While the Christian population of Africa is expected to double between 2010 and 2050, the presence of Catholic sisters in Africa is not new. Nuns have been serving in Africa since the late 1800s and in 2015, African sisters constituted about 11% of the world’s women religious. Africa saw a 22% increase in the number of women religious during the past decade, making it and Asia the only regions of the world seeing growth rather than decline in the number of sisters taking their vows.
But with growth comes challenges and growing pains. Culturally, girls are discouraged from vocations to religious life, which can be viewed as a drain of family resources and a sacrifice of potential dowries and childbearing. Many girls considering religious life still experience this familial resistance today.
Growth within the religious community can also provide its own challenges. Most African women’s religious communities are active in responding to the needs of their surrounding communities with ministries ranging from social work, health care, education and pastoral work. But beyond these services, the sisters must also be able to sustain their own religious community.
In a special report from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, co-authors Sr. Bibiana M. Ngundo, LSOSF, Ph.D. (the first CARA/ASEC Visiting Scholar) and Jonathon Wiggins, Ph.D. commented,
“Amidst this growth in vocations to religious life in Africa, many congregations of women religious continue to struggle with sustainability... They need to maintain current institute numbers while encouraging more vocations. The institute should be able to maintain the current members by adequate provision for their medical needs, space, education and basic needs.”
Catholic sisters from ASEC programs are taking their education and training to bring strength and vitality to their own religious communities.
Through ASEC’s largest program, Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI), Catholic women religious in Africa receive leadership and technology training to gain the practical skills and confidence to build strong networks and take up leadership roles.
ASEC’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program enables sisters to further their training through undergraduate and graduate level education at higher education institutions in Africa and online in the USA.
Sr. Mary Sarah Chandiru of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church (MSMMC) earned her Bachelor’s in Business Administration through HESA at ASEC’s partner institution, the University of Kisubi, in Uganda. She is now using her education to bolster the other sisters in her community.
Sr. Mary Sarah wrote a grant to support her congregation in sponsoring a retreat for 50 MSMMC sisters, followed by another grant to build upon what the sisters learned in the retreat. Through this second grant, MCMMC sisters in leadership positions will attend workshops, retreats and formal courses. They’ll also receive hands-on training, mentoring and coaching.
Ultimately, the goal is to strengthen the congregation’s governance practices by enhancing the sisters’ leadership skills and their effectiveness in their community roles.
Sr. Hellen Chiriro Rumbidzai, LCBL, is a 2018 Administration Track graduate of SLDI in Malawi. After securing a significant grant, Sr. Hellen created a record archive for her congregation, the Little Children of Our Blessed Mary. Her congregation now has digitized records whenever possible, including back-up storage.
Sr. Hellen credits SLDI with helping her to develop her skills and zeal for this work:
“ASEC has helped me to be systematic and organized and to be concerned about our resources. I have improved in record keeping and I share the passion with others. I am happy and thankful that ASEC has enabled me to make this important contribution to my congregation.”
Upon completing SLDI’s Administration program, Sr. Josemaria Anyanwu, HFSN, was promoted to Hospital Administrator of Holy Family Hospital in Nigeria, where she was already a mid-level manager. In that role, she managed 30 employees and used the skills she learned through SLDI to become a more effective supervisor.
But outside the hospital, Sr. Josemaria uses her teamwork and collaboration skills within her congregation as a Community Superior and a Councilor. She contributed to the strategic planning of her congregation as well as human resources management in her role as a Councilor.
She has also mentored four other congregations in preparing grant proposals. She’s helped one congregation establish a computer lab, install a solar power system and secure a host baking machine. Another congregation was able to obtain an ambulance.
Sr. Florence Emurayeveya, EHJ, a Sister of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (EHJ) in Nigeria, is a 2009 graduate of the SLDI Project Directors track. She has since been the Project Manager of EHJ where she has been using her skills to change lives through grant-writing and efficient supervision of projects.
As ASEC’s second Visiting Scholar, a research fellowship program developed in collaboration with CARA, Sr. Florence honed her research skills while studying in the U.S. with the goal of studying religious life in Nigeria and statistical record keeping among congregations. She has since authored or co-authored studies on women entering religious life and science and religious in Catholic high schools. Her research has contributed to a small but growing body of research on women religious in sub-Saharan Africa.
She also secured funding for and created the EHJ Postulate House in Ikenne, Nigeria to provide holistic formation for young girls coming into the religious life.
Sr. Magdalena Ndawla, a Teresian Sister, has brought stability and efficiency to her congregation as well. As Administrator of the Alinafe Community Hospital in Central Malawi, a promotion she received after graduating from SLDI in 2018, she's using her collaboration, leadership and grant-writing skills to meet the ongoing needs of not only hospital staff and patients, but also her own congregation.
“I have implemented a few things which I learnt during SLDI such as: holding meetings, financial control systems, improved communication, how to solve conflicts among the employees,” she commented. “All the skills will help my congregation.”
After graduating from the SLDI program, Finance Track, in 2015 in Uganda, Sr. Winifred Nyonozi, The Grail, has held positions as Provincial Superior and Executive of Association of Religious in Uganda (ARU). She has focused on:
- strategic planning for her congregation
- improved reporting and financial practices
- fostering a culture of savings
- mentoring another congregation in project development
- mobilizing local resources for health clinic and
- becoming a published author.
All of these accomplishments have strengthened and improved the sustainability of her congregation. Sr. Winifred adds,
"There is not a single day that you are not involved in touching finance...so it is better that...people have a taste of that, have a taste of leadership."
Congregational Vitality in Africa Achieved Through ASEC Programs
As Ngundo and Wiggins commented in their CARA Special Report,
“The ability to maintain the available infrastructure, ensure the institute’s financial well-being and to expand outreach missions to needy areas and keeping pace with the institute’s charism and the Church’s teaching in an effort to achieve spiritual and temporal goals of the institute are very important.”
Catholic sisters graduating from ASEC programs are using their skills to improve systems and services of their congregations. According to ASEC's SLDI Phase V, Year 1 (2019) and HESA Phase II Year 3 (2018-2019) evaluation reports:
Alumnae mentor others in skills that develop internal systems of congregations and ministries.
|Mentoring Topic||One-on-One Mentoring||Group Mentoring|
|Financial Record Keeping||35%||21.7%|
|ASEC Evaluation Presentation, April, 2020 p32 (n=378)|
Sisters improve their skills, confidence & ability to lead within and outside of their ministry.
- 90.7% of alumnae improved their self-perception*
- 89.4% of alumnae improved their relationships*
- 77.3% of alumnae gained a ministry leadership role (educational leadership, administrators, congregational role as ministry)*
- 45.7% of alumnae gained a non-ministry leadership role (social/pastoral role, external to congregation such as through diocese or local group)*
Improved Systems and Services
Sisters use their skills to improve systems and services. Evaluation has determined that 72.4% of alumnae create or strengthen internal systems in their congregation and ministry (n=401).*
|System Type||Congregational System Improvements||Ministerial System Improvements|
|Human Resources Management||24.2%||34.2%|
|ASEC Evaluation Presentation, April, 2020 p37 (n=401)|
Overall, ASEC alumnae report that:
- 91% use skills effectively to benefit their ministries (n=374)*
- 88% use skills effectively to benefit their congregations (n=374)*
- 34.5% increased their income level (n=345)*
- 82% of alumnae create or strengthen internal systems in their ministry OR congregation (n=401)*
- 79% improve systems in ministries*
- 62% improve systems in congregations*
- 163 congregations improved their internal systems through the work of alumnae*
An anonymous SLDI alumna* and head teacher in Zambia remarked,
"We carried an assessment of our congregation whereby each and every sister was involved using HOCAI (holistic organization capacity assessment instrument) and many areas we are bringing a change. We have now an accounting manual, audited accounts since 2018, job descriptions are in the process of being designed for all our sisters working in the congregation administration and for all workers of our small instituions [sic], development of HR manual, improvement of our farming, and many more.”
We are proud to share that Catholic sisters who participate in ASEC’s SLDI and HESA programs are not only bringing change and improvements to their ministries, but also using their skills to strengthen their communities from within. You can help us to strengthen congregational vitality by donating to a sister's education today.