AFRICA/KENYA - Some will be waiting for Sister Ida at the door of heaven

Monday, 24 June 2024 mission   missionaries   nuns   local churches  

by Pascale Rizk

Nairobi (Fides Agency ) – "Sister Ida left us suddenly on Sunday, June 16 shortly before 7 p.m. After praying the vespers together with the community in Nairobi, she felt sick suddenly in the kitchen and left us in less than 20 minutes. All rescue efforts were in vain," writes Sister Fulgenzia Biasiotto, of the Dimesse Sisters.
Sister Ida Lagonegro was 23 years old when she arrived in Kenya in December 1967. She left this world at 82, in the land she loved so much and where she spent more than 57 years in mission. They had arrived from Padua on April 21, 1965, the first 3 sisters along with two "Fidei Donum" priests to settle in the Catholic mission in North Kinangop, Nyandarua County. It was the Bishop of Padua who had given them the assignment to become missionaries in Kenya, where the Dimesse Sisters had, first of all, to learn Kikuyu, the language of the country's largest ethnic group. A course of study that included as many as 11 classes.
"I believe so much in God's plan for each of us; I had no cultural background. After learning the language, we started assisting women in small things." So she told me exactly one year ago when I met her in Nairobi.
And it was from there that the story of a long missionary life began, dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel in both small everyday things and great works.
Throughout the time she lived in Kenya, Sister Ida had moved to different remote places where, one by one, small missions were founded to meet the needs of all: Manunga, North kinangop, Anjabin, South Kinangop and Rumuriti. It was here that her back problems, which accompanied her throughout her life, began. To anyone who asked her, "Sister Ida, how are you doing?" she would reply, "The head is there but the legs are not holding up."
After a period of convalescence in Italy, she was sent back to Gangemi, one of Nairobi's eight slums. "There, anything happens. Everything you can think of, happens," she told me.
After the early days, the Superior General wanted to take her back to Italy to finish her studies, but at the time the priests were adamant in saying "we really don't care about the accademic titles, Sister Ida is iactive and does a lot of good. Just send her to London to learn English." "And so after a period in London, I came back and a second school for girls had been established, there were 320 girls in their full teens. I went to Mass on Sundays with an Italian scooter, the 'Ciao,' and then went to read the Gospel to a blind woman, who lost her sight because of how much she had grieved after the death of her daughter. The Lord is great, and there I was changed. After that, I went to Taboril."
From one mission site to another, despite her advancing age, Sister Ida was very proud of the workshop she had founded where some 15 women of all ethnicities work, a project she wanted under the motto Empowering Women to give marginalized, raped, single mother, ex-serve women independence.
The biggest culture shock was great poverty. Also giving her strength was an encounter with a dying lady, the mother of one of the female students who attended the school of the Dimesse Sisters. The woman told her, "You know, I will not live long, however, I bless you now, and you will live a long time here. And when I go to Heaven, I will say to the Lord: Leave me by the door, waiting for Mother Sister." "This," Sister Ida said, "has been the key to the missionary drive for me." And she told of the many urgencies also related to the tribal way of life, sexual problems and superstitions.
She would go to the streets to buy fruit. Everyone greeted her: Anglicans, Protestants and Muslims. "I speak the language, Language is the way to the heart" , said Sr. Ida.
In her lifetime, Sr. Ida was operated on 11 times, but all that did not stop her. Between community, office and traveling from place to place, Sr. Ida was an ever-active volcano, full of ideas, and always looking to develop them with the help of many benefactors who trusted in what the Lord was accomplishing through her.
The funeral is being held today, Monday, June 24, at the Center of Hope in Gatundia in Laikipia, where she had begun construction of a home for the elderly and where part of the land has been reserved from the beginning as a cemetery for the Dimesse Sisters. "After the Holy Mass, celebrated under the tents a few kilometers from the Equator, Sister Ida will be the third to be buried after an Italian and an African, the Dimesse Sisters of the first group. It was Sister Ida who prepared the granite headstone for the first two as is done in Italy, and made sure that the plants and flowers in the small cemetery were taken care of. She wished to die in Africa and the Lord granted her. The area is about 230 km away from Nairobi, the climate is sunny, chosen especially for a retirement home," Sister Fulgenzia, also of Padua origin,who arrived in Kenya 49 years ago because "there was a missionary fire" as she described in our meetings last year. "We feel a great void, and at the same time everything continues to be alive, we are in full swing," adds Sister Fulgenzia.

The mission of the Dimesse Sisters Daughters of Mary Immaculate developed in various Italian dioceses until the Second Vatican Council, when their congregation opened up to mission outside Europe. It was precisely in the 1950s that a great missionary enthusiasm flourished in the Diocese of Padua, supported also by Bishop Girolamo Bortignon and Fr. Moletta, director of the Padua Missionary Office. That missionary awakening had also taken its cue from Pius XII's encyclical "Fidei Donum" (gift of faith), which called on priests, religious men, women religious and lay people to arouse let themselves be infected by a passion for apostolic work, with a special focus on supporting the journey of the young Churches in Africa. (Fides Agency 24/6/2024)