By Sarah Mac Donald - 17 July, 2015
The IMU Executive has elected Sr Kathleen McGarvey OLA as President and Sr Rita Kelly MMM as vice-President.
Sr Kathleen, who hails from Co Donegal, returned to Ireland a year and a half ago to take up a leadership role as provincial of her order, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles.
The 47-year-old succeeds Fr Michael Corcoran MHM as IMU president. He has just been elected Superior General of his congregation, the Mill Hill Missionaries.
An expert on Christian-Muslim interfaith dialogue, with a doctorate in her area of academic speciality, Sr Kathleen talks to www.CatholicIreland.net about her new role with the IMU and begins with a tribute to her predecessor.
“He was very committed to the IMU for the past two years and will surely be missed. Please God he’ll do well in his new apostolate.
Q – What does the office entail?
As you know from the IMU website, it is the union of 87 missionary institutes. I expect that the office I’ve now been entrusted with entails ensuring that future IMU meetings and activities are supportive and energising for all of us missionaries who participate.
I imagine that the office also entails helping the IMU Executive and staff to work together so that we achieve the objectives for which the IMU exists, and that we do so in a way that is relevant to Ireland and our reality as missionaries and as Church today.
The IMU provides quite a unique platform from which lay and religious missionaries can reflect together on their experience and collaborate in missionary activities. This kind of reflection is very important as we grapple with the challenges of mission today, both here in Ireland and abroad.
Nowadays, the majority of the members of missionary institutes are elderly and therefore have a great wealth of missionary experience. The IMU helps to tap into that experience so that it is allowed to enrich our presence as Church here in Ireland.
The fact that there are fewer younger members of missionary institutes also brings its challenges; the elderly must be cared for and at the same time many missionary calls both in Ireland and abroad require a response.
Ireland has always been a missionary Church, sending out personnel as well as spiritual and material support so that the Good News of God’s Kingdom of justice, peace and communion is made known in all parts of the world.
Today, the IMU has a responsibility to do what we can to keep mission alive in this country and walk with the Irish people as we struggle in contemporary society with the many questions posed to our faith and our missionary commitment.
Q – Any plans for future direction of the IMU and missionary concerns. Is the merger with CORI going ahead?
It’s not a merger as such. Rather it’s a plan to unwind both the IMU and CORI and together form a new entity that will support and energize the life and ministries of the members of the two organisations and will also support and energise the life and ministry of the larger Church, both in Ireland and overseas.
The vision is to be missionary in the broadest sense, focusing on collaborating in dynamic ways in a creative and faithful response to the call to mission today.
The new entity that is sought is one that will help religious and missionaries in Ireland grasp in a life-giving way our own realities and respond in a prophetic way to the new realities of society and church today.
Over the last two years in and between the IMU and CORI there have been lots of meetings, discussions, sharing of hopes, expectations and fears but we have already come a long way in being able to agree on the need for change and the form that change might take. Plans are moving ahead and please God within the next year a lot of concrete progress will have been made in the right direction.
Q – How long are you back in Ireland now and what are your observations on the missionary calling to religious life.
I came back to Ireland in November 2013 when I was elected Provincial and am doing my best to settle back in Ireland and understand the Irish scene as well as the new mission entrusted to me.
It’s obviously very different to what I was doing in Nigeria where I was very much involved with people on the ground: lecturing in the seminary, working in interfaith activities, in conflict resolution, in peacebuilding, as well as in pastoral planning and so on.
A lot of my time now is in administration and most of my meetings whether at OLA level or in the wider field such as with IMU are with religious and priests. The big challenge here now I think is to find new ways for these new days.
If we understand mission as being to collaborate with God in bringing all people and all creation into communion (right, just, peaceful relation) with one another and with God, then I think we will all agree that mission is as urgent as it ever was; we might even say it is more urgent.
Religious life is a way of life that has always existed in the Church.
Throughout the ages it has emerged and evolved in different forms but common elements have always been Consecration, Communion and Mission: Consecration whereby they desire to give God primacy in their lives; Communion whereby they feel a strong inner calling to be in communion with God and others in a very selfless way; and Mission whereby they feel they must give their lives to God’s service in the world and be instruments of God’s love and compassion to people in different social circumstances.
Obviously the structures by which religious life became known – big institutions, different uniform, and so on – have had their day, but they are not the essentials of the way of life.
Missionary Religious Life is the form of religious life that had mission abroad, usually to the more underdeveloped parts of the world, as its mission.
This, leaving home to share the faith and whatever one has with others in a different part of the world, is still very necessary and please God will continue, maybe not in the name of economic western-inspired notions of development but in the name of communion of all people.
In Ireland, if we look part at our history and the history of the Church, we find that missionary religious life is almost part of our DNA; so today, while there are not so many who feel called to this way of life, I believe there are and will be a few.
Religious life was never supposed to be a way of life for big numbers of people; it’s a radical option, radical in that, through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, it’s quite different to the choices of life that people are naturally inclined to. But it’s a good way of life and I believe some will always be attracted to it.
Q – What are the challenges of being provincial of the OLA and is there any good news about the order?
The OLA Irish Province consists of Ireland and Tanzania but the congregation is in twenty-one different countries today.
Good news about the order is, I suppose, that we’re still very much alive and well and are doing our best to reflect on and respond to the calls made on us and our charism today.
Most of our elderly sisters are from Ireland, France and Italy whole many young sisters are from diverse African countries.
This year we will have ten young women making their First profession and seven making their Final Profession as OLAs.
Here in Ireland we are doing our best as well. Irish people are still very generous so we receive quite a lot of money through our mite boxes and other fund raising efforts and all of this goes directly to help various missionary projects throughout the world, particularly in Africa.
These projects vary: we’re building a school in Tanzania at the moment and this takes quite a bit of the funds; we also send for health projects, peacebuilding projects, relief for refugees such as in Nigeria right now, building boreholes for water in rural areas, and so on.
Another piece of good news about OLAs in Ireland is the fact that many people go out through our structures to Tanzania or other parts of Africa as volunteers to work in our clinics or schools there or in other projects.
We also have quite a few of the Surgeon Noonon medical students who go out through us every year for a few weeks experience; as well as bringing their expertise and friendship, they also bring quite a bit of money which all goes directly to help the beneficiaries of our clinics in Tanzania.
Here in Ireland too we’re looking at reaching out more to the Africans who now live in Ireland so that we can be a support to each other; many were our past pupils in Africa or knew us through our hospitals or whatever.
The idea of bringing African Sisters to work on mission here in Ireland is also something we are now promoting, as undoubtedly there is need for missionaries here now to share the faith and other values with Irish society and Church today.
Q – You left Nigeria to return to Ireland – how difficult was that?
I left Nigeria a year and a half ago but my heart is still there and I am very much in touch and remain involved in whatever way I can.
Now with the new President, Buhari, there is a lot of hope that the menace of Boko Haram will be overcome.
President Buhari is known to be tough and people hope that he will take the necessary steps to overcome corruption which is so inherent in the political and indeed social fabric of Nigeria today.
After the somewhat transparent general elections in March and the peaceful transition of government, there is also hope that democracy will reign.
Nigerians are a great people, a great many of the younger generations are well educated and have a greater sense of their civil rights as well as responsibilities so there is certainly reason to hope for a better tomorrow. We keep this in prayer.”