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Number 173 - April/May 2017
Soon we will be celebrating the great feast of Easter – the Resurrection of Jesus, the triumph of life over death. At this time we are especially reminded of Jesus’ constant message of peace to his followers and his reassurance that he is still with us, exhorting us to take courage in the face of many harsh realities around us.
On 4 April, MMMs and MMM Associates around the world will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. As a young woman, Marie Martin saw firsthand the devastating effects of war and conflict. She was especially moved by the lack of health care for women and children in Africa. She knew what could be achieved through nursing and longed to respond in a practical way. She dreamed of forming a group of women who would bring God’s love and healing to others. It took great faith and trust and many years of searching before her dream was realized.
World Health Day is held each year on 7 April, the anniversary of the foundation of the World Health Organization (WHO). The theme for this year is depression, with the slogan: ‘Depression: let’s talk.’ Depression is a common mental disorder, which according to the WHO, affects more than 300 million people globally. It is characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that a person normally enjoys, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks.
While depression can affect anyone, the WHO says that it occurs disproportionately in three groups: adolescents and young adults, women of childbearing age (particularly following childbirth), and older adults (over 60s). The risk is increased by poverty, unemployment, life events such as the death of a loved one or the break-up of a relationship, physical illness and problems caused by alcohol and drug use.
It is important to understand that depression can be prevented and treated. A better understanding of the condition will help reduce associated stigma and encourage more people to seek help. Discussion needs to happen in larger groups, e.g. in schools, the workplace and social settings; or in the public domain, in news media, blogs and social media. Talking about depression is a vital part of recovery, whether with a family member, friend or medical professional.
In this newsletter you can read how MMMs continue their involvement in mission by working in the Stamp Department in our Motherhouse. Parishioners in Monkstown, Dublin have provided a quiet space for reflection and prayer in their refurbished chapel. A century ago, in a similar time of world upheaval, two extraordinary women also sought guidance in this space. Sister Martine Makanga wrote about bringing new life to others in her work as a paediatric surgeon.
Turning a blind eye We hear so much in the news about ongoing world conflicts, which are causing the uprooting of millions of people. The war in Syria shows no sign of ending and ‘has left more than 300,000 people dead’ (BBC, 13 March 2017).
Wars also lead to destruction of the environment and make it difficult for farmers to plant crops. At present, millions of people in South Sudan and the Horn of Africa are experiencing hunger and face possible starvation if more interventions are not put in place in the next few weeks.
Some of our world leaders, thinking that we will be safe if we are insulated from these issues, advocate building walls to keep ‘them’ out - as if 'we' could be kept safe by pretending that their sufferings do not affect us. As Christians we have been told instead: ‘He is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.... So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God’ (Eph 2:14, 19 NRSV).
The Risen Christ encourages us to join in the struggle to break down walls in the search for justice and peace.
Thank you again for your generous support. We remember you in prayer each day.
Sister Carol Breslin, MMM
‘While weapons traffickers do their work, there are poor peacemakers who give their lives to help one person, then another and another and another’ (Pope Francis).
Putting our stamp on it
According to the archives of RTÉ (the Republic of Ireland public service broadcaster), as of 19 October 2015, 30,000 people in Ireland were collecting stamps. They noted that the postage stamp dates from 1837 and is often described as ‘the first step in mass communication’.
It seems we do need to clarify that we are referring to postage stamp collection in this article! A note in Wikipedia states: ‘It has been suggested that John Bourke, Receiver General of Stamp Dues in Ireland was the first [stamp] collector. In 1774 he assembled a book of the existing embossed revenue stamps, ranging in value from six pounds to half a penny. His collection is preserved in Dublin.'
The MMM Stamp Department Collecting postage stamps began early in the story of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. The work was begun as a source of income for the new congregation in the 1940s. Our Motherhouse in Drogheda was being developed as a base for admission of new members, for promotion of the congregation and for fundraising.
Many older women joined MMM in its early years. Unable to go overseas, they embraced this ministry and helped to make it possible for Sisters to have religious and professional training. The income from selling stamps helped to build our Motherhouse, as well as formation houses, clinics and hospitals. The MMMs involved were all part of the missionary adventure, bringing health care to areas of great need and helping to empower local people to carry on the work.
There were often articles about stamps and stamp collecting in our MMM magazine, with illustrations of stamps from various countries. In 1987, the Golden Jubilee year of the foundation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, An Post (the Irish Post Office) issued a special commemorative stamp. It recognised the contribution made by the MMM Congregation to health services, both in Ireland and overseas. It shows our Motherhouse and a portrait of Mother Mary. The Waterford Chamber of Commerce and Trinity College Botanic Gardens were also recognised that year.
Of course many Sisters and friends were needed to promote the venture. Among them was Sister Immaculata Nichols, who took it on with great enthusiasm and encouraged many of her friends to save stamps and send them on to us. In our Winter 1988 MMM magazine, she encouraged stamp collecting as a hobby, explained how to get started, and informed us that Saint Gabriel is the patron saint of stamp collectors - apparently because he was good at delivering messages.
Sister Majella McKernan, now resident in Aras Mhuire, was involved in the work as a novice in the mid-1940s and can still remember learning her way around Dublin as she visited shops on O’Connell Street. She was also dropped off at various tenements to collect bags of stamps. When Sister Mary Anna Johnston returned to Ireland from several years in Nigeria, she organised the activities from Bettystown. Sister Louis Marie Brett, now in charge of the department, recalled being the driver who used to bring Mary Anna to Dublin to collect stamps from the General Post Office (GPO). Sisters Pacelli Ward and Rose Gunn also contributed many years to this ministry.
Still an important contribution While other means of sending letters and parcels and the increasing cost of postage mean fewer stamps are now in circulation, about ten Sisters are engaged in sorting and packing stamps at our Motherhouse in Drogheda. Some deal with correspondence, thanking and encouraging our friends who support us. In this way, older Sisters who spent many years on mission overseas and at home continue to play a part in our work in health and healing.
It is one of many ways in which you also can join us. We ask you to please send your used stamps to Drogheda. We are delighted to receive old stamp albums, so please have a look around the house! While we sell ordinary stamps in bulk, stamps are sorted according to country and value. These include commemoratives, especially if only a small number were issued. Stamps of higher value and from countries outside of Ireland are welcome, particularly from the UK. We also welcome buyers.
The address is: Stamp Department, Medical Missionaries of Mary, Hardman’s Gardens, Beechgrove, Drogheda, Co. Louth.
All involved in the work share in the daily prayers of MMMs and MMM Associates around the world.
‘What will I do with my life?’ (Marie Martin)
To mark the 150th anniversary of Saint Patrick’s Church in Monkstown, County Dublin, in early 2017 the former mortuary chapel was refurbished. It has now been re-dedicated as a prayer space to the legacy of Mother Mary Martin, Foundress of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and her contemporary, Venerable Edel Quinn, Envoy of the Legion of Mary to East Africa.
Marie Martin was born in 1892 in Glenageary, County Dublin. The growing family later moved to Monkstown, where a lovely estate, Greenbank, became their home. At a talk for MMM supporters in Boston, MA, USA in 1952, Mother Mary said, ‘I was very fond of life. I enjoyed everything: tennis parties, dances, and so on, just like every normal girl. I thought the marriage vocation was a wonderful one. I only thought of my mother, she, the mother of twelve children....And I had determined that if it was God’s will that I would get married and be like Mother.’ World War I began while Marie was trying to decide her future. With two of her brothers deployed overseas, she trained as a Red Cross (VAD) nurse and was sent to care for the wounded, mainly in Malta and France. She returned home for Christmas 1916 a changed person. Soon there was another turning point - at her parish church.
‘Each day before I went into town I used to pay a visit to the Friend of friends and tell Him of all my ideas. This day I was going in, and strange to say, I was thinking more seriously about the matter, and I just fell to the foot of the altar and I told Our Lord about my anxiety and my ideas for the future, asking Him to let me know what He would wish and like a flash I saw that if I became a religious, and especially a missionary, I would be the mother of millions and millions of souls. I made up my mind then and there that with God’s help that I would go and offer myself somewhere to do mission work and to be the mother of souls and if He was good enough to call me to be His spouse.
‘I left the chapel. I went into town and I met my friend. I had my mind made up by then: marriage was out of the question.’
Years after founding the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Marie said of Gerald, ‘He was the one I most loved in all the world.’ Overcoming obstacles Her nursing experience during the war convinced her that much could be achieved by a group of women dedicated to God in bringing health care to places of great need. At the time, it was radical thinking. Despite the needs, the Church did not allow women religious to practice surgery or obstetrics. Marie admitted, ‘How this was to be done I’d no idea but…I prayed and waited.’ Thus began many years of searching. She worked in Nigeria as a lay missionary and saw at firsthand the great need for medical services, especially for mothers and children. There were more disappointments and then a breakdown in health, which lead Marie to believe she was a failure. Her spiritual director continued to encourage her, and gathering a small group around her, she arranged for their spiritual training at a new Benedictine foundation in Glenstal, Ireland.
Finally, in 1936, Rome gave permission for religious to do maternity work in mission countries, and approval soon came for Marie’s plans to found an organization including all branches of medicine.
It wasn’t possible to begin in Ireland, so arrangements were made to start in Nigeria instead. In late 1936, Marie Martin and two companions sailed for Calabar. After Easter 1937, the Church authorized foundation of the Congregation of the Medical Missionaries of Mary and for the vows of Foundress to be received. Marie was then to return to Ireland to begin a foundation there.
It soon seemed that God had other plans. She became seriously ill and was taken to the government hospital in Port Harcourt. Even so, on 4 April 1937 Marie Martin professed her religious vows, taking the name Sister Mary of the Incarnation. So began the Medical Missionaries of Mary. When Sister Mary sailed for home, it was thought she would not reach Ireland alive. Nevertheless, as she said then, and was to be shown true many times: ‘If God wishes this, nothing will stop it.’
Today, MMMs from nineteen countries work in thirteen countries around the world. Parallel lives In 1907, Edel Quinn was born near Kanturk, County Cork, where her father worked in the National Bank. At the time, bank employees were frequently transferred and the Quinn family eventually settled at Trafalgar Terrace in Monkstown, Dublin in 1924. Edel learned business skills and in 1926 went to work with Pierre Landrin of the Chagny Tile Company. Pierre was attracted to Edel and they enjoyed dances and parties. Within a year Pierre proposed but Edel declined. When she confided that she wanted to become a contemplative nun, Pierre was shattered. Later he would express his gratitude for the many happy memories they had shared.
In 1929, Edel joined a lay association, the Legion of Mary, and was appointed to lead a branch of the organisation, called a praesidium. Sadly, not long after she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent eighteen months in a sanatorium. On her recovery, she resumed her work as a typist and some of her Legion work.
Then there came a call from the bishops of Zanzibar and Nairobi for a Legion envoy to start groups in East Africa. As soon as she heard the request, Edel knew that that was where God wanted her. She believed that God would provide the strength she needed. In spite of opposition from family and friends, and even Legion members, she sailed in October 1936 for Mombasa, Kenya.
This was only two months before Marie Martin and her companions embarked for Nigeria. If you would follow me... Edel began a praesidium in Kenya and went on to establish the Legion in ten dioceses of East Africa: in Uganda, Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar (both now form Tanzania), Nyasaland (now Malawi), and the islands of Mauritius and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. In Nairobi, by coincidence, on the same Sunday that Marie Martin professed her vows in Nigeria, Edel Quinn held the first Acies1 of the Legion of Mary in Africa. In 1940, while visiting Likuni in Nyasaland, Edel was moved by the situation of pregnant women and the general lack of health care. She wrote to Marie Martin, who by now had founded the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and asked if she could send some of her Sisters. At that time there were only three professed MMMs and it would not be until 1962 that our first foundation was made in Malawi.
Despite problems with travel and transport, Edel insisted that people turn up for meetings, setting an example herself, driving long distances to meetings at night in an old car.
Eventually the years of hard work and ill-health took their toll and Edel died of tuberculosis in Nairobi in May 1944. She was buried in the missionary plot at Saint Austin’s cemetery. Treasuring their legacy On 11 February 2017, the blessing of the prayer space in Saint Patrick's Church took place at evening Mass. This was also the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a source of great healing, and World Day of the Sick. The Parish Priest, Very Reverend Michael Coady, warmly welcomed the MMMs and Legion members who attended. After Communion, Mary Murphy, Assistant Secretary of the Legion of Mary Concilium, gave a short talk about the life of Edel Quinn. Mary was a Legion Envoy to Kenya herself for many years.
Sister Mary Ann MacRae, from our MMM Congregational Leadership Team, spoke about Mother Mary Martin. Mary Ann served as a physician in Nigeria and in Mexico, and worked in our Mission Development Office in Chicago. The evening was made even more special by the presence of two people closely associated with the women being honoured: Jamie McCormick, a grandnephew of Edel Quinn; and Enda Dunleavy, son of volunteer Doctor Patrick Dunleavy. While Marie Martin was very ill in Anua, Nigeria in 1937, Doctor Dunleavy was responsible for her care. To everyone’s shock and sorrow he became ill himself and died before Marie was moved to Port Harcourt. He was buried in the Anua compound. After Mass, the Legion of Mary provided refreshments in the parish community centre. We shared experiences and memories as we continued to honour the commitment of two women who gave themselves so generously to others. We are grateful to be part of their legacy and grateful, too, to Saint Patrick's Parish, which made so much of it possible.
Looking for something more Marie Martin and Edel Quinn came from comfortable backgrounds. As young women they spent their spare time helping the disadvantaged. They enjoyed life and treasured relationships, but felt there was still something missing from their lives. They prayed in their parish church as they discerned what God was asking of them.
Perhaps they offer inspiration for the young and not so young today. They remind us that the way is often not clear for those who search for where God is leading. The new prayer space provides a place for reflection in our equally questioning times.
1The annual ceremony at which Legion members renew their dedication to Mary Some material for this article is from: CatholicIreland,net 1999; St. Patrick's Parish website; Legion of Mary; and Sr. Isabelle Smyth.
The beauty of a smile
Sister Martine Makanga, from Pointe-Noire, Congo-Brazzaville Republic, is a consultant paediatric surgeon. She graduated from the University of Paris, Faculty of Medicine, in 1996. She joined MMM in 1997 and has served in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. In 2015, she obtained a PhD from the University of Brussels, Faculty of Medicine.
Based in Nairobi, Kenya since June 2015, Martine works twice a week as a consultant paediatric surgeon in the Coptic mission hospital, which belongs to the Egyptian Coptic Church.
She said, ‘It has been quite a change, moving from a busy university hospital in Brussels, Belgium, fully equipped for specialist paediatric and neonatal surgery, to a smaller hospital where I work in Africa, with only two sets of paediatric surgical instruments.
‘Sometimes I have had to wait for over two hours with a seriously ill neonate while another surgeon finished using those instruments. They then had to be sterilized before I could use them. I have asked the hospital to get at least one more set to keep in the new neonatal ICU for emergencies but I am still waiting. Budget constraints make this unlikely in the near future.’
'To proclaim the kingdom and to heal' (Lk 9:2) Martine has also been involved in outreach surgery for children in remote regions such as Turkana in Kenya. A surgical camp organized by Help a Child Face Tomorrow reached out to young and old patients with medical and surgical camps.
She wrote, ‘The volunteer team worked in Lodwar, Turkana, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day for five days. Agnes Mana, an MMM Associate for many years, is a public health officer in the area and ably organized the medical camp. Among the many operations I performed, the one that stands out was removing a benign but very large neck tumour from a 10-year-old girl.’
Twice a year Sister Martine will lecture as a visiting professor in paediatric surgery to residents preparing for their master’s in general surgery at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Brazzaville, Congo. She explained, ‘I have been going to Brazzaville since October 2016.’
This arrangement led to Martine encountering another group of people in great need. ‘While my specialty is more on general and abdominal paediatric surgery in newborn babies, I have been trained as well to do cleft lip and cleft palate repair operations. I had the opportunity to work with the Smile Train organization, which provides this surgery for free for children and adults. I began doing cleft lip repairs in Brazzaville in January 2017 with a local team of one surgeon, two anesthetists and two nurses.
‘In some cases, young mothers are abandoned by their husbands once they see the baby’s deformity. A child with a cleft lip is pointed out and mocked by other children or even by adults. Some parents say, “We are often sad. We ask ourselves why we have been so unfortunate, having a baby with such a deformity in his or her face.” Mothers travel long distances with their children by bus or boat, sometimes for many days, to reach the hospital in Brazzaville for surgery.’
At the end of February, Martine wrote, ‘I recently returned from Congo-Brazzaville, where I went for the cleft lip surgery camp. With one local surgeon, we did 22 cleft lip repair procedures. These were mainly children from 4 months to 6 years of age. We also operated on 2 adults under the Smile Train organisation. All went well. The parents were happy with the results.
‘It is like a new life for the child when a cleft lip repair is performed. A smile appears in the new face of the child - and of the parents and other relatives. Thanks be to God.'
Truly life-changing ‘Soyaya, a 27-year-old man, seeing the change that surgery made on his face, exclaimed with joy, “Now I will learn how to drive a car and become a taxi driver; then I will get married!’
Martine continued, ‘I would like to do cleft lip surgery more often for children and adults in sub-Saharan Africa, especially for the disadvantaged. It would be a great help if I had a small personal kit of paediatric surgical instruments to bring with me when I go to the camps. A laptop to record the children’s data and a small camera would also be useful. I would be so grateful to those who could support this initiative, bringing joy to the children and their parents.
‘My main concern is to enable them to look like other children and live normally - with a smile. May God bless you always.’
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