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Meet the Medical Mission Sisters

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Susan E. Wills - published on 08/13/14

This extraordinary religious community of MDs, nurses and related professionals are providing holistic healthcare to the underserved across the globe.

In the early 1920s, Doctor Anna Dengel served as the only physician for thousands of women and children in what was then Northern India (now Pakistan). Muslim customs did not permit women to be seen by male doctors and she recognized that the need was much greater than she alone could meet. She then took the unprecedented step of founding the Community of Catholic women doctors, nurses, and other health professionals—the Medical Mission Sisters (MMS).

In 1925, there was no precedent for Catholic Sisters to be physicians, surgeons, and obstetricians-gynecologists. To the contrary, there was a Church ban—under Canon Law—against it. It took 11 more years of petitioning Rome and demonstrating, by dedicated service, that “it could be done,” before the Church permitted Catholic Sisters to be engaged in the full range of medical work, especially in mission lands.

During the 86-year history of the Medical Mission Sisters, hundreds of these Sisters have helped millions of people in 43 nations.

MMS’s pioneering activities have included the following:

–    building and staffing hospitals and health centers
–    starting nursing schools and programs for nurse-midwifery training
–    offering vital health and nutrition education to mothers, so they would have healthy pregnancies and deliveries
–    monitoring closely the health and growth of children under five
–    caring for people suffering with HIV/AIDS
–    working towards justice for the poor and voiceless, at the U.N. and in local areas
–    creating ecologically-friendly work and living environments
–    being present to women who are imprisoned or trafficked

Mother Dengel encouraged the community “to prudently push on, not being rash, but not afraid either to dare something when it appears important in the building of the kingdom.” Following her example, the MMS continue to pioneer new forms of healing ministry wherever there is great need.

Here are just a few examples of the work of the Medical Mission Sisters.

Sharing life and ways to better health among the Maasai people in Loitokitok, Kenya

Sister Pat Patton from Tarrytown, New York, was in mission in Africa for over 40 years. From 1971 to 1982, Sister worked as matron at the first hospital in Maasai land, Loitokitok District Hospital in Kenya. The Bishop then invited her to establish a community health program in Ngong Diocese, which covers most of the tribal lands of the Maasai. “This meant preparing myself for an entirely different approach to health care, and combining health care with the development of people,” she explained.

The first step was to do a basic survey, to identify the primary health care needs. The community then selected the women and men they wanted to be trained as Community Health Workers (CHWs). Over 300 CHWs were trained in concepts of basic hygiene, disease prevention, and other health issues. They then went out and taught their individual communities what they had learned.

An integrated group from a number of areas in the parish also formed to address the problems of HIV/AIDS. “We decided to have a resource center, so that we could reach teachers, secondary school students, and the local population,” Sister Pat explained. “We started with a series of classes in our parish, and then we linked up with the Centers for Disease Control in Nairobi.” The center, Boma la Tumaini (House of Hope) was dedicated on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2004. 

Over 100 people come to Boma la Tumaini each month for testing. If they are positive, they are able to get anti-retroviral drugs through a private clinic. “The most rewarding part of working with these people is to watch women develop their leadership qualities. They start with health education, and go on to the development of their community,” says Sister Pat.

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Tags:
AfricaCharityHealth and WellnessPakistan
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