Long Journey Brings Nigerian Sisters to St. Edwards

Long Journey Brings Nigerian Sisters

In 2004, the authors, Sister Elise Bocke, OP and Sister Alverna Hollis, OP, lived at St. Edward Convent and welcomed the Nigerian Dominican Sisters.

August 15 was a happy day for the sisters of St. Edward Convent in Chicago. Sisters Perpetua Chime and Cecilia Madu from Dusau, Nigeria, finally arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. They will be members of the St. Edward community while attending Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., and working toward degrees unattainable in their own country. After their first day at St. Edward’s both sisters said, “We feel welcome, comfortable and at home with all of you.”

"You are too young"

Obtaining visas from the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria was no easy task. First of all, the Embassy is located in Victoria Island, Lagos, in southern Nigeria, a 12-hour drive from Gusau in the northern state of Zamfara. The sisters made the journey in January 2004 only to have their petition rejected for this reason: “You are too young.” They made the trip again in August, this time armed with an official letter from the archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis E. George, acceptance papers from Dominican University, and a letter from Sister Mary Jean Traeger guaranteeing hospitality for the sisters.

Sisters Perpetua and Cecilia are Dominican sisters. Responding to the health and educational needs of the people, the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, Kan., arrived in Nigeria in 1956. They provided a Christian presence in a mostly Muslim country. In the early ‘70s the congregation began to accept indigenous women into the community. At the present time, no North American Dominican sisters remain in Nigeria. The Nigerian women who joined the community since the ‘70s are now discussing complete independence, but first they wish to have stable finances. Having lived for years with North American sisters, Sisters Perpetua and Cecilia are having no problem adjusting to American food. They even like it and help prepare it. The Sisters of Great Bend are contributing to their support while they study here.

Dominican collaboration

Both sisters come from large families: Sister Perpetua is the oldest of seven; Sister Cecilia, one of eight. Sister Perpetua was employed full time as a school bursar and also did pastoral ministry for the last five years, organizing retreats and workshops. Her community observed her teaching young children and recognized her gift in this area. That is why she will study early childhood development at Dominican University. Sister Cecilia has been involved in pastoral ministry and evangelization. She will study pastoral theology. The Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wis., are supporting them with scholarships.

With their stories of home and their spirited youthfulness, the Nigerian sisters have educated and enlivened their new community. Sister Marie Michelle Hackett said, “I am amazed at how quickly Sisters Perpetua and Cecilia adjusted to life in Chicago, and I am delighted at their enthusiasm and joy.”

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