Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux in South Africa

Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux in South Africa


It is quite something the beginning. What they had experienced, and the toughness
of everything. All these mothers came out, they had to travel
by ox-wagon. And how they wanted to spread our charism. In those early years it was tough. Now in those days they had to get on that
ox-wagon and they had to go up hill and down – can you imagine climbing into Lesotho and
then going up to Johannesburg – but the sisters did it. For me they were pioneers. By the end of the year in Pietermaritzburg
when they arrived here in 1875, by the end of the year they had these different groups
of the Holy Family going plus they had a few candidates for religious life for the Holy
Family already. The tremendous way that they spread the charism
was too beautiful. The sisters right down through the years dedicating
themselves to the education. In some places where I was we got great support
from the Bishops too, they were anxious to promote education in South Africa. The way in which the Holy Family Sisters came
here and many years ago they have certainly done a tremendous job in making that Catholic
ethos – that particular spirituality of the Holy Family Sisters. The idea that our schools, our institutions,
their schools, their institutions, have to be, have to have the feel of a family about
them. I must say I enjoyed my teaching years very
much, and I taught practically everything that was on the syllabus at our schools. I taught in Durban for many years at Maris
Stella Convent, mostly teaching senior girls, although I was keen to teach little ones. Their spirit, what they stand for, is important
in every single decision that we make here as a school. I have been working at Maris Stella for just
over twenty years but I have been Principal here for five. The sisters have been incredibly supportive
of me as a principal. We see them as being a hugely important aspect
to our school, however, as you know, they are not involved in the school any more. But they do come and visit! And when they come and visit we celebrate
what they are and who they are. Their lives and what they have given to us,
and what they have left for us, the role-model that they are actually to us as a school. Their whole charism of being of serving people,
of community, of living a life of good values and morals, that has brought in not only in
RE lessons, it is brought in in our assemblies, in Maths classrooms, in life sciences classrooms,
in PE, in everything to remind the girls. St Theresa’s Convent School began in Town
in President Street, here in Coronationville, it started in 1952. Initially we were Holy Family Sisters, the
Holy Family Sisters ran the school and the Holy Family Sisters were the staff of the
school. Afterwards the sisters withdrew and went to
different, to other ministries. So the principals that were here, that was
Sr Marie, Sr Borgia. Even though we were a catholic school, the
number of Catholics was not very high. But still the ethos of the school was maintained
throughout. We went from strength-to-strength as far as
working not only… we didn’t just remain in the school, and working among our Catholic
families, we reached out to different families, different religions, different denominations,
and that for me was very exciting. People seemed to have appreciated the education
that they got, they seemed to be very happy, it was always a good name that we had here
at St Theresa’s in the different communities. My experience with the sisters whom I grew
to love, it was just awesome to get to know the sisters. They were people like us – ordinary people
who chose to dedicate their lives to their cause you could only but admire them for what
they’ve done. I got to know so many sisters, some when I
was a little girl and we had catechism at Church. The sisters were always there. I do not know where our society, especially
the one I’m living in right now, and the areas surrounding the school, where would we have
been if the Sisters hadn’t been in our lives, if the school hadn’t been here. So, the Sisters were a God-send! I teach at St Theresa’s Convent School, I’m
also an old girl. I was at primary school with the Holy Family
Sisters and I have very, very, fond memories of my time in primary school. One of my teachers, Sr Annunciata – an Irish Sister – she was like a grand-mother to all of us. The great sense of family was what I experienced
most, even though we were so different, there was that sense of unity in our diversity. All the meditations, the masses, the prayer-services,
which we had at school, are very, very, meaningful, not only for me as a teacher, but especially
for the children. Some of them come from single-parent families,
some of them come from broken families, and this sense of family is really what means
so much to them. What they get here they can take with them
later on into their lives. And that is what I am deeply grateful for. I can pass this onto them. And I can be part of their journey. As a Holy Family Sister I have lived our charism
of building communion mainly through the teaching ministry. I studied to be a kindergarten teacher and
then spent many years in the kindergarten class teaching grade 1, grade 2. I was teaching in St Theresa’s in Coronationville
when I was very aware of children in the class who were making very slow progress, and who
I didn’t seem to reach because of the brighter children, and children who seemed to make
good progress. So I one day said to myself, spend the rest
of your life doing something with these children. So I studied remedial education through UNISA
and was then sent to St John Berchmans in Orlando East, Soweto. Here I did only remedial work. It was very rewarding. I very often had young boys at the age of
seventeen, who were classified to be in Grade 5, and yet they struggled. I worked with them over a number of years
and it was amazing the way they made good progress and were eventually able to join
the main stream of education. I’m a teacher here at St John Berchmans. I was fortunate enough to meet Sr Kathleen,
St Meryl and Sr Daphne. They were like mothers to us, they taught
us so many things: how to work with people, how to teach learners; how to make teaching
aids. You know, there are things that I never knew
about the Catholics – because I’m non-Catholic – but after arriving here I’ve learnt so much. We used to work hand-in-hand with the Sisters. We were very happy with the Holy Family Sisters
and all that. They used to help us with the remedial classes
and all that. So that is why this building was built because
of that, because of the Holy Family Sisters. Sr Kathleen would helps us with the remedial
classes so we had a happy, happy, happy time with the Holy Family Sisters. We used to go to their convent as well at
Parktown, where we had our retreats there, maybe for a day or for the night, all because
of the Holy Family Sisters. I’ve been very lucky in the Holy Family actually,
because for the first eleven years of my ministry as a teacher I taught whites only, you know
because there was apartheid; the next twelve years Indians only. After that I taught African children in South
Africa for twenty-two years. I taught Basotho children in Bloemfontein,
then I taught, I also taught Sepedi children in Lukau, so I taught Zulu Children for eleven
years. And I think for me that was the most wonderful
thing because it made me realise that we are all exactly the same! So I was lucky to have that experience and
also to be with staff of the different schools who I felt I was just one with. We were one together for the sake of the students. My entire family practically came to the school,
my brothers and my sisters and my daughter and my nieces and nephews also came to the
school. So we have a long, long history here. And the kind of Catholic ethos and upbringing and the virtues that we were taught here at the school, all those wonderful times we were taught through the sisters here at the school. [Children Singing] When the Holy Family Sisters came to South Africa for the first ten years of their arrival
in South Africa, Bishop Jolivet OMI was their superior and he was Acting Provincial of the Holy Family Sisters as well as of the Oblates. But when the Holy Family Sisters got their
own Provincial, they came out in 1875, by 1885 they had Mother Marcel Mouezy, she came out from France as the Provincial, and she took them in a different trajectory so it
was not the Oblates who started the Nursing, in was an Oblate who said I know Sisters who can come and promote medical care in South Africa, and that’s why the Holy Family Sisters
actually were invited to South Africa. And so they opened the first hospital on the
Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. And the nursing career continues. You have the Kensington Sanatorium, when they
moved out of the General Hospital. And they were also invited to Cape Town and
they built a hospital in Cape Town. When they moved out of the Kensington Sanatorium
as they called it in Johannesburg, they had built a new hospital in Parktown, called Kenridge
Hospital, it’s now Donald Gordon Hospital. We were the first sisters for the nursing
in South Africa, and our sisters who worked in the General Hospital, and started the General
Hospital in Johannesburg. They were little huts in the beginning and
you know what it is now. And then our sisters moved to Cape Town and
the same in Cape Town, you know they definitely left a legacy, you know. When I came, I came to South Africa in 1963,
and I finished my studies and I went straight to the Johannesburg General to do my training,
I was there for three-and-a-half years, and then I went for a very short period to Kensington
Sanatorium which was the hospital there in Johannesburg, then I was transferred to Cape
Town at Sea Point at the Monastery Nursing Home, which was our hospital, we were looking
after the sailors. I came to South Africa as a missionary in
1959. I trained as a nurse and a midwife. I was a nurse at several hospitals, the main
one in Johannesburg was Kenridge Hospital and I was actually there for twenty-five years. The last few years I was pastoral care visitor
in the hospital. The chair and the apostolic activities with
nursing and education has been bringing the Holy Family Spirit to the lives of people. You know we look at the bicentenary, actually
we are only one hundred and fifty-four years here in South Africa, of those two hundred
years , and yes, there’s phenomenal things that have been done in terms of sacrifice,
commitment, loyalty, giving over these years. There were different works developing aside
from the traditional education and health institutional work, these things kind of gave
hope. And so it is interesting to see how religious
life has changed since Vatican II. In some cases, the big call to be in the context,
Gaudium et Spes, it is the joys and sufferings of the people, need to be ours, we need to
hold them. As the sisters saw a need, they responded. Similarly, as a our founder did after the
French Revolution. Wherever he saw a need, women came and joined
him and became part of the group, part of Holy Family, he then responded to that need
with their collaboration. With other ministries we got involved with,
supporting the diocese, pastoral work, social work, community development, helping with
pressures, and formation of nursery school teachers in the townships and rural areas. So that was kind of, it helps us to evolve
in terms of where the need is greatest. I qualified as a social worker and I worked
for mental health, after that I am now working for Catholic Women’s League Adoptions, in
the field of Social Work. Being Family, and trying to form family with
other people is life-giving for me. I interact with people from all walks of life,
people from different cultures and I really am happy serving in South Africa. I’m a social worker by profession, and what
inspires me to work at the Denis Hurley Centre, is the work with Homeless people, and when
I started the whole focus was around helping homeless people to come off the street, and
to get into some kind of sort of employment. And so I then started life-skills training,
which was sort of a step-up programme. For me what I do is because I am a Holy Family
Sister. It’s become part of who I am. I used to work with children. I’m a teacher by profession and then I got
involved in pastoral work and very much in the parish as well as in the school. And now I visit the elderly people and I’m
also involved in the Denis Hurley Centre, and in the Cathedral Centre which is a multi-cultural
parish and it’s good because you can reach many people. I worked according to the people’s need in
different situations. My work included, child and youth care worker,
catechetical co-ordinator, and early childhood development teacher’s training. I am working with these women who are looking
after children in their creches. My aim is to empower and equip these women
with the skills and knowledge. It is a good opportunity to share, to live,
and witness our charism of living communion. So last year, actually, I was forty-one years
in the Holy Family and which I’m very happy and proud. When I finished school the sisters took us
to Elandskop, Elandskop was where I trained. This is my diamond jubilee so I am full of
excitement of having lived all these years in different missions, and quite a few times
here in Elandskop which is really lovely to live in. I’ve been in Elandskop since 2013. What has been life-giving for me has been
the community itself, and the support you get from the sisters, the ministries. The ministry that I’ve been involved in is
nursing, basically, home-based care. But’s it’s more the support that we get from
each other as community. As Priscilla was saying you are able to come
and share and that’s what I find very fulfilling in Holy Family, because as a Family you come
and say sisters, what do you think? Everybody would get involved, now tell me
how can I help you? And we would have to workshop, and you find
everyone putting in their little bit. What gives us energy, what gives us something
that the Spirit to go forward is our Charism. The Charism of Communion. There is so much division, there is so much
family breakdowns in the area. But there is still energy, there is still
life, and there’s still kind of wanting to do, not only catechize, not only for other
people for inspiration, but give them some kind of hope, because we live in a very sad
HIV/AIDS area and we also live in great poverty, and we have great lot of children who come
to school hungry every day even though we try our best and we have all sorts of schemes
going, we still know that they are still a list of an age, that they are children living
with only Granny’s pension supporting them. So we as a group, have really tried to inspire
people to go beyond that. I think for us its that charism that we bring. We think that we are dying out in South Africa
but the spirit of the Founder is still alive and has meaning in today’s world. [Children Singing] Because we are an Association of the Holy Family, besides religious sisters, we also
have a secular institute, we have lay associates, priest associates, we have Children of the
Holy Family. Way back in 1973 I first was introduced to
the Holy Family Sisters down in Wentworth. I was a catechist and I met the apostolic
sisters. And I was very attracted to their way of life,
their simplicity, their commitment to the community – a very poor community of Wentworth
– and their commitment to the people. Through their inspiration I grew to love working
with little children, and I came to understand that this was also a gift that I have to nurture
and care for young children. In 1977 I was down in Cape Town and Sr Marie de Lourdes Bergin, who was then the Provincial, she came out to Cape Town and she introduced to us
the lay associates, because in South Africa, up until that point of time, there were only
the apostolic sisters. People started to show an interest in gaining
formation, in becoming lay associates. And so you saw in the 80’s people making a
commitment for life. I made my commitment in the association in
1987. So in the 1980’s there were many lay associates. As I said, wherever the Sisters were, in cape
town there were many houses of the Sisters, and so many groups. In Johannesburg, in Pietermaritzburg, in Elandskop,
Vosloorus, Durban – there were many, many groups at that point in time. I’ve been working at Holy Family College since
2013, and at Holy Family College I then became interested in the Holy Family Association. One of the branches is that of the Priest
Associates. And I was thinking of joining so I started
talking to a Sr Joy and she said she was also thinking of asking me to become a priest associate. I’m a Diocesan Priest from the Diocese of
Bethlehem, in the Free State. I will remain a Diocesan Priest, but become
an Associate, and for me I really like the idea that the branches are equal. Priests are not higher up in the hierarchy
and I’m very interested to take on the journey with the Holy Family Associates. In the Holy Family of Bordeaux, the Family
of Pierre Bienvenu Noailles we have five branches, and one of these branches is the consecrated
secular branch. These are women who feel called to live the
Holy Family spirituality and charism and make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But their vows are – they do not make them
publicly like we do – they come together when it is time to make their vows and they do
it privately. Because of this discretion with regard to
their vocation. They do not live in community. They do not come together like we do under
one roof, they remain in the world, they keep their jobs, they can live at home or they
can live on their own, and their role and their vocation is the vocation of any Christian,
any baptized, confirmed person, to make Jesus known. We do it through proclaiming, they do it through
the witness of their lives, and for them it is like to be the leaven in the dough, the
yeast in the dough, and in a way to impregnate Society with Gospel values, through the way
they live. They are independent of us, and they look
after themselves, they do not depend on our communities, to keep them. Up to recently, we were their formators as
apostolic sisters, but when they got enough perpetually vowed people in their group they
could take on their own formation, but always we are resource people to them. Here in South Africa we have six consecrated
seculars, they are all in vows, but some are in perpetual vows, some are having to renew
each year. And we have three in Cape Town, we two here
in Johannesburg, and one in Pietermaritzburg. My journey into initial formation began fourteen
years ago. We had a congregational continental meeting
and there it was decided that we would have an African English-speaking Novitiate in South
Africa. The place that was chosen was Vosloorus. And it was to cater for novices from Botswana,
Uganda, Lesotho, South Africa and when English became the official language in Rwanda, then
the novices from Rwanda joined us here. South Africa was no stranger to formation
because shortly after the Sisters arrived young women began to approach the Sisters
about becoming Holy Family Sisters and the first Novitiate was in Belair in KwaZulu-Natal. So when I was asked to come here to Vosloorus
and be with the Novices I saw it as an opportunity to help people to grow in their relationship
with Jesus and with God. And during that time I also had a training
as a Spiritual Director, and this was something that also has given me great joy, again it
is helping people in their relationship with God. And that I find it’s a privilege for me, and
it’s also something that gives me great joy. Also being with young people and young people
from many different cultures, was a very enriching experience for me. The idea that attracted me was the idea of
family, and not only family within the Church, or within the Association, but Family very
broadly, the human race as a family, and also that we are a part of creation, that we are
the creation and evolution are not a background to human development, but that we are part
of that. And I think this climate change we are starting
to realise it, and I hope it is not too late that we are part of creation and we are part
of this human race, and we have a responsibility towards creation. For me the Vatican Council was a crucial point
in the history of the Church, especially in the modern age where Pope John XXIII said
that the Church should become part of the world and be part of the world – not above
it, not beside it, not below it – but part of it. That of course is a very big challenge for
many of us in the Church, in Society, in the World. It’s not only from the Church’s side, but
also from the World’s side, how do you accept a church that used to be separate, used to
see itself as different, as better, as more holier, and now I think we have to see that
we are part of this world, and for me I think the Holy Family Associates will help me on
this journey in my ministry. The opening up of what we call the new universe
story for me personally, it gave great scope to my passion for Good News. For proclaiming God’s Good News of love, of
love for the world – not distance from the world. And the new story is based on the evolving
universe discoveries of the past one hundred years. And that’s given me more life than I could
ever have hoped for. Together as an international body we’ve moved,
into this new era, as the Pope calls it, and we are excited about the scope we’re given
to refound our Charism of Communion. Today the big need is our Earth. How are we taking care of our environment? That we form family not only with our species,
but we form family with all life, with all of creation, we welcome and we acknowledge
that we too are welcomed by everything that lives because we know that we live with an
interdependence with all of creation. We live with an interrelatedness and an interconnection
of all life. And so we’ve come to learn and appreciate
this aspect of our lives that, you know, while in the early days we would go on and talk
about ‘we are nourished by the same sap’ and we would consider the books that we share
together, we would consider the eucharist, which is very much core to our lives, but
now we have opened our minds and hearts to something, we bring everything in, we embrace
everything, we embrace all of creation. You know the tree is very much a focal thing
in creation for us because we are who we are because of our Founder’s dream. Our Founder looking at, contemplating, a tree
and seeing the Association depicted in a tree. All the branches, contemplatives, apostolics,
seculars, lay associates and priest associates, all contained in this tree! And he said, “this tree bore all kinds of
fruit!” And our Founder said, “birds of every colour,
birds of every species, found their food on this tree, and they all sang out in unison
‘Glory to God!'” [Children singing] I’ve been working for the Sisters since 1987. I like my work. The Sisters, they trust me, and I trust them. Sisters, they are like my family, because
all the time, when you’ve got a problem, I always tell the Sisters and then we’ll sit
down and talk. I met the Holy Family Sisters very early on
in my education, because they taught me in class 1 and class 2 at the Holy Family Convent
in Pietermaritzburg, and there were two wonderful sisters, Sr Veronica, and Sr Kieran, they
were kindness personified, and gentle, and very loving. I think we were all in love with them. I didn’t have much contact with them for quite
awhile, till I was at the Cathedral, and I met people like Sr Dolores. Sr Dolores was the Parish Sister and I could
see what a wonderful contribution she made in a very quiet way. She was the kind of go-to person for anybody
who had a problem. And she was at the Cathedral for, I don’t
know, three decades I think. Later on she was followed by Sr Marion who
was in charge of Catechetics, very friendly to people, very interested in their lives
and their stories and always very helpful. So, one got this kind of picture of the great
role that Sisters, parish sisters, can play. You know the priests are a little bit distant
in someways from their parishioners. But the Sisters get very very close. And I was very struck by that. I heard a lot about Sisters for Justice in
which Sr Shelagh Mary was probably the key-player. And it was a relatively, and I think it still
is, a relatively small organisation but it manages to do wonderful things and to make
a great contribution to the struggle for justice within the Catholic Church. And so I was very impressed with that, and
inspired by the work that Sisters for Justice did and still do. St Bridget Flannigan was the principal of
this school here, Holy Family Convent which is now the Diakonia Centre, and she met Fr
Hurley when he came back from Rome in 1940, he had just been ordained, she thought he
was painfully shy, but her superior introduced Fr Hurley to Sr Bridget, and they were good
friends. This was, this started in 1940 so Sr Bridget
Flannigan was quite a major player in the life of Denis Hurley and then Bishop Hurley,
and then Archbishop Hurley. They were on the same wavelength about issues
of justice in South Africa, particularly about the schools being integrated. Having thought about our congregation, our
group, celebrating a bicentenary, I had a stint earlier on in the eighties, during the
heavy apartheid times as leader, but looking back at two hundred years and just thinking
with regard to being the leader of a Holy Family unit, it’s extremely interesting to
find that in the 1980’s we were easily just over two hundred here in the unit, and then
when I got it now in 2012 we were about 30-something. To be a leader of a religious congregation,
it is to be as sensitive as possible as to how the Word of God, how Jesus’ way of life
can be passed on, experienced, interpreted, in the context in which the person is living. And people can often say now to us, how do
you feel about the future? Religious life in the whole world, never mind
South Africa, seems to be declining. We’ve had many gatherings, we’ve spoken about
this, nothing goes on and on and on forever. I joined the Congregation when it was flourishing
in the 1960’s and 1970’s there were quite a number of vocations. Then all of a sudden people were leaving,
people were asking questions, religious life started changing. So what gives hope in these kind of situations? It is not so much that we reproduce what was,
as to live the very now moment. And in living it, at the age of 30, or the
age of 70, it’s two different kinds of living in a way. But what I am at either of those particular
phases of life is the important thing. For me it is diminishment, yes, we can see
it, of a particular kind of religious life, and there’s a whole new different era. And I do believe that a seed has been planted
and as St Paul says, somebody is going to water, somebody is going to watch it grow,
and somebody is going to harvest. We’re not there to do everything. And it’s producing something that maybe we
do not recognise. And for me that is what gives me hope. You know when your hear the people talking
about all the good that the Sisters have done, you know, we certainly have touched people. I have cried many tears with the people, I’ve
laughed many laughs with the people, I’ve enjoyed being with them, and for the future
I hope that that will continue. Well, our numbers have been greatly reduced,
but we still are involved in whatever we can do we still try to do, and help where we can
with our limited resources. I mean, I would like to see the Holy Family
growing in South Africa, but the reality is we’re getting very old, and we try to live
the Mission and Charism as best we can. Our Mission and Charism is to tell the world
that communion is possible. We are all striving towards building communion
among the People of God with the People of God. I think the communion is very much greater
now than it was in the older days. Possibly because we’re smaller, but also I
think it’s the general changes in Society, and in the Church. There’s a call for much letting go, so that
something new can emerge. And my hope would be that we would be like
a bridge that would lead from the old form of religious life, into something that is
new and that is more part of Africa than religious life is at present. We have to move, we have to move on if we’re
going, not only if we’re going to be relevant, but if our charism is going to have any meaning
for our world, our country, today.

One comment

  1. Excellent video, documenting the phenomenal work, dedication and life changing work of the Holy Family Sisters! I am privileged to know some of the sisters! I continue to draw strength and inspiration from their passion and commitment to their vision! Halala Mbokodo! Thank you Jesuit Institute for this excellent video.

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