MILWAUKEE — One hundred years of missionary service by the Maryknoll Sisters will be celebrated in Milwaukee on Sunday, Nov. 11, at All Saints Church.
Two Maryknoll sisters, one a native of Milwaukee, illustrate the Maryknoll story.
Maryknoll Sr. Claudette LaVerdiere was intrigued with the order at age 13 when a visiting Maryknoll priest described his work in Chile to her eighth grade class. She raised her hand and asked if there were such things as Maryknoll Sisters. Thus began what Sr. Claudette describes as an irrevocable draw to Maryknoll.
Trained as a teacher, she later worked on a diocesan team in the formation of small Christian communities. During her 23 years in Africa, first in Tanzania and later in Kenya, Sr. Claudette tried to empower local leaders to take ownership of their futures.
From 1990 to 1997, Sr. Claudette served as president of the Maryknoll Sisters and then returned to Nairobi. In 2003, she took on a project started by Sr. Barbara Hendricks to write the biography of their foundress, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers (Mollie Rogers).
When Sr. Barbara became ill, Sr. Claudette took over the research and writing. In addition to the historical and biographical material in the book, Sr. Claudette studied Mother Mary Joseph’s letters and conferences and included themes of Mother Mary Joseph’s spirituality.
Sr. Claudette discovered themes she refers to as “binary oppositions,” such as contemplation and action; unity and diversity; joy and suffering; individuality and common good; fearless honesty and compassion.
As she continued her work, Sr. Claudette was pleased and surprised to find “a fascinating woman who made a tremendous impact on the 20th century by her down-to-earth spirituality and uncommon common sense.”
The book, titled “On the Threshold of the Future,” was published by Orbis in 2010 and Sr. Claudette said it is a book for everyone, not only for Maryknoll Sisters.
“Maryknoll is a movement that promotes participation in Gospel living, not just for today, not just in certain places by certain people, but by all the baptized, as a way of life,” she said.
Maryknoll Sr. Jane Buellesbach entered the Maryknoll Sisters soon after graduation from Holy
Angels High School in Milwaukee in 1949. After formation, she continued with medical studies at St. Louis University, completed her residency at St. Vincent Hospital in New York, and began her work as a doctor in Guatemala, she told your Catholic Herald in an interview last week. She was in Milwaukee to visit her sister and brother-in-law, Mary Jo and Jerry Flanagan.
In the jungle area of the northern most area of Peten, Sr. Jane ministered to people in the midst of a civil war.
Later, at the request of the bishop, she went to San Marcos where she worked with a primary health care program, a role she continues today. This initiative trains local volunteers to diagnose and treat common diseases and to promote wellness.
Volunteers have little formal education, but they must be able to read and write and be willing to provide consistent hours a few times a week and be on call in emergencies, she said. They come to the center for training, then return to their local communities to set up rudimentary clinics where as “health promoters” they can offer health care and medicines to people at a low cost.
With the small profit from their services, they return to the center for follow-up training and also to restock their small “pharmacies” of basic medicines. Some volunteers travel as much as five hours to come back to the center.
Sr. Jane and other staff visit and supervise the volunteers regularly.
While financial resources come through people’s donations to Maryknoll and via twinning relationships with sister parishes in the U.S., the program is leaning toward self-sufficiency, she said.
Sr. Jane said missionary work comes naturally to her.
“It’s in your DNA! I always wanted to go to mission and I have never regretted it,” she said. “It’s been a great run!”
Like the community’s foundress, Mother Mary Joseph, Sr. Jane said the call to mission and the call to serve are inherent in every Christian. Citing “the privilege of working with people who have changed my life,” she said, “you truly do receive more than you give.”
The Maryknoll Sisters are the first U.S.-based Catholic congregation of women religious dedicated to foreign missions. They have 500 members serving in 25 countries around the world. Their service includes medicine, communications, education, agriculture, social services and spiritual formation.