April 18, 2017
“You would be the first one.”
Sister Nancy Gunderson, a Benedictine Sister of Annunciation Monastery, Bismarck, pondered those words from Pam Kossan, a University of Mary alum and nurse who is leading the Mary Mission Team to Uganda. Sister Nancy was taken totally by surprise and didn’t think it could be possible, but the words burned in her soul.
Pam’s words were something like this, “Will you come to Uganda with our mission team and teach for a week in July at St. Philomena Primary School? The school serves five villages with over 800 AIDS orphans. We want a sister to come. They have never experienced a sister. You would be the first one.”
“If we can make it happen, will you come?” Kossan repeated. Sister Nancy explained, “Something in me whispered ‘yes’ not even knowing where that came from or what I was committing to or what could make it possible. I only knew the days and weeks ahead would confirm if that was a real call from the Spirit.”
Sister Nancy brought the request before the Annunciation Monastery prioress and council. It would be the first step in discernment. “Not expecting their affirmative response, I was again surprised by their ‘yes’ and even their encouragement,” she said. As plans and funds began falling into place, Sr. Nancy was reassured that this is where God is leading her.
The school, where Sr. Nancy will teach in Uganda, is named after St. Philomena so she contacted the Universal Living Rosary Association, that takes St. Philomena as their patroness to see if they would be willing to donate 350 medals of St. Philomena and 500 rosaries for the children. The Association surprised Sr. Nancy with a 27-pound box of everything she requested and more. The local bishop in Uganda will bless the school when Sr. Nancy and the mission group are there and dedicate the new church that is currently being built.
“We also needed to collect toothbrushes and toothpaste to take to Africa, and it just so happened that a bag of 150 of them were left over from a charity project the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery donated to,” explained Sr. Nancy.
Need donations of black shoes
The children at St. Philomena’s need black Oxford-style shoes, with ties or velcro, as part of their school uniform and so they can trudge through the rough terrain to get from their villages to school. While visiting family in Minneapolis, Sr. Nancy found eight pairs of shoes at a store that sells gently-used children’s items. More shoes are being collected for children ages four through the teens.
Sister Nancy, who is also a professor at the University of Mary, is engaging students with this project utilizing their skills to raise funds, apply for grants, and make a difference in the lives of the orphans. Students from a social welfare policy class have organized drop sites for shoe donations at various Bismarck parishes. The shoes can be new or slightly used; they must be black, and either tie or velcro. The students’ goal is to collect 400 pairs of shoes for the students.
Teaching about Blessed Virgin Mary
While in Uganda, Sr. Nancy will teach the children about the Blessed Virgin Mary. She’s still amazed at how the Holy Spirit is working as plans fall into place for this new call in her life. She says, “My heart is being converted as I say ‘yes’ to each step.’”
Sister Nancy, a gifted artist, is also in the process of making a story art quilt about St. Philomena and the school and church in Uganda, which she will present to the children. The quilt tells the story about St. Philomena and includes the names of the children who will attend the school where Sister Nancy will teach.