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January-February 2012

Vol. 37, No. 1


Opening reflection: Maryknoll sisters celebrate 100 years

The Maryknoll Archives recently produced a 10-minute DVD in commemoration of the Society's and Congregation's 100th anniversaries; it is a compilation of photos and film documenting the first few years of Maryknoll's existence. Even in its brevity, the DVD is a lovely and moving tribute to the brave women and men who stepped out into the unknown, who chose faith, community and solidarity, who were willing to answer God's call wherever it might take them.

This month launches the centenary of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, founded by Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, who intended to start a new community for women with a unique and courageous calling – to be missioners in their own right, not as secretaries and cooks for the priests.

One hundred years later, Maryknoll sisters have served in China, in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, East Timor, American Samoa, Bangladesh, the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Japan, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Albania, and in the U.S. Alongside the people they have served, they've endured internment camps, house arrest, prison, torture, hunger and unrest, and, in the case of a few such as Ita Ford, Maura Clarke and Carol Piette, martyrdom. They have established schools and clinics, promoted women's participation in community life, advanced systemic efforts for justice and peace, worked with farmers, and ministered to people living with HIV and AIDS, those with physical and/or mental disabilities, those imprisoned, and others in marginalized groups.

  • In 1974, Maryknollers Laura Glynn (who died in 2004) and Elsie Monge arrived in Ecuador. In 1981, the sisters began working with CEDHU, the Ecumenical Commission for Human Rights in Ecuador. The majority of the people who go to CEDHU lack the resources and the tools needed to face the violation of their rights. The commission works in these areas: education, denunciation/defense, communication, investigation and documentation. In 2004, Sr. Elsie was one of 1,000 women around the world working for peace who were named in a collective Nobel Peace Prize nomination. She was named "Woman of the Year" in Ecuador in 2005.
  • Five Maryknoll Sisters arrived in East Timor in February 1991 to work in Aileu, a rural mountain community. In September 1999, violence followed the overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia, and the sisters, along with their neighbors, had to flee for their lives. After two months, they returned to Aileu, finding everything destroyed except the people's spirit. Today Maryknoll sisters teach in high schools and facilitate the community-based health program and family service center; and provide computer and literacy training, among other roles.
  • Since their arrival in Namibia in 1994, just four years after it gained independence from South Africa, Maryknoll sisters have given short courses, workshops and various services in health, education, catechetics and women's ministries. They speak of two Namibias, one dominated by whites, who control most of the wealth. The other Namibia can be seen in the dry parched countryside where African farmers eke out a subsistence living, and in the squatter settlements cropping up on the outskirts of the larger towns throughout the country. Two Maryknoll sisters wrote about their early experiences in Namibia: "The people experienced that we shared similar accommodations and shared meals with them. For many, this was a real first, and they commented that we accepted them (and so similarly they accepted us)." The apartheid legacy had left wounds, and some of the people said it was good they could experience that we "were one, no matter what our background or skin color."

The sisters' long standing institutional dedication to justice, peace and integrity of creation is clear; their 2008 General Assembly affirmed that they "listen with [their] hearts to each other's stories, to the cry of the earth, and to the voice of the people." Their commitment to "an eco-consciousness that informs all [their] ministries" exemplifies their progressive thinking and that they continue to choose faith, community and solidarity.

In her 1989 book Hearts of Fire, Penny Lernoux wrote: "The story of the Maryknoll Sisters had its beginnings when one woman decided that other women, too, wanted new ways to be in mission, new ways to be with people and to open their hearts to them. In over 30 countries around the world, … their hearts remain open – and on fire."

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