Centennial of the Marist Missionary Sisters in the Americas
Many of our friends know that we, Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary, are "heirs of our pioneers": Marie Francoise Perroton and eventually 10 other women from France who set out to the South Pacific islands in the 19th century to serve in the missions begun there by the Marist Fathers and Brothers.
But perhaps few know how we began in the Americas. This year, 2022, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our origins here. It began with a young working woman in Boston, Mary Decker, who was a parishioner of the Marist parish, Our Lady of Victories on Isabella Street in Boston.
She heard about the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary and wanted to join them. In fact, she may have met some of them in Boston, on their way to the Pacific. Mary went to France and was the first American to make her novitiate there, taking the name, "Sister Mary Rose of Lima."
After she made her first vows, Sister Mary Rose returned to the United States with Mother Mary Pia, a French sister who had grown up in New Caledonia and later served as a missionary in Fiji. Mother Pia was appointed the superior of the new convent in Boston, where the Sisters would welcome new members as postulants.
With the help of Father Sollier, SM, their pastor, and members of the Third Order of Mary and other generous benefactors, the Sisters soon had a home that would serve for the first stage of religious formation -- the postulancy -- for women who wanted to become Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary. It was the beginning of our story in the Americas.
Growth of the Marist Missionary Sisters in the Americas
As the numbers of women wanting to become Marist Missionary Sisters grew, a large convent was built in Bedford, Massachusetts, that became the novitiate.
Called to serve the abandoned people with leprosy in Jamaica, our Sisters arrived there in 1940. Over the years, we established 18 missions across the island and continue to serve the people of Jamaica in three communities today: Kingston, Montego Bay, and Seaford Town.
Responding to the call of the Church for missionaries in Latin America, some Sisters were missioned to Peru in 1960. Beginning in Lima, teaching in schools run by the Marist Brothers, we soon moved out from the city to more remote areas. Our Sisters continue "to bring a little of Mary's presence" to their missions today in Lima, Chulucanas, and Huarmaca.
Some Sisters were missioned in Colombia for many years until our ministry there was turned over to the local Church. For the missionary, there is the moment of letting go and stepping aside so as to honor local leadership and responsibility for the mission. A graced and bittersweet moment.
The American Province also administered missions in Tanzania and Bangladesh until they were turned over to other provinces in our congregation.
International Communities for Mission
Although we are this year celebrating the centennial of the presence of Marist Missionary Sisters in the Americas, it is also important to recognize the "internationality" that exists throughout our congregation. Unlike many religious congregations, we do not necessarily remain assigned to the same geographical area in which we made our first vows.
Even while developing a new "American Province or Region" from the 1920s on, American Sisters continued to be sent out to the South Pacific, Africa, and Asia. And here, in the Americas, in our communities in Jamaica, Peru, or the USA, you will find many Sisters from other areas of the world. This is because "as missionaries, we are especially called to be witnesses to universal love" (Constitutions 166).
The mission continues
The mission of the Marist Sisters continues, and last April three Sisters professed their first vows at St. Luke Church, Belmont. The sisters live in the convent (previously owned by the parish). The celebration was April 28, 2022 -- the feast of the Marist martyr, St. Peter Chanel.
Sister Telesia Mulipola, SMSM, Samoa, novice directress; Sister Shila Gomes, SMSM, Bangladesh presently missioned to the Solomon Islands; Sister Kubai Katuka John, SMSM, Nigeria, and is missioned to the Philippines; Sister Teresa George, SMSM, Kenya, and is missioned to Burundi; Sister Georgeanne Marie Donovan, SMSM, United States, currently the congregational leader, Rome.
SISTER HELEN MULLER, SMSM, IS THE REGIONAL LEADER OF THE MARIST MISSIONARY SISTERS.