Meet the Sisters – Sr. Breeda Ryan, MMM

Holds our MMM Sisters and MMM Sisters data

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.

Sr. Maria José is the new Area Leader for the Americas and known to the writer of this article personally since she was 18 years old! So, yes, I am biased! But all who know Maria can say with me that she is a warm, friendly and approachable person, wise beyond her years, a sincere and mature woman.

Maria comes to her new role after a wide MMM experience in mission. She is Brazilian, from the southern State of São Paulo. She grew up in the neighbouring State of Parana, but her roots come from the North and the Central Western areas of Brazil. As she says herself: ”My parents were internal migrants, searching for better place to live and work within the country in order to be able to offer us conditions for school and better living conditions.” Maria is one of four siblings, she has two brothers and one sister, all married with children. Maria’s father, Ernesto José da Silva, has died, but she is currently involved in her mother’s care; Maria’s mother, Maria de Lourdes Santana Silva, has Alzheimer’s.

Maria’s interest in religious life began as a young teenager. She told her mother she wanted to be a religious Sister, but as there were no Sisters living locally, it didn’t seem that this dream would be realized. Then MMM came to town. The first Sisters went to live in Maria’s town, Colorado, in 1980, and almost immediately began vocation work among the young people while working in the local hospital. Maria liked what she saw. “What attracted me to MMM was their simple lifestyle and how they related to people in an informal, caring way.” Maria came to live with the Sisters in Colorado and then went to São Paulo for novitiate. She made her first profession in 1986 and studied auxiliary nursing during her early years in MMM and then went on to get a degree in Social Work. Her first overseas assignment was to Angola in 1993 for two years. On her return to Brazil, this time to Salvador in the Northeast, she worked as a social worker in a project for disadvantaged children in a poor area of the city. She was also involved in formation work both in Brazil and overseas. In 2001, she had the opportunity to go to Baltimore to study for a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counselling.

In 2011 Maria went to East Africa, to Uganda, and was there for eight years, right up to the time she returned to Brazil to help with her mother’s care.

Maria talks of her hobbies as “taking long walks and contemplating nature”, but she forgets to mention that she is a good gardener and handy with a sewing machine as well! One enjoyable thing that has given her life is aging gracefully and enjoying good health. She feels at home and true to herself. The current years of pandemic have brought their own challenges. “How do you help young people not lose values and deepen their human relationships?”

Life has taught Maria to use wisdom, reflection and prayer as guide in life. She always acknowledges that she is not in charge of the whole truth. She does not need to change the world by herself, “life is a process and transition is part of life.”

Maria José, we wish you well as you take up your new responsibilities.

Sr. Cecilia Chinenyenwa Kanulor is a strong woman! She is fairly tall and hold herself erect. She faces the challenges of life head on and with much good humour.

Cecila comes from Nigeria, from Ahiara Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State. She was born the tenth child in a family of eleven, she had seven sisters and three bothers. You can imagine that being one of the youngest in a large family group, she became used to community life from a young age. Her aunt, Sr. Therese Jane Ogu, entered MMM over 60 years ago and quietly, Cecilia watched her aunt and weighed up her vocational choices. She says her aunt exemplified all the qualities she would later admire in the MMM Sisters she would meet – compassion, simplicity, understanding, and care.

After leaving school, Cecilia studied Nursing and midwifery before joining MMM. She enjoyed community life, and settled in well. Her first assignment after her First Profession of Vows was to Abakaliki where she worked in the hospital. Her initiative and competence were noted. Soon she was asked, with other Sisters, to spearhead a new mission in Torugbene, Bomadi, southern Nigeria in Delta State.


Meeting Sr. Irene Balzan for the first time, one is struck by a certain calmness and peace. Some say “contained” and most agree she is very competent. This comes from her family but also from the long years she spent as a child, teenager and young woman developing her spiritual life and discerning her life’s vocation.

Sr. Irene Balzan comes from Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, a stepping stone between Europe and Africa. Her hometown is called Zebbug, meaning olives, and derives from the number of olive groves that surrounded the church and the town centre. It is one of the oldest towns in Malta. She has only one brother but grew up in a multi-generational household with parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle. She describes herself as having a very happy childhood. She was raised as a Catholic, schooled by religious Sisters and encouraged in all she wanted to achieve in life by her parents. As a young woman she was attracted to Taize meditation and did the Caminho pilgrimage between France and Spain. She knew early on that she wanted religious life but was unsure where or how until she came across a newspaper article about MMM and she resonated straight away with the spirit and work of the Congregation.

Sr. Irene did her early Nurse education in Malta before joining MMM. After her initial religious formation in Ireland, Uganda and Kenya, she came to Ireland to complete her midwifery studies. Then came her first missionary assignment, to Urua Akpan in Nigeria. “It was very much plunging in at the deep end and relying on one’s own personal resources”, Irene remembers. This experience founded the building blocks of resilience which stood by her in the years that followed. Sr. Irene did well in Urua Akpan and was chosen to go to a new mission, recently started by three other MMMs, in the Republic of Benin. Although a neighbouring country to Nigeria, it was French speaking and had different cultures and traditions.

After seven years in the Republic of Benin and further educational studies in London, Sr. Irene was ready for the next step in her “extraordinary adventure”. She began a new mission in a newly formed South Sudan, an area recovering from civil war and with great need. During her five years there she worked to establish the MMM Healing Centre, working collaboratively with other groups religious orders. Working in conflict-driven societies has been the most challenging experience for Sr. Irene, especially the feeling of living with uncertainty, instability and no ground under your feet.

However, life is not all about work! In her free time Sr. Irene enjoys swimming and music. She plays the guitar and reminisces on the joy it brought in the various countries where she worked.
“When people think of me, they think of …parapapumpum!! (The song of The Little Drummer Boy). Every Christmas in the Republic of Benin, it was a deep joy to go around the streets of the village of Zaffe playing the guitar and singing Christmas carols. The Little Drummer boy was the favourite song for both young and old alike. The song left a trail and whisp of connectedness, togetherness, love, solidarity and joy. It was as if parapapumpum is contagious as this song brought great smiles and joy too to the over 8,000 internally displaced people in South Sudan’s migrant settlement. Amidst their fleeing away for safety just like Joseph and Mary they found solace, love and acceptance. “

Currently Sr. Irene is working in the MMM clinic in Beechgrove, caring for our elderly and infirm Sisters. We wish her well in her present ministry and in all life will bring her into the future.