Q&A with Sisters of St. Mary of Namur general superior reveals work still to be done
Sister Immaculee Mukabugabo, general superior of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur (SSMN) international congregation, traveled from Belgium recently to visit for several days with local sisters at Our Lady of Victory Center in Fort Worth.
A native of Rwanda, Sister Immaculee was educated by the SSMN sisters. After entering the SSMN order, she continued her novitiate in Belgium. She went on to complete her education studies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the sisters and furthered her coursework in theology and catechetics in Belgium.
In Rwanda, Sr. Immaculee worked as a teacher and then served as principal of an all-girls high school for 10 years.
Her life experience is one of international community living and ministry with the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Brazil, the United States, and Canada. In addition to speaking several African languages, Sr. Immaculee is fluent in French, Portuguese, and English.
As general superior, a leadership position to which she was elected by SSMN sisters, Sr. Immaculee is now engaging with SSMN provinces around the world.
The North Texas Catholic caught up with Sr. Immaculee during her weeklong stay in Fort Worth to gain some insight into the remarkable service that she and her fellow SSMN sisters have given and continue to provide for the Church.
Following are her responses during a question-and-answer session.
I know you were born in Rwanda and educated there by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. How influential were the sisters in your life, and did being around them help you to hear God’s call to religious life?
I went to the boarding school with the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur starting in 1961. I was in the seventh grade and was there until I entered the convent in Belgium 1964 for my novitiate.
The sisters influenced me a lot at that boarding school. I looked at them and saw how joyful and welcoming they were to everybody. They were very joyful, very welcoming, and also very demanding about our education. We had to study and to learn. There were sisters from the Congo, from the United States, from Canada, and Belgium. It was an international community. And they were just so at ease with one another and with us. It attracted us.
I remember that our dormitory was next to the chapel and the sisters would be praying during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. As students, we went to the chapel, and we would see the sisters praying. It impacted me, as well as the others. We stayed there and we prayed, too. There was something about that. It influenced me greatly, especially to think about my relationship with Jesus and being able to talk to Him. There was just something about being in His presence with the sisters.
Did you ever imagine yourself being in the position where you now find yourself, as general superior of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur?
How do you think it happened that you are now general superior?
I think it was the confidence the sisters had in me. And it was God’s will.
Can you please tell me about the scope of the international work by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur?
The scope of our work comes from our charism. Our founder was concerned about poor young people. We were founded in Belgium after the French revolution and there was much poverty. Churches and schools were destroyed. Children were abandoned in the streets. Our founder was deeply concerned by this situation. He invited two young women, who had the same concerns, to start a sewing school for young people so they could earn a living. Today, we still respond as our founder did. In the communities where we serve, we help people to live their lives with dignity. We educate and invite our students to be aware of the needs around them. When we see a need, we reach out to help, to do something, and not to stand by and watch.
We serve now in the Congo, Rwanda, Cameroon, Tanzania, Brazil, Belgium, Great Britain, the U.S.A., and Canada.
We have schools, health care centers, Bible studies, an orphanage, and places where women can learn to cook and sew. We want to help people live dignified lives.
How do you see God at work through the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur?
We can start here in Fort Worth. When I see the community here at Our Lady of Victory, I see God at work through the sisters. I see God in the way the sisters are attentive to each other, trying to help each other, listening to each other, the way they relate to one another. They are still a mission. They show us the presence of God. That is what I will remember most about my visit here.
What are the greatest challenges the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur now face around the world?
We live with two realities. In the northern hemisphere, we are facing diminishing numbers of sisters. It seems that the young people are not interested in joining the sisters and continuing our mission. On the other hand, in the southern hemisphere, there are many who want to join us. Our challenge is to help them discern and to educate them. So, our greatest challenge is to find and help others to carry out our work.
[Sr. Immaculee explained that about 350 sisters are now part of the international SSMN congregation, down from 1,000 sisters who served in the mid-1960s.]
But, I believe that God continues to call.
For lay people who do not wish to lead a consecrated life as a sister, and still want to help, we have established the Oblates or Friends of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. It is another way to share our charism, our mission.
What is your hope for the future of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur?
I hope for the future, we can learn how to better connect with young people. Our sisters and our associates are not so young. So, this is my desire, to establish that connection. My message to youth is: Don’t be afraid to talk with the sisters and to see how they can help. We still have many needs.
I know young people are very generous.
And to young women considering leading a consecrated life, I hope they can cultivate this relationship with Jesus, by praying, meditating, reading the Word of God, and listening to the Holy Spirit. To cultivate that spiritual life, you must be listening. Then you should approach people who are already consecrated and leading this kind of life to learn more about it.
You see, there are still people in the world who are not evangelized. There are still many poor people who are in need. These people need help to become empowered, to live a more dignified life. There is still much work for us to do. We just need more young people to help us continue to do it.