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Archives Sisters bring ‘lively’ faith from Ghana

April 17, 2024

By Keith Benman
Contributing Writer

Three missionaries from the West African nation of Ghana are bringing their experience caring for the elderly to Ogdensburg along with a very positive attitude – even when it comes to the weather.

“The snow, that is different,” said Sister Joyce Frances Nfodzo, SMMC, as a snowstorm swirled outside diocesan offices in early April. “When we see that, we praise God. We see God is wonderful when it drops from the sky.”

Sister Joyce, along with Sister Martha Duawome and Sister Justine Agbeko, came here in mid-March from the Diocese of Ho, in Ghana. The West African nation is near the equator and has tropical weather year-round.

Their order, the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church, has nearly 100 sisters and was formed 54 years ago. It is part of the rapid growth the Catholic religion and its religious orders are seeing on the African continent.

The order is based in Ho, but the sisters work around the nation of Ghana. They also established a small mission in New York City a few years ago.

Sister Bernadette Collins, the diocese’s episcopal delegate for religious, said one of the sisters in New York City described the order’s mission as: “Any kind of work a mother might do for her children.”

Sisters Joyce, Martha and Justine are looking forward to getting to work at St. Joseph’s Home, the nursing home on Linden Street, in Ogdensburg. The home “exists to express the Roman Catholic Church’s concern for the elderly in need of care and those chronically ill,” according to its mission statement.

The sisters say they know the culture and language are different here. But one thing will remain the same.

“When one is sick, one wants someone to care for them,” said Sister Joyce. “It’s the same in Ghana as here.”

The three will be providing basic resident and spiritual care at the nursing home. They are also looking forward to learning about how health care is done here.

“Here you have all the facilities and all the equipment,” Sister Martha said. “Over there, in Ghana, we don’t have a lot of the equipment. So that will be a big difference.”

Sister Martha is a trained nurse but would have to wait to get licensing before providing higher levels of care here. Sister Justine is trained as a nutritionist and Sister Joyce is an educator.

It was about a year ago that Bishop Terry LaValley got a letter from the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church inquiring if the diocese was in need of missionaries, said Sister Bernadette. The lack of sisters is sorely felt here, so after making inquiries bishop LaValley eagerly accepted the offer.

“It was exciting,” Sister Bernadette said. “It’s really nice to have sisters coming in and from different cultures. It’s good for the Church. They bring a different perspective to things.”

The three Ghanian sisters already have created a bit of a stir in the hamlet of Lisbon, where they have established a convent in the parish house of Ss. Philip and James Church.

It’s not everyday three women from Ghana wearing religious habits are seen in the small rural hamlet. They get a lot of questions. The most asked question is: “How do you like the weather here?” That’s followed by: “What’s the temperature in Ghana?”

Since arriving in mid-March they have attended Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral during the week and on Sundays at Ss. Philip and James. They already have enjoyed an evening out at the Knights of Columbus Friday night fish fry in Ogdensburg.

The three realize they are now taking part in a kind of role reversal that is sweeping global Catholicism. Whereas a century or two ago missionaries were sent from Europe and the United States to Africa, the flow is now going the other way.

Sister Joyce said there is great enthusiasm for Christianity among the young in Ghana.

“It’s the faith of the people that sustains the church,” she said. “The background of our religion is it’s a lively religion. When you become a Christian, the lively aspect is still in Christianity.”

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