgrading in Nursing in Ireland, studied geriatric nursing, and cared for some of our elderly MMM Sisters. Generally, Petronilla is an all-rounder, reliable, energetic, and reliable. She is passionate about her work and a good listener.

In her free time, she enjoys singing and listening to music. She enjoys the quiet times before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. “One thing life has taught me”, she says, “ is that truly giving oneself in the service of others brings joy, satisfaction and fulfilment.”

Sr. Joan Grumbach spent over forty years in East Africa, and it is her experiences there that have reshaped and moulded her personality. But her origins are on the other side of the world.

Sr. Joan was born in Connecticut, USA, and she has one older sister. The family had lived in the same area for a long time, in fact, Joan went to the same Sisters of Mercy School that her parents had attended many years before. As a young child she thought about her future and decided that teaching was not for her. She wanted to be a nurse! She had aunts who were nurses, and they encouraged her to get a college education as they could foresee that nursing education was heading for university level. So, to help defray the expenses involved, Joan worked part time and with summer jobs, to see her through her nursing degree at Boston University.

After qualifying, Joan worked as a Visiting Nurse in Arlington, MA, a neighbouring town to Winchester where MMM lived at that time. A friend indicated “a great bunch of Sisters” lived there, as they were driving past one day. Curiosity aroused, Joan found an opportunity to visit and was warmly welcomed by the community and the novices. Although attracted to their life, Joan had set other plans in motion! She had signed up for the Naval Nurse Corp. and drove across the country to San Diego, California. But MMM did not let go so easily. There were MMMs in California at that time too, so connections were made, correspondence continued and finally Joan drove back East to join the Sisters in Winchester in 1975.

After her initial religious formation, Joan went to a new mission in Clinchco, Virginia. The area was a poor coal mining region with not many Catholics. The Lutheran pastor and his wife were very helpful and the sisters and priests formed a support group that met on a monthly basis. After a few months, she got a job in a clinic in the next town. But this assignment did not last long. Joan was asked to go to Ireland and study midwifery, preparing her for her future ministry in Africa. She enjoyed Ireland, meeting so many more MMMs and hearing their stories.

In 1981, Joan arrived in Tanzania, which was to be her home for the next thirty something years. Her work was mostly in Maternal and Child Health and it took her to some remote places, where resilience and adaptability were required. She worked in Namanyere in the southwest, in Loolera among the Maasai nomads, and in Nangwa in the centre north. For two years she actually went to “the big city”, Nairobi, Kenya, where she worked in a slum area. She only returned to the USA last year, 2021. Joan is a likeable, sociable person, an introvert by nature. People notice her kindness, her willingness to go the extra mile, to be helpful. She certainly is a woman of faith. One of her hobbies (when she gives herself time) is reading mystery stories. Life in Africa brought its challenges, learning languages, understanding other cultures. But Joan says it has broadened her world view and taught her tolerance. She loves new challenges and certainly adapting back to life in the USA will be a new one. Joan, we wish you well in the years ahead.

Bernadette, known more colloquially as “Bernie”, comes across as quiet and shy at times, but underneath she has a bubbly and warm personality. She enjoys a good joke, can see the fun in situations and adores being with children.

Bernie was born in Claremorris, Co. Mayo, the second eldest in a family of five. Although she lived in the town, her grandparents lived in a rural area so Bernie feels she had the advantages of both environments. She was educated at the local Mercy convent schools. From an early age she knew she had a religious vocation, but knew it was not for the Mercy Sisters. She was influenced by an elderly great aunt who was a Nursing Sister in Texas and heard family stories about her.

MMM was chosen by Bernie after corresponding with different missionary groups. On her first visit to Drogheda for a “come and see” experience, she was struck by just how the Sisters seemed so ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’. “I just felt ‘at home’ and it was so interesting to hear of their mission experiences”, she says now, thinking back to that time.

After her initial Formation Period, Bernie went to the hospital in Drogheda and studied both nursing and midwifery before receiving her first missionary assignment to Malawi in Central Africa. Here she worked in a busy Health Centre which had a maternity unit, nutrition unit, and outpatients. They had under-five, nutrition and antenatal clinics at the unit and also primary health care outreach clinics. She loved her time in Nkhata Bay, northern Malawi, but it was difficult and, as the Aids pandemic began, heart-breaking too.

In 1996, Bernie went on a sabbatical programme. In Dublin, she went to work with the Daughters of Charity at their Centre for Adults with Learning Disabilities. This was a whole new and different learning experience, but it gave her strength and skills to face the challenges that lay ahead of her.
In 2001, Bernie went to Marcala, Honduras, to work with the Lenca indigenous people, forming and working with health committees in the making of natural medicines, home pharmacies, capacity building workshops and training of traditional Birth Attendants. The Lenca people, a marginalized people within an already poor country, suffer from marked economic, educational inequality and poor access to services. During her time with the Health Committees, she observed that the two most vulnerable groups were the children and the women. In 2005, the Sisters developed an Integrated health programme in the schools, using health education as a medium to develop their creative and participative skills, improve self-esteem, provide information and practical skills on health, human development and environmental themes. They also had lots of fun activities such as arts and crafts, painting, jigsaws, puzzles, games etc., activities that the children never had an opportunity to do before. Bernie reflects, “It was so beautiful to see the wonder in the children’s eyes and the smiles on their faces as they began to enjoy, gain confidence and develop their creative skills”. Bernie’s own face lights up as she talks.

In 2015, they moved to Siguatepeque, another needy community, and commenced working in the rural communities of the parish of Meambar. Here she worked with women, forming support groups and creating safe spaces where women could come together to receive capacity building on a wide range of themes and share their experiences in a safe environment. They were aware of a high incidence of domestic violence against the women in these communities. She was inspired by the resilience, strength and courage of these women in the midst of much suffering and hardship and also by their deep faith and trust in God.

During her time in Honduras, Bernie, at times, felt helpless seeing the poverty (62% of pop live in poverty), the violence, the corruption, extortion and the breakdown of family life etc. This was one of her biggest challenges. She eventually left Honduras in 2021 when MMM withdrew from the country.
Presently Bernie is in Ireland, in Drogheda, nursing our elderly and infirm Sisters. She has a little bit more time for her hobbies which she says are reading, knitting, walking, Sudoku and gardening.

Life has taught her that life is full of ups and downs and one of the phrases that sustains her is “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” from Julian of Norwich.

Bernie grins at me and says: “Change happens, it is better to prepare or plan for it rather than having it forced upon you!” She knows that God walks with her in all the events of her life whether she is aware of it or not, and is getting ready for her next MMM adventure on the road of life.

USA