schenkby Christine Schenk, NCR

It is 1971, and I find myself walking eagerly down a tree-shaded driveway in Fox Chase, Philadelphia, heading for an interview with the Medical Mission Sisters. I was 23 years old and the proud possessor of a shiny new master’s degree in nursing. I hoped to discover if my God-search would find a home with this exciting international group of women.

The community’s founder, Anna Dengel, was an Austrian physician who had been greatly moved by the plight of poor Pakistani women dying by the hundreds in childbirth. Purdah laws forbade male physicians to deliver their babies, and there were no female doctors to attend them. Anna decided to do something about it, so she gathered an international community of sister-healers dedicated to bringing Christ’s love and modern medicine to the sick and poor of our world.

That was in 1925. The fledgling order would not be formally recognized until 1936, when the church finally rescinded a puzzling canon law forbidding women religious to be present at childbirth. One wonders if early churchmen feared that nuns would want to get pregnant and have a baby after observing a birth. If so, they could have known very little about the realities of labor! Anna Dengel was a woman way ahead of her time. And so, I discovered, were her sisters.

To honor NCR’s new Global Sisters Report, I share my early journey with Medical Mission Sisters. They first opened my eyes to how most of the world lives. They made me a global sister. From 1971 to 1977, I was blessed to find a home among them. Even though I subsequently departed for other adventures, a piece of my soul, and certainly my lifelong mission, remains linked to this remarkable community of global-justice-and-wholeness women whose passion for the poor found a permanent home in me. My own call would prove to be a more local ecclesial-justice one, and for this, the Cleveland Congregation of St. Joseph fit best, but that is a story for another time…

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