Sister Martin Flavin of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity interviewed African Women Religious who are Sister Students here in the United States at Silver Lake College of the Holy Family, Manitowoc, WI hoping to grow in greater understanding of poverty as lived in the TOR Rule in the 21st century. The full text with footnotes is available in Propositum, a periodical of Third Order Regular Franciscan history and spirituality published by the “Spirit and Life Department” of the International Conference of the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis.
With Emphasis on the Vow of Poverty African Women Religious Examine their Experience as Sister Students in an American Franciscan Congregation
For a religious congregation whose heritage began in 1866 in a rural pioneer settlement of poor German immigrants and whose ministry has served the Catholic Church in Midwestern United States, welcoming members of African Religious Congregations as Sister students into their lives as residents of their Motherhouse has proved a season of grace for the American Franciscan Congregation. Since 2007, seven African religious have been enrolled at Silver Lake College, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a liberal arts college sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. Three African religious congregations are represented among the seven – the Little Sisters of Saint Francis of Uganda, the African Benedictine Sisters of Saint Agnes, Chipole, Tanzania and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ Congregation, Onitsha, Nigeria. The length of the students stay at Holy Family Convent varies from one to five years, with five Sisters having completed a bachelor or master degree at the college. Having such a length of stay in an American Franciscan Congregation has provided the African religious opportunity to observe the vowed life in a culture vastly different from theirs.
The purpose of this paper is limited to a study of the vow of poverty in the different cultures represented among the African religious. The Sister students graciously took time to reflect on the various ways by which the vow of poverty is taught and what aspects of the vow are emphasized in their formation programs. They shared experiences of living the vow of poverty and reflected on the distinction between the lived vow and the poverty of destitution in their native lands. Before discussing the theme of the General Assembly of the International Franciscan Conference, Assisi, 2009 – exploring how living the vow of poverty can be understood as a disturbing presence in today’s world, both in the United States and Africa, the Sister students shared their insights of poverty as they observed the vow lived in an American Franciscan community.