With the continuing saga of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls still on our collective radar and the recent celebration of Mother’s Day, I wanted to try and find someone to recognize who can serve as a connection between the horror of kidnapped children and the celebration of mothers. This was no easy feat and it was only by a chance click on an article this past week that I was thrown into the deep and redeeming story of today’s “saint.” I put saint in quotes as she is still alive and working. However, her service and deeds will more than likely convince you of her saintly nature.
Today’s saint is Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe.
I had a hard time tracking down much of a biography for Sister Rosemary, but what I could find is that she was born in Paidha, Uganda. She joined the Catholic order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1976. One interesting note is the Sister Rosemary is one example of a booming growth amongst African women who are choosing to join Catholic orders and serve as nuns. According to one study, between 2010 and 2011 the number of African women who joined Catholic orders grew by 28%. Elsewhere, female Catholic orders typically saw decline except in Asian countries where they grew by 18%. Sister Rosemary demonstrates the further shifting of Christianity away from the traditional Northern and Western centers towards the Southern Hemisphere in African, Latin and Asian cultures. Also, she shows us that women have a growing and important role in the wider church, especially in Africa as civil wars and other turmoil are creating a hell on earth most of us are blissfully unfamiliar with.
Sister Rosemary’s work began when she became the head of St. Monica Girls’ Tailoring School in Gulu, Uganda in 2001. This was a vocational school for girls who had escaped from being forced to serve as child soldiers or sex slaves. Some would even show up with the children they had borne while in captivity. One of the most infamous commanders who forced these girls to serve as child soldiers was Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. He became notorious for his use of child soldiers and his violent terrorist acts. When these girls escaped and tried to return home, they would often face tough resistance reintegrating into their communities as many were forced to terrorize their home villages or they were rejected because of their actions as sex slaves. St. Monica’s under the guidance of Sister Rosemary became a safe haven for these girls where they could find a new community, a new life, a new vocation and new purpose. Also, during the active civil wars in Uganda Sister Rosemary would hide and protect nearly 500 women and children who escaped their villages for fear of being kidnapped.
Sister Rosemary would often go on the radio and announce that anyone seeking escape and safety could find it at Saint Monica’s. Since she became the head of Saint Monica’s in 2001, it is estimated that Sister Rosemary and her fellow workers have helped save nearly 2000 women and girls. At the school the girls learn sewing, cooking, catering, and other skills which allow them to be independent and resist the temptation to turn to prostitution to support their children. Girls are paid for their work at Saint Monica’s and when a girl completes the course they get a good job, often in a hotel or other service industry job around Uganda. Since many of the girls show up with children Sister Rosemary also teaches them how to be good mothers. The emotional scars of the violent acts they were forced to commit or the sexual acts forced on them could make bearing the responsibility of mothering a child difficult. Sister Rosemary helped these girls by showering them with love and support, in a way being a surrogate mother, so that they could learn how to show love and support to their own children.
For her tireless and redeeming work, Sister Rosemary was named a CNN Hero in 2007 and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014.
“We are here preaching the gospel of presence…I say, use your needle, use your hand, sew away the pain, sew away anything people will say about you. People may call you a failure, but you’re not. People may call you a rebel, but you’re not—you’re a human being.”
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe
References & More Information:
Time.com – Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe
Sewing Hope – Documentary Film and Book about Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe
Patheos.com – “‘Influential’ Ugandan Nun Shines Light on Sacred Tradition of Black Catholic Women”
Pros for Africa – Sister Rosemary
Colbert Report – #BringBackOurGirls – Rosemary Nyirumbe
Youtube – Charlie Rose Interview with Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe
Facebook – Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe
Twitter – Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe