This year marks the 100th anniversary the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic, more commonly referred to as the Maryknoll Sisters. Last year the MK Fathers and Brothers celebrated their centennial and this year they’ve passed the baton to the sisters. All throughout the year there will be celebrations in the various countries that has a MK presence.
About 15-20 MK sisters from across Tanzania and even some from the US and Kenya are all gathering this week for a variety of celebrations. This weekend we were fortunate to be able to attend the first half of the celebrations, which were held in our neck of the woods. We took a “pilgrimage” of sorts to the first Maryknoll parish in a small village about a ½ hour’s drive from the language school where we currently live. The Maryknolls first established the parish in Nyegina in 1951. And, what was cool about yesterday’s celebration was that there was one sister with us who was in Nyegina during that time. Sister Ann still lives in Tanzania, though she is about to retire in just a few weeks and return to the States.
The parish has since been taken over by the local diocese, but boy did they put on a show to recognize and celebrate the centennial. We were first greeted by a parade of children singing and dancing as the bus pulled into the church.
Then, we attended a very long, very hot, very crowded Mass. There must have been over 400 people jammed into the church. No windows, no air circulation. It was insanely hot. And the Mass lasted over 2 hours. But, it was such a great celebration that I hardly cared it was so hot. There was a ton of singing and dancing by both a children and adult choir. The Mass was all in Swahili so I only understood about 10% of what was being said. But it was abundantly clear that the priest and the community were singing the praises of the MK sisters. Maryknoll has a major presence in this entire area of the country. They started many schools, founded parishes, opened churches, promoted the education of women, etc. So all of that was recognized and discussed during Mass. All of the sisters and even the lay missioners were invited to stand on the alter and introduce ourselves in Swahili! Luckily, one of the long-term missioners took pity on us and introduced ourselves so we didn’t have to bumble through our elementary Swahili in front of the whole congregation. Several of the community leaders gave speeches and at the end of Mass the 2 longest serving MK sisters in TZ got up and were presented with gifts of cloth from a variety of community members. The people would approach the sisters who were standing on the alter, hold up their fabric, wrap it around the two sisters’ shoulders and then give them a joint hug and kiss. Then the next person would come up and do the same. They must’ve been presented with about 20 different pieces of fabric, each one more beautiful then the next.*
At the end of Mass we were ushered out of the church by a chorus of rambunctious children who we had to hold back for fear of them knocking over the elderly nuns. When we got outside there was a singing and drumming circle. The sister’s didn’t waste a second; by the time I got out there they were already dancing and waving their newly acquired cloth. The whole congregation flooded outside; kids climbed trees just to get a look at the circle. It was awesome. Then, we paraded down the road via drumbeat and dancing to the convent where the MK sisters were planting a commemorative tree.
The drum and dance circle outside the church.
The sisters dancing in the circle.
The procession to the treeplanting.
The sisters plant the tree.
After the tree was planted most of the congregation dispersed and we were served a fabulous meal by the sisters who now run the parish. They had tables and chairs setup under the trees and it was quite an idyllic spot to sit and enjoy the breeze after being cooped up in the hot church for so long.
Enjoying a rest under the tree before lunch.
Yesterday’s celebration was such a tribute not only to the MK sisters and their history, but also to the Tanzanian people. It was everything I love about this country. Celebration. Beauty. Faith. Music. Dance. Community. So lovely!
It should also be noted that the drive to Nyegina was absolutely beautiful! As we wound our way around Lake Victoria, we drove through some of the lushest farms in the country. The lake was to our right and the farms to our left as we passed small huts and family compounds. People stopped to look at the bus full of wazungu (Westerners) as we drove by and kids waved and yelled hello. Absolutely spectacular.
*The sisters were generous enough to give us lay missioners some fabric. So I got a bolt of pretty purple fabric that I hope to get made into a dress or shirt.