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Reflecting on Life: A Malawian Sister’s Journey

Sisters in Africa are only now contemplating retirement and reflecting on its significance. Retirement, for me, signifies a period of gratitude and wisdom. Looking back on my life, all I can express is, “ Thank you.” It has been a remarkable journey filled with experiences, embracing women from diverse cultures, and cherishing my own heritage.

At the age of 82, I am approaching 60 years of residency in Malawi, a former British territory in East Africa. I embraced my vows as a sister before Malawi gained independence in 1964. Among the Malawian women who joined the Daughters of Wisdom, I was part of the second cohort and the first to undergo local training. Unlike the group before me, who pursued their formation in England, I received mine locally.

Coming from a devout Catholic family, my father, a skilled builder and church elder, managed to provide education for all his children despite modest means. Among my five brothers and four sisters, I was the sixth child, the youngest daughter, and the sole girl to complete junior secondary school.

Growing up in a small village, I treasure memories of evenings spent with my siblings, where our brothers taught us songs and our grandmother narrated stories. Under the full moon, we engaged in games like hide and seek, culminating each night with family prayers.

The Daughters of Wisdom played a pivotal role in my education, guiding me through primary and secondary school. I found solace in visiting their convent chapel during their prayer sessions. These sisters, affectionate yet firm in discipline, left a lasting impression on me. I vividly recall a moment when I was wrongly scolded, only for the sister to apologize upon discovering the truth. This act of humility and simplicity resonated with me as a defining trait of the sisters.

My teaching journey commenced before I decided to enter the convent, alongside three fellow young educators. The transition was swift for me, as after merely six months of teaching, I felt compelled to heed God’s calling. Despite the reluctance of my students to see me depart, their support was evident as they rallied to impede my resignation. While bidding them farewell was bittersweet, their appreciation for my teaching was heartening. Even today, reunions with some former students evoke laughter as we reminisce about that time.

Retirement offers an opportunity to reflect on life’s entirety, encompassing challenges and rewards that shaped my vocation. One such challenge involved reneging on a promise to wait for a young man. Amidst my teaching responsibilities, a friendship blossomed with a gentleman who sought my hand in marriage but requested I await his return from Europe after seven years. Despite my pledge, my path diverged towards sisterhood, leading to a poignant encounter upon his reappearance.

Navigating contrasting perspectives on “common sense” posed another trial. A lapse in securing bus fare prompted me to utilize lunch money, intending to reimburse it later. However, this decision, deemed illogical by my superior, resulted in a valuable lesson on prudence and communal support during lean days.

During a period of sparse vocations, a proposal to disband the congregation in Malawi and repatriate African members stirred emotions. The intervention of the superior general thwarted this suggestion, heralding a resurgence in vocations within Malawi. The adjustment to European cuisine posed a significant hardship for us Africans within the congregation, alleviated only when African dishes were reintroduced, fostering a sense of joy and familiarity.

My 42-year tenure as a teacher in primary and secondary mission schools concluded upon reaching retirement age. Subsequently, I engaged in catechetical work, a realm I was familiar with from my pre-convent days of teaching catechism. This transition expanded my responsibilities to include retreat facilitation and crafting reflections for Malawi’s national radio broadcasts.

While each ministry brought fulfillment, retirement has been a period of introspection and self-appreciation beyond professional roles. Embracing communal living with six companions, I relish moments of solitude, finding solace in the divine presence.

Amidst tranquil days, I engage in diverse activities, relishing the guava season by preparing various delicacies to share with neighbors. Additionally, I contribute to Radio Maria’s upcoming 25th-anniversary celebrations by retailing fabric imprinted with the station’s logo. Gratitude defines my days as I reflect on my journey as a sister, cherishing familial bonds, spiritual community, and the myriad individuals who enrich my life.