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Building Relationship Through Loretto Presence

Posted on March 1, 2018, by Loretto Community

In back, from left, Maria Visse and Kay Carlew visit with students at Sister Bernice’s primary school in Nkenkensu, a remote village in Ghana.
(Photo courtesy of Maria Visse)

By Kay Carlew and Maria Visse

Editor’s Note: In 2016 the Ghana Sister Committee realized that for the two communities, the Daughters of the Most Blessed Trinity (FST) and Loretto, to deepen their relationship, it was time for Loretto Community members to visit Ghana. Previously, sisters from the FST Community visited here and became acquainted with Loretto. Kay Carlew and Maria Visse would visit for a month.

FST Sisters Cecilia and Christiana show their love for each other and their joy for their work.
(Photo by Maria Visse)

After a year of preparing, early on Nov. 16, 2017, we began our flight to Accra, Ghana’s capital. Then on to Kumasi where Sisters Cecilia and Evelyn, two FSTs, met us. The drive from the airport to the convent near the Blessed Trinity Leadership Academy (BTLA), which would be our home, was filled with big ruts because of the rains. Once “home,” we met Sisters Lucy and Christiana. Cecilia, called “Ceci,” who accompanied us throughout our visit, lived there with us.

Our days were packed, although rest days were built into our schedule because of the heat and the difficulty with driving. We typically started our day at 6 a.m. We had many highlights. We met Sister Anna Amo, who is the major superior of the FSTs and the Council: Sisters Lucy, Marian, Veronica, Emily and Cecilia. An invitation with Archbishop Peter Kwasi Sarpong to a concert at the Anglican Cathedral cut short our meeting.

We journeyed to Yebi, the Novitiate Community, for the investiture of two postulants to become novices. Dinner was served after the Mass. Joanne, the novice director, showed us around the house and took us outside to see her oyster mushroom farm. Selling oyster mushrooms to hotels and restaurants is a business for the sisters in the novitiate.

Kay Carlew stands by the van in front of her and Maria Visse’s ‘home away from home’ in Ghana.
(Photo by Maria Visse)

Saturday, we left Akokoamong, our base community, to drive to Cape Coast. Along the way we visited a rainforest, Kakum Forest. A very rocky, hilly climb to the top of the forest brought us to several swinging bridges, which we crossed looking down on the forest. How wonderful to see land set aside as a habitat for animals! On the way to the Cape Coast Community we drove by the Atlantic Ocean and stopped in front of the “Slave Castle.” FST sisters, Martha, a law student, and Alice welcomed us to Cape Coast. Alice teaches New Testament at the University of Cape Coast. We went to Mass that evening with her.

We returned early to Kumasi as we were meeting the Kumasi Communities for lunch at Eugenia and Lydia’s home. Patricia and Emily joined us. Emily is in charge of the counseling department for the University of Kumasi. She spoke lovingly about Mary Ken Lewis, whom she considers a mentor. She remembers when Marian McAvoy was president and came to Ghana to receive Emily’s commitment as a co-member of the Loretto Community. We spent the afternoon with Emily’s staff to get our phones working and money exchanged.

The heat had taken its toll on us, and on Sunday we took time to rest, read and write. In the afternoon, we drove to the village of Nyah where Veronica lives. When we say, “we drove,” we mean our designated driver, Sammy, drove us.

Monday morning, we drove to Veronica’s school, St. Sabastine’s, where we learned its history. Two parish priests began the foundation for a senior high but never finished it. The FSTs took Community monies and finished the school, but the high school students did not come. Today, there are only about 15 students at that level enrolled. They receive eight very expensive subjects: four core, English, math, social studies and science, plus four electives. In addition to the high school, Veronica is in charge of a 3-and-a-half and 4-year-old preschool. Each year the school will add a grade.

Veronica had just learned that the Hunger Fund sent a generous check to be used for lunches. As we toured the classrooms with Veronica, she told the students that the lunches would resume second semester when they return from Christmas break. The smiles on their faces lit up the room.

From left, Sisters Lydia, Emily and Eugenia share a meal at their home.
(Photo by Maria Visse)

Our drive to Nkenkensu began with a stop at the Motherhouse to pick up Esther, who teaches for the hospital and for midwifery at St. Patrick School for Midwifery. In route, we drove up the steep road to the Grotto of our Lady where people of all religions make a pilgrimage. At the base of the shrine is an altar were Mass is celebrated on occasion. Small shrines depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary are in the wooded areas.

The convent in Nkenkensu is the first time Sisters have had a presence in this remote village. Esther does parish outreach ministry, and Bernice teaches in the primary school. The school, begun by missionaries, was turned over to the public school. Now the public school is giving it back to the Catholic parish. The government continues to pay salaries and provides a feeding program. To help with convent expenses, the sisters make a juice from the fruits grown in their backyard and sell it to the children.

We visited the classrooms with Bernice, took part in the geography lesson and sang songs with the children who wanted to sing a Christmas carol to us. We had one request, would we get a crucifix for each classroom? Our driver, Sammy, had returned to Kumasi, so before he returned to pick us up, he stopped at the Sisters’ Religious Store in the Cathedral to pick up 16 crucifixes.

Father Dominic, the young parish priest, lives in a home to be torn down, but that project is on hold. There had been an ongoing dispute over the land on which the church was located. The Catholics did not want any hard feelings, so the Archdiocese purchased land down the road for the Muslims. Peace reigns now between the Muslims and the Catholics.

Sisters and others cross the swinging bridge at the Kakum Forest, a rainforest in Ghana.
(Photo by Maria Visse)

Later that afternoon, we walked with Sister Esther through the village to visit some of the church’s families. The walk was through mounds of dirt and trash, passing poor shacks and, in some cases, small buildings made with some bricks. Families that have very little offer a bench for visitors to sit on out in their yards. The yards are filled with children, animals (goats, chickens, dogs), basins of water for laundry, baskets, wood for cooking and more. Such poverty, such hopelessness the sisters face hour after hour, yet the families always have a smile when they receive a visit from them.

The founder of the FSTs, Archbishop Sarpong, always wanted to serve the most disadvantaged in Ghana, and he started the FSTs so they could go out to the most disadvantaged. That is what the sisters we have visited are doing, carrying the Gospel message to the poorest of the poor, but rich in so many ways. Twice a year, Trinity Sunday and the Sunday nearest Dec. 8, the FSTs participate in a rural mission experience. Dec. 3 we headed to Kumasi to participate in the semi-annual Outreach Day. We left in a school bus, van and pickup truck filled with items to distribute. At Bodwesango village, we were to meet Father Eric, who would then take us to one of his remote stations. We got there for three-fourths of the Mass. After Mass, Father Eric led us by car for a second Mass. Again, the church was filled with people, song, dance, drum and keyboard. It was Kay’s birthday, and Father Eric prayed for her. At the end of Mass Father Eric had a special blessing for us both. After the two-hour liturgy, the sisters brought in boxes of shoes, clothes and snacks and distributed them to the children, women and men. The most cherished gifts were the shoes. We returned to Father Eric’s house and enjoyed the meal the sisters had brought from Kumasi. We returned to Akokoamong around 7 p.m.

Monday was a day to visit in Kumasi! We had a wonderful visit with Sister Mary Ann BVM, and Father Mike Targett, from London, at a well-developed Center for Spiritual Renewal offering private and group retreats. We then went on to visit the Cultural Center. After visiting the cathedral, we climbed three flights of stairs to the Sisters’ Religious Shop. We purchased a stole for the Motherhouse that could be worn on Easter.

Jamasi is another FST Community city. Next to their home is their sewing business where they make habits, uniforms for children and vestments. Along the way we stopped at a weaving store and a bamboo bike store.

The FST Sisters make juice from fruits grown in their backyard, put the juice in small bags or recycled water bottles, freeze them and sell them to the children to make money to help with convent expenses.
(Photo by Maria Visse)

What an experience we had. Archbishop Sarpong invited us to attend the religious minister’s day to mourn the Queen. The Queen, mother of the reigning King, died in 2016, but was not to be buried until another queen was appointed. We were in Kumasi for the 10-day mourning period. We left from the archbishop’s house to gather at the Anglican Cathedral with hundreds of ministers and clerics. At the King’s Palace, we were driven to our chairs under a huge tent. For several hours, we watched delegations of sub-kings dance in, with drum playing and gunfire going off. Then the president and the vice president, with their wives, arrived and took their seats. Several ambassadors arrived, but no one from the United States. When the King arrived, Archbishop Sarpong got in a long line to greet him. We followed his lead, went before the King, bowed and went to shake his hand and offer our sympathy. We then walked back to the government tent to greet the president and vice president of Ghana. After a very long, hot day, we returned to the archbishop’s house for lunch/dinner.

Dec. 8 is the Foundation Day of the FSTs, and this day one of their second-year novices made first profession while three celebrated their 25th anniversary. It was just their fourth class to celebrate 25 years. The service at St. Paul’s Church began with a lengthy procession, including 50-plus priests, the archbishop, Sister Anna, those celebrating and others. Archbishop Sarpong was already at the altar in his chair. Music, dance, movement, incense and white-handkerchief waving accompanied everything. The vow ceremony and the 25th Jubilee celebration all took place before the Offertory. In an FST’s first-vow ceremony the parents present their daughter, walking with her to the altar. Toward the end of the Liturgy, we were introduced to the congregation as friends of the FSTs from the United States. After four hours of Liturgy, a lunch which the sisters had brought was served. The afternoon ended at the Motherhouse where the sisters finished their lunch, opened presents and gave talks. Maria spoke on “what words of wisdom did she have,” and I took the opportunity to thank the FSTs for their welcoming, hospitality and arranging our itinerary.

In addition to being the major superior of the FSTs, Sister Anna Amo is a midwife working in St. Michael’s Hospital in Abono. On the way to the hospital, we stopped by a grotto and Lake Bosomtwe. The mist was so thick we could see little of the lake. The story is that the lake was formed from a crater falling from the sky. It is a rather large lake, 16 x 20 kilometers. We declined an offer of a boat ride; no boat looked safe enough to be on the water.

Sister Esther, in orange habit, stands with a teacher and students at St. Patrick’s School for Midwifery in Nkenkensu.
(Photo by Maria Visse)

We visited Anna at the hospital. The children’s section, maternity, pharmacy and X-ray are housed in different buildings. After touring, we walked to Anna’s house and enjoyed a lunch that Cecilia had brought. On the way home, we visited Sisters Emily and Patricia. Emily had gotten money changed for us.

Our last ministry visit was to Jubilee Crèche, a child care center that enrolls 300 children from 6 months to 5 years old. They were having their first ever Fun Day. Many parents were in attendance. The theme of the day was “Professional Day.” The children dressed up in the profession they want to be in the future. Previously the school had raised money for playground equipment, so the area was dedicated.

Before returning home, we stopped at an area where there were many craft booths. It was one of the first times we went “shopping.” From there we went to a little shop that sold soccer balls; they were badly needed at one of the schools we had visited.

Our last days were spent packing, writing notes and winding down from a month’s experience of a lifetime. Many FSTs joined us for dinner on Saturday at Akokoamong. Sammy, our faithful driver, drove us toward Accra. We left early the next day for the airport to fly home.

Ghana friends surround Maria Visse, third from left, and Kay Carlew, third from right. Each carries a purse, a special gift given to them during their visit.
(Photo courtesy of Maria Visse)
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