LSMI SISTERS IN AFRICA CELEBRATE 90 YEARS OF SERVICE
Where it all begins…
Blessed Edmund Bojanowski was born into a devout, patriotic family of the nobility on November 14, 1814 in Grabonog, near Gostyn, in then-occupied Poland. A remarkable Catholic lay apostle, a learned writer and an educator, he worked for social justice and started a home for orphans and health services to the ill including during outbreaks of cholera, day nursery shelters for neglected children, libraries for the needy, and further activities to develop the religious, moral and cultural values of the people.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit and the need to support his work, he founded the Congregation of the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in 1850.
The Eucharist was the center of his day and he spent many hours before the Blessed Sacrament. Contemplation of Holy Scripture, weekly confession and annual retreats also had an effect on his spiritual life. He promoted the Living Rosary and was a guiding force of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Poland, a Christian voluntary organization to work with the needy.
Two years before his death on August 7, 1871 in Gorka Duchowna -the Holy Hill, he entered the seminary in Gniezno, but His desire to celebrate Holy Mass for his Sisters, could not be realized due to his failing health, which was delicate from his youth. His last will to his Sisters was the recommendation of the blessing of simplicity and communal love.
The mission expands to Africa…
Ninety years ago, four young religious sisters arrived in Zambia from Poland. The first missionaries who came to Zambia in June 16, 1928 were: Sr. Rufina Świrska (35), Sr. Romana Wilk (27), Sr. Frydolina Mącior (27) and Sr Urszula Wiktor (29). The next group followed a few months later, on December 5: Sr. Melania Galus (31), Sr. Chrystiana Gądek (31), Sr Adalbert Rajchel (30) and Sr. Cyprian Małecka (29). In February 1931 joined Sr. Amalia Różowicz and Sr. Adolfa Pięta, and in 1935 Sr. Petronela Krypel with Sr. Stanisława Łabno. In 1936 Sr. Rufina Świrska and Sr. Melania Galus returned to their country due to poor health conditions, and they were replaced by Sr. Alojza Krypel and Sr. Laurencja Dydek.
The sisters faced many challenges, most importantly, learning English. Before coming, the first missionaries had to learn English and one local African rituals, they also gained a lot of skills: learnt tailoring, weaving, embroidery, pottery, nursing, and even the ability to treat teeth.
The sisters knew that, if they were to fulfill their name, as Little Servants of Mary Immaculate, they had to be ready to go where they were called, to trust in God’s plan and providence.
Leaving their country, the sisters, thought they would never go back to Poland again. They would say goodbye to their families, relatives and friends forever in the belief that they will not see them again or even hear their voices as they were no communication to get in touch and transport was not ease at all. According to some early polish Missionaries living today in Poland explained, (The distance that we can now fly by plane in one day, 90 years ago had to be traveled in stages: through Berlin and Hamburg, and from there by ship via Las Palmas to Cape Town in today’s Republic of South Africa. After the monthly sailing, the first missionaries were still waiting for the train, then the car’.
After a short acclimatization, the sisters moved to Chingombe, a very remote and difficult place to reach. This place is found in Kabwe diocese, Central Province of Zambia.
In an article published by our sisters in Poland, it was mentioned that ‘the trip to Chingombe mission was terrible and could be traveled only on foot. The walk through the high grass and Rocky Mountains lasted three to four days and the sisters up to now still remember this experience, the roar of lions approaching their recumbent caravan at night.
Until now, it is one of the most difficult places due to the uncomfortable climate, poor transport and network connection. The sisters initially lived in a bicameral hut, which served them as a bedroom, dining room, recreation room, workshop and first aid kit.
When they arrived, the early missionary sisters taught catechism and basic education to children and women and took care of patients. Local people admired their service and some young women joined the congregation.
The language was a huge barrier, since the local population used 10 dialects.
The second group of four sisters arrived in 1929 and took over the mission in Kasisi, which was run by the German Dominican Sisters and the third mission was Katondwe, in 1939.
After several years of efforts, on December 2, 1954, the novitiate of the Little Servants of Mary Immaculate Sisters was established in Mumbwa, Karenda, and on December 7, the ceremonies of the first African sisters took place.
In 1968, the Congregation created in Africa a separate province, counting in Zambia 21 Polish sisters, 22 Zambians and 10 Polish sisters in South Africa. At that time there were six communities in Zambia – Chingombe (1928), Kasisi (1929), Katondwe (1939), Matero (1959), Kabwe-Nugungu-Bwacha (1961), Mumbwa (1963) and 1 in South Africa – Johannesburg (1946).
The congregation has a total of 33 Mission Stations in Africa with 197 sisters. The Regional or Provincial House is located at Kasisi Mission in Lusaka.
The early missionaries who came to Zambia planted deep roots of the Little Servants of Mary Immaculate and made the congregation an integral part of the local Church. In Zambia, the Congregation has for the past 90 years been serving in various sectors including Health, Education, Pastoral and Social services in the 6 dioceses of Mansa, Mpika, Kabwe, Lusaka, Mongu and Monze. Currently the Congregation is managing 21 Preschools, 10 Primary Schools, 10 Secondary Schools, 4 Rural Health Centres, 3 Hospitals, a School of Nursing, and 2 Trade Skills Training Centres for women, Kasisi retreat centre in Lusaka and Kasisi Orphanage. Thus, the congregation has reached out on charity to thousands of people in Zambia and abroad.
The Provincial Superior, Sr. Sylvia Kagulura thanked the first Polish Sisters who bravely sacrificed themselves to build the congregation despite difficulties they experienced. She also thanked benefactors who help the congregation become what it is today.
She said, “Reflecting on these 90 years, one cannot help but be grateful for the journey and for being a part of a much larger presence of the Little Servants of Mary Immaculate throughout the world. Most importantly, we are thankful for the people who have walked with us, the Edmunds Family Collaborators, the many lay faithful who help us respond to the call to: Maintain the Flame of faith, Extend the Hand in our services and Fulfill our Name as Little servants of Mary Immaculate.