By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
The vow that Mother General Edelburga Solzbacher made on 13 May 1947 when the Maryward Mainz Convent in Germany caught fire that if the Lord protects the sisters, she would open a mission in Africa was fulfilled on 4 March 1951 when the pioneer sisters arrived in Fort Victoria to lay the foundation for the Cogregatio Jesu.
This year, the Congregatio Jesu popularly known as the Maryward Sisters celebrate 70 years of existence in Zimbabwe, a milestone pregnant with achievements in social work, education, counselling, spiritual direction, pastoral work and health care. The congregation has also become a pillar in the local church as her members work to promote the mission of Christ in the dioceses of Gweru, Gokwe, Archdiocese of Harare and Mozambique.
To mark the 70 years of existence in Zimbabwe, the sisters converged at Maryward Primary School in Kwekwe to celebrate their story. The Papal Nuncio, His Excellency Paolo Rudelli, Bishop Michael Bhasera, Bishop Emeritus for Gweru Diocese, Martin Munyanyi, priests and religious from different congregations joined the CJ sisters in commemorating their mission in the country.
The Regional Superior of the Congregatio Jesu, Sr. Maria Goretti Mudhovozi paid tribute to the pioneer sisters who left a trajectory of good work that attracted more girls to join the congregation.
“These first missionary sisters were ordinary sisters who did their ordinary work in an extra ordinary way. Sr. Engelberta Wolf who was the superior and teacher, Sr. Theresa Fischer who was a nurse, Sr. Albertine Netzer, a great cook, Sr. Bonifatia Vogel, a domestic science teacher and Stephana Vogel, who had just made her first profession, left no stone unturned in preaching the Gospel through word and deed,” said Sr. Mudhovozi.
She said the first sisters toiled to establish the congregation and wished that it grows to serve God and his people as Mother Edelburga once said to the sisters in Serima: “the future of the institute in Zimbabwe is totally dependent on you, whether to keep it in its original state or to dilute it.”
The CJ pioneers in Zimbabwe made an impact not only in the lives of local girls but according to Sr. Mudhovozi, their hard work produced many prominent people in the church and society. A good example is Bishop Michael Bhasera, the late Bishop Xavier Munyongani and others who passed through their tender hands.
Because of their dedication and commitment, the sisters inspired young Hildegardis Chimhanda, Magna Maminimini and two others who became the first postulants in 1974. Today, the congregation has 52 local members including 4 novices and a postulant. The congregation has also become an icon of education boasting of the state of the art Maryward Primary and Secondary Schools in Kwekwe, Maryward Children’s Home and Maryward Hostel in Chishawasha while they also offer educational and other social services in different schools and institutions. The Sisters run St. Padre Pio and St. Joseph’s Clinic in Norton and Chishawasha respectively and they have opened a third one in Mozambique.
Sr. Mudhovozi challenged the members of Congregatio Jesu to remain focused on the goal of the institute by diligently working and ministering through the congregation’s apostolates. She said the congregation does not work in isolation but in solidarity with other religious congregations, bishops and men and women of good will.
“We are not confined only to our institutions but we also collaborate with our local bishops, other religious congregations through the Conference of Major Religious Superiors (CMRS), government and non-governmental organizations in areas where the need to serve people arises,” she stated.
Sr. Mudhovozi also praised her predecessors including Sr. Xaveira, Sr. Hildegardis Chimhanda, Sr. Salome Mateko and Sr. Mercy Shumbamhini whom she said steered the congregation in a mutual way and shaped it to be what it is today. She also acknowledged the contribution of their oldest member Sr. Christopher who is 104 years in guiding the spirituality of the sisters.
The Maryward Sisters were founded by Venerable Mary Ward in 1609 as an institute of unenclosed apostolic religious women. The congregation has about 1400 sisters in twenty-four countries spread over four continents. The year 2021 saw the CJ congregation spreading its wings to Mozambique where they opened a new community.