Tshumbe (Fides Service) – “It is a great joy to see our family grow day by day” says Sister Helena Kotandola one of the foundresses of the diocesan congregation of Saint Francis of Assisi which celebrated it 50th anniversary on 15 July in Tshumbe diocese, Congo. “We started out as six” - Sister Helena says - and today with the grace of God and the intercession of Mary, we are a large family of 165 professed sisters plus a dozen postulants and novices.”
The beginning was not easy, Sister Helena recalls. “Our Order was founded thanks to the first Bishop of Tshumbe Mgr Joseph Hagedorens, a Passionist Father, after many false starts and countless difficulties. In 1935 and again in 1943 Bishop Hagedorens attempted to found a diocesan order of women religious but failed. At last in July 1953 he succeeded. At first the Bishops was uncertain about the name, Passionist Sisters, Penitent Sisters, but in the end he settled for the Sisters of Saint Francis of Assisi. The Bishop’s first idea, Passionist Sisters was because he was fascinated by the spirituality of the Lord’s Passion. Then, while teaching us about the life of Saint Francis, he realised that it was possible to follow the passion of Jesus taking the life of Saint Francis as an example who was a true disciple of Jesus putting his Gospel into practice.”
Besides pastoral and social work the Tshumbe Sisters of Saint Francis of Assisi are involved in education of children and young people in schools of all grades. They care for the sick in hospitals besides running their own institutions, an orphanage and a hospital for lepers.
Today the Congregation has 10 communities in various parishes in Tshumbe diocese and two missions in the diocese of Nuoro, Sardinia, Italy.
Tshumbe diocese, situated in the heart of Democratic Congo in the district of Sankuru East-Kasayi province, is one of the largest in the country. It has an area of 62,000 sq. km and a population of about 700,000 of whom 225,000 are Catholics. LM (Fides Service 25/7/2003 EM lines 35 Words: 437)