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Blauvelt Dominicans
Reaching Across the Globe

March 4, 2009, BLAUVELT, NY -- You never know when a chance encounter can create new opportunities for collaboration. 

Sisters Mary Ann Collins (Blauvelt), Terry Rickard (Blauvelt) and Peggy McVetty (Amityville) recently returned from a week in South Africa, where they provided training in Spiritual Direction to the Montebello Dominican sisters in Durban, South Africa.  Sister Pat Ginty (Blauvelt) arrived in Montebello, South Africa just before the other three departed.  She spent six weeks assisting the Montebello Dominican Sisters with social work and nursing in their orphanage, St. John Vianney Home, and Chronic Sick Home for people with disabilities. 

This particular trip has been one of several collaborative endeavors between the Blauvelt and Montebello Dominicans.  At a Dominican Sisters International meeting in Caluerega, Sr. Mary Ann Collins, then President of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt, happened to be sitting at a table with Sr. Michael Mduli, the then Mother Superior of the Dominican Sisters of Montebello.  Sr. Michael had spoken of the needs of the sisters in Montebello, especially of education in the areas of social work and medical fields.  Sr. Mary Ann asked what she and the Blauvelt Dominicans could do to help.  Sr. Michael originally thought it was a typical generous American offer, but would not result in any follow-through.  It was only through Sr. Mary Ann’s persistence that Sr. Michael believed this could be a feasible partnership.  Even after many of the details were worked out, Sr. Michael worried about sending sisters from Montebello half-way around the world to New York.  In 2002, Sr. Valentine Dladla and Sr. Venentia Mthembu arrived at Blauvelt to begin studying at Dominican College. 

Sr. Valentine completed her Bachelor’s degree in 2006 from Dominican College (Orangeburg, NY). She then went on to receive a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Fordham University, with much assistance from the Blauvelt Congregation and Dominican College.  She is now the Interim Director of St. John Vianney Home Orphanage in Montebello, South Africa.  In June of 2007, Sr. Mary Ann Collins and Sr. Mary Malone, President of the Blauvelt Dominicans, traveled to Montebello, South Africa to witness Sr. Valentine’s Final Profession of Vows. 

It was during this visit that Sr. Mary Ann and Sr. Mary had more conversations with Sr. Edista Lembede, the current Mother Superior of the Dominican Sisters of Montebello, about ways in which Blauvelt could continue to partner with Montebello.  Sr. Edista explained that they would soon be opening a retreat house (Ukuphila “New Life” Retreat Centre), which would be available to both the sisters and others in the area.  At that time, there were very few women doing spiritual direction, and almost no spiritual directors who spoke Zulu, the common language of the people in the area.  Although the Blauvelt Dominicans don’t speak Zulu, they knew they could assist in training spiritual directors.

From January 17-22, 2009, Sr. Mary Ann, Sr. Terry and Sr. Peggy offered workshops to thirteen of the Dominican Sisters of Montebello in a training program titled, “Holy Listening (Ukulalela Okuyingcwele):  Spiritual Direction Formation Programme.”  The women prayed, studied and ate in common.  They practiced spiritual direction with each other in workshops and had homework each night to prepare for the next day’s session.  Some of the challenges of the presenters were to undo the stereotype that spiritual direction is only for people who are in crisis.  Also, the culture of religious life in South Africa is very different, so opportunities for discernment don’t arise in the same way they do for most Dominicans in the United States. 

Although English is spoken by the sisters in South Africa, it is usually the second or third language, which provided another challenge to all involved.  In spite of these challenges, comments of the sisters who participated in the program included, “You gave us a great gift of finding ways of coming close to God and also of bringing others close to Him,” and “You gave us a ‘rare pearl,’ the skills to help us develop our spirituality and bring the fruits of that to others in spiritual direction.” 

All thirteen participants reflected on how they could use spiritual direction in their ministries, which include their own Congregation, the Upper Form in an Academy (High School), parishes, and as HIV/AIDS hospice chaplains.  Srs. Mary Ann, Terry and Peggy have committed to provide on-going support for the next year and hope to return to South Africa to co-facilitate a directed retreat with the Montebello Dominicans.  Srs. Mary Ann and Terry remarked that they were, “blessed by the openness and eagerness,” of the Montebello sisters, as well as “how hungry they were to learn.” 

The Dominican Sisters of Montebello are hungry for knowledge in many other areas as well.  Theological updating, bereavement ministry, the new cosmology, health care, and ecological spirituality are just a few of the immediate needs. They would welcome others willing to assist their growth in these fields.

Although the Spiritual Direction program was intense, the visit was not without time for fun.  The Montebello Dominicans took the American Sisters to visit the Montebello Motherhouse.  They also held a party the night President Obama was inaugurated, complete with American flags, potato chips, ice cream, and lots of chanting of “O-ba-ma!  O-ba-ma!”  

Following these experiences, Sr. Terry traveled to the Diocese of Port Elizabeth to continue her work with RENEW Africa.

Responding to Sr. Mary Malone’s call to deepen our relationship with the Dominican Sisters of Montebello, Sr. Pat Ginty (Blauvelt) contacted Sr. Edista and Sr. Valentine and learned of the critical needs at the Vianney Home and the Chronic Sick Home.  With assistance from the Blauvelt Congregation Cullen Grant Fund and supportive arrangements at her current ministry, Sr. Pat was able to travel to S. Africa for six weeks to share Dominican life and ministry.

Sr. Pat, a registered nurse and social worker, is no stranger to other cultures.  After working many years in Blauvelt’s mission in Jamaica, West Indies, she served 3 years in Tanzania, East Africa with Maryknoll.

The prevailing role of HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to rise in South Africa and families are either infected or affected by the disease which has left many children orphaned or vulnerable due to the death of parent(s) or family members.

At Vianney Home there are 45 children, ages 2 to 16 years, who are lovingly cared for and nurtured by the Sisters and lay care workers.  Sr. Pat assisted Sr. Valentine in staff development and training in early intervention and the psycho/social needs of the children.  She also participated in group discussion and recreation with the children.  “They are beautiful and so happy with so little material things.  There is a chapel in Vianney Home and every day begins and ends with prayer and singing which is so much a part of African culture.”

While the children were at school, Sr. Pat went to the Chronic Sick Home which provides residential care for the most needy and destitute in the Montebello area.  Pat assisted Sr. Petra in the children’s ward, bathing, dressing, cutting fingernails, massaging and feeding the children.  Most of the children were born with cerebral palsy and retardation.  They vary in age from 5 years to their teens and beyond and are in metal cribs.  Some are severely physically deformed and all are unable to care for themselves.  It was a joy to get them up and out in a wheelchair and see even a smile or brief eye contact.

Reflecting upon the experience, Sr. Pat felt truly blessed and inspired by the preaching of the sisters in their life and ministry and deeply touched by their spirituality and simplicity.  Their harmony in singing at prayer is heavenly!  The Montebello community is vibrant and committed to witnessing to the gospel.  How enriched our Blauvelt congregation is to be connected to Montebello.  We are one in our Dominican life which transcends geography and enables us to serve those in need. 

Submitted by the Sisters of St. Dominic, Blauvelt, NY
Jennifer Schaaf
Communications Director