On the Other Side of Reverence

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Sr. Mary Persico talking with an ASEC-sponsored CUEA graduate in Nairobi, Kenya (October, 2019).

Sr. Mary Persico, IHM, Ed.D., President, Marywood University; ASEC Board of Directors Founding Member, reflects on her 2019 trip to Kenya, Africa, humbled and grateful for her experience of reverence.

s one who has spent many years in ministries where words such as respect, reverence and compassion were held up as core values of the organization, I have routinely tried to practice by my life or put into words what it means to be a person who respects or reverences others, or who acts with empathy or sympathy with those who journey this path of life with me.

In October of 2019, a few months before the onset of COVID-19, I had the great fortune of traveling to Nairobi, Kenya. Having been invited to deliver the commencement address at the Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA), I set out with wonderment and a bit of trepidation about what I would find when I arrived at my destination.

Once in Nairobi, I was delighted to meet many Kenyan sisters who were participants of ASEC’s SLDI program, a large group of sisters who were graduating with the class of 2019 and HESA graduates who had gone on to become leaders in healthcare, education and social services ministries.

In many ways, I felt like Anna when she saw the Messiah on the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Having heard about the blessings of ASEC for the twenty years of its existence, to see it in action at last evoked great gratitude in my heart and soul. It was an experience that far surpassed the expectations I had from the start.

In all, I spent only five days in Nairobi. During that time, I met many people and engaged in numerous activities. To this day I still wonder how we managed to attend the two-hour Commencement Baccalaureate Mass, the four-hour Commencement Ceremony, visits to convents, clinics, two universities, gatherings of sisters, a sidewalk market, a giraffe sanctuary and an elephant orphanage.

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Sr. Mary Persico (front, center) with ASEC participants at the CUEA Graduation with Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) scholarship recipients (October, 2019).

Sr. Mary Persico (front, center) with ASEC participants at the CUEA Graduation with Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) scholarship recipients (October, 2019).

When my time in Nairobi had come to an end and while it was still fresh in my mind as I boarded the flight to Heathrow and then home, I realized that there was one overarching feeling that enveloped me. It was a sense that I had been treated with reverence during every moment of my time with the people of Kenya.

How and when or even why does one communicate this in the course of re-telling the stories of being at all these events and experiences? It’s fun and normal to talk about the giraffes and elephants. It’s exciting to recount the university events leading up to commencement. It’s awe-inspiring to exchange stories about what the sisters have accomplished as a result of their studies in ASEC programs. But who talks about reverence?

This invitation to address the ASEC’s core value of reverence gave me permission to express my gratitude to the people of Kenya for teaching me the very thing I have inadequately tried to portray by my life for many years.

Beyond any other sentiment, I was humbled – by the attentive presence of those who worked at the residence where I stayed, by the heartfelt welcome I felt from the students, professors and administrators of the Catholic University of East Africa, by the gentle, selfless hospitality of every sister I encountered, by the warmth of every person whom I happened to meet during my time in Nairobi, by the pervasive experience of feeling valued, seen, befriended, even beloved.

This is what it means to have a life-changing experience.

The events were passing, albeit happy, memories. The feeling of being reverenced by those one might describe as strangers from another land, brings the world together in peace and unity and makes the meaning of life-long friends a reality and a vision for the future of humankind.

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This article is addressing the following UN Sustainable Development Goal(s):

Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Sr. Mary Persico, IHM, Ed.D.

Sr. Mary Persico, IHM, Ed.D.
ASEC Board Member
President  Marywood University

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