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2012 Year of Women Religious at 401 E. 20th Street, Covington, KY 41014 US - SND Ugandan mission meets global challenges

SND Ugandan mission meets global challenges

Laura Keener
Assistant Editor

In the video supporting the Year of Women Religious Notre Dame Sister Marla Monahan, provincial superior, shared her vision of the mission and ministry of religious life. “Where there are pockets of the poor or people most in need and others may not be able to go, because a religious woman makes vows that help her to be free to go where she needs to be, that’s what I envision religious life.”

The Sisters of Notre Dame have a long history of serving the educational and health care needs of the people in their care. In July 1995 their mission and ministry called four sisters, Sister Mary Janet Stamm and Sister Mary Delrita Glaser from the Covington, Ky., province and Sister Margaret Mary Scott and Sister Jane Marie McHugh from the Thousand Oaks, Cal., province, to a new home to begin a new mission, St. Julie Mission, in Busseesa, Kibaale District, Uganda.

Today nine Sisters of Notre Dame, five from Covington, oversee the operations of four schools — two preschools (St. Julie Nursery School, Buseesa and Notre Dame Nursery School, Lyamutundewe), an elementary school (St. Julie Primary School) and a high school (Notre Dame Academy Senior Secondary School) — as well as a farm and a house of studies and formation for young women discerning a call to religious life. The schools, farm and formation house comprise the community’s mission in Uganda. Like the sisters called to missionary service before them these women not only forgo the comforts of modern living but also encounter the dangers and challenges experienced by those they serve. What they bring, which makes all the difference, is knowledge and Christ’s peace.

In late July of this year Uganda experienced an outbreak of the highly infectious and deadly Ebola virus. The Sisters of Notre Dame Uganda mission was not unaffected by the Ebola outbreak. On Aug. 21, Sister Janet reported in an e-mail to the Messenger, “On July 30 the news broke that there was an outbreak of Ebola in Kibaale District. It was at this time that we learned that the mother of our P-4 (preschool 4) student and also his sibling had died of Ebola. Several sisters, not knowing the cause of death, had attended the burial of this child's mother and sibling. The officials of the district ordered all schools to close immediately. We experienced distress, confusion and fear as we tried to reassure our students, teachers and staff members. We quickly started preparations for closing and for our boarding students to go home.”

Fear and panic quickly spread. Parents began arriving at the school to retrieve their children almost immediately, only four days before the end of the second term. Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus the sisters blocked the school gates while the students began packing. All students were released to their parents at the gate with the exception of five girls, three from the secondary school and two from the primary school, who begged to stay because their homes were in the infected area and they were afraid to go home. The sisters empathized with the girls’ pleas and interceded on their behalf, imploring their fathers to let them stay.

When employees at the mission’s farm heard of the outbreak they too became afraid and asked if they could stay home from work to avoid gathering with others and perhaps contracting the virus. “We very much depend on the produce from our farm to feed over 500 people each day. If the workers had discontinued coming it would have been a great problem for our farm,” said Sister Janet. To allay their fears Sister Delrita, a nurse, met with the workers and shared information about the disease and how it is spread.

Sister Janet said that in general, and especially throughout the Ebola outbreak, communication has been a challenge. There is no electricity or TV at the convent and radio reception is difficult. The only newspapers they receive are old copies from the Sisters in Mpala. The cellular network in the area is very poor and connections are sparse. Solar power allows for only limited use of e-mail.

“What we have learned about Ebola (the outbreak) and its spread has come mostly from word of mouth which is not very reliable and also e-mail,” Sister Janet said. “Sister Ethel from Kentucky reads the Ugandan news via the computer and she sends us information.”

In a statement Sept. 3 the World Health Organization said that the Ebola outbreak in Uganda was coming to an end. “There have been no new confirmed cases of Ebola hemorrhagic fever reported in Kibaale district, Uganda, since 3 August 2012,” the statement said. “A total of 24 probable and confirmed cases including 17 deaths have been reported since the beginning of the outbreak. Of these, 11 cases were laboratory confirmed by the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) in Entebbe. The last confirmed case was discharged on 24 August 2012 following recovery.”

Since Sister Janet’s e-mail to the Messenger the sisters have learned that the third term of the school year will begin on time, Sept. 3, and students began to arrive Sept. 1.

In her closing remarks to the Messenger Sister Janet wrote, “I would ask the people of the Diocese of Covington to know that we are so very grateful to them for the support, prayers and interest they have shown for our St. Julie Mission and for our people. I would also encourage them to reflect on how very blessed they are to have access to such good health care and services in their times of need. The people in Uganda have such great needs for such services and they do not have them … I also urge prayers for doctors, researchers and others to find the cause and treatment of Ebola so that this scourge will not bring death and fear to so many people.”

To stay up to date on the Sisters of Notre Dame’s mission in Uganda visit www.sndky.org/pages/ugandamission/ and click on the link “Letters to Home.”

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