As the Missionary Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church, (MSMMC) prepare to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of their foundation, the leadership team of the congregation is spearheading a renewal programme to prepare the members for the jubilee. The renewal programme which has already begun will run up to October 2020, before the climax of the Golden Jubilee celebrations on 12th November 2020. As a symbol of the golden jubilee celebrations, the sisters have proposed to construct a 300 capacity chapel at their Mother House in Ngetta Lira District. The Superior General explained that besides the savings, they have set up committees to raise funds for the construction. The sisters had set 12th October 2019, as the day for fundraising to coincide with the death anniversary of their Founder, Bishop Caesar Asili. The Vicaress further noted that the chosen date for the celebration “…is the date on which the Prefect for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) signed the Degree of Erection of our Congregation.”
Origin of their mission
The Missionary Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church trace their origin to the Late Bishop Caesar Asili, the first Bishop of Lira Catholic Diocese in northern Uganda. Founded in 1970, the first fourteen young girls who joined the congregation hailed from Arua and Lira Dioceses. To date, the Congregation has opened 54 missions, most of which are in Uganda with others in Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan and in Italy. In all, the sisters work in 21 dioceses, fourteen of which are in Uganda while seven are outside Uganda.
The sisters who add up to 323 professed sisters and seventy young girls in various stages of formation – pre-postulancy, postulancy and novitiate hail from nearly all the regions of Uganda and beyond. The mother general explained that the period of initial formation and the juniorate all together take 10 years before one makes their final profession. “In all, the sisters are helped to grow gracefully,” adding that ongoing formation ends with death. Meanwhile, Sr. Sophia affirms that their Founder derived the name Mary Mother of the Church from the Gospel of Jn. 19:25-27. This scripture text according to her reveals the compassion of Mother Mary that started at the time of the Annunciation and ended at the foot of Jesus’ cross at Calvary. She said the intention of the founder was to give glory to God through the works these sisters would do.
The MSMMC are expected to share that gift of motherhood and compassion shown at the foot of the cross. So, as part of their spiritual exercises, the sisters daily pray the Angelus and with it, recall the humility of Mary at the Annunciation which led to the incarnation of Christ.Although the members each have their own charisms, she said the name Mary Mother of the Church unites them as a Congregation.
His words of wisdom
According to Sr. Sophia, it was the wisdom they received from their Founder that guided them to move on after his death. Sister Sophia who is among the first members of the congregation said Bishop Asili personally gave conferences for those in formation, wrote letters as if addressed to each aspirant, postulant, novice or sister as well as to leaders and formators. She said today, these letters, poems, the Manual of Prayers, the Rule of Life and other spiritual inputs are vital reminders to the sisters. And she added, “Bishop Asili was a man of faith, a man who had the heart of a woman, full of compassion and gentleness that spilled over to those who encountered him.”
Their founder went on to identify five areas in which his sisters could serve society and the Church, these include; Catechesis, Health services, Education, Social Action and Social Communication (mass media). Besides taking training in any of the five areas of their apostolate, the Superior General noted that the sisters’ formation ordinarily takes four dimensions – pastoral, spiritual, intellectual and in human development. She was quick to note that the pastoral aspect is key in the life of a MSMMC, as it helps them to integrate their professional skills to their ministry as evangelisers. “A sister is not only a teacher or social worker; she goes beyond the call of that profession to touch the lives of those who are spiritually and materially poor in all aspects of their ministry,” she said.
Support of the Church and the Christian community
But most importantly, Sr. Sophia said the Bishops of Uganda supported them, especially Bishops, Joseph Oyanga and Joseph Franzelli who succeeded their founder. “If the local people didn’t love and care for us, we would probably not have survived,” she said, adding that some Christians who were friends of their Founder still continued to encourage and support them. Today, some of these families have adopted the sisters.
Meanwhile, the first formators and chaplains of the MSMMC were the Comboni priests and Sisters. She said Comboni Sister Rozalia who currently serves in Karamoja worked with their sisters from 1970 to 1971, before handing over to Sr. Ignazia Surcis, another Comboni Sister. Sister Surcis helped with the formation of the young congregation until 1978 when she handed over to Sr. Elizabeth Mandera, one of the first members to join the congregation.
And among the Comboni Missionaries who served as chaplains at the Mother House in Ngetta in Lira Diocese were Frs. Angelo Fiocco, Gino Albrigo, Ricardo Bolzonella and the current chaplain Fr. Lino Morosinotto, who was also the first vicar general of Bishop Asili.
According to the Superior General, one of the key challenges at the beginning of the Congregation was the need for trained formators. According to her, this might have probably contributed to the Congregation getting a visitation from Rome. It was Fr. Giuseppe Picoti, a Comboni Missionary whom the Vatican assigned to journey with the young Congregation. Then after the death of their founder in 1988, she noted that a number of the sisters opted to leave the congregation at that time.
The faithfulness of God
“We are celebrating the faithfulness of God,” Sr. Sophia said, adding that the congregation had beaten all odds to survive. “In this celebration, we would therefore like to remember with appreciation, the legacy left by our Founder and our parents who allowed us to join the institute. But above all, we wish to renew our consecrated lives, and recommit to serve God and the Church,” she said.
By Sr. Grace Candiru MSMMC
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