A superior of a young, Nigeria-based order of women religious is setting up shop in the Albany Diocese.
Sister Mary Pedro Chinedu Opara, a member of the New Evangelization Sisters of Mother of Perpetual Help, arrived in Albany in August to evangelize, serve the poor and gain exposure for her community.
Sister Pedro has already made connections with the Mother Teresa Community in Albany, part of the statewide Peter Young Housing, Industries and Treatment program (PYHIT). She is also serving as a chaplain at Albany Medical Center while earning a clinical pastoral education certificate there.
The newcomer is living at the Convent of Mercy in Albany and singing in the choir there with the Sisters of Mercy.
"The sisters are very welcoming," Sister Pedro said, adding that she sees few differences between her order and theirs, although religious orders are typically more conservative in Nigeria. "I feel at home here. I thank God for them."
The Sisters of Mercy are covering Sister Pedro's room and board, but she's using savings to pay for transportation and phone bills. She's looking for a job as a certified nursing aide to cover costs and further education; she hopes to earn a master's degree in bioethics. She would like to teach medical students and nursing students.
Sister Pedro already has a bachelor's degree in philosophy, a master's degree in public administration and a post-graduate diploma in education, all from the University of Calabar in eastern Nigeria.
Raised mostly in Lagos in the southwestern part of the country, she entered religious life at the age of 30 after fulfilling a national service requirement as a high school guidance counselor in the majority-Muslim north.
As a guidance counselor, she learned some of the Hausa language in addition to her native Ebu and the English she picked up at school.
Sister Pedro told The Evangelist she grew up in a village where "almost every family has a sister or a priest. As you look at them, they inspire you." Two of her cousins are priests, but she's the only one of her three siblings to enter religious life.
Her order, the New Evangelization Sisters of Mother of Perpetual Help, was founded in 1993 in response to a challenge from Blessed Pope John Paul II to the bishops of Nigeria to evangelize. About 80 women in Nigeria, South Africa and Rome now belong to the order. The sisters' goals include teaching, evangelization, catechesis, clinical services and supporting the poor and widows.
Sister Pedro's 14 years of service have included acting as director of the Divine Mercy Academy in a northern diocese in Nigeria, where she trained about 800 lay Church leaders from around the country.
In 2008, her order sent her to the U.S. with three other sisters to serve at a parish in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. For four years, she oversaw the parish's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program for those becoming Catholic.
She also organized retreats and seminars, introduced Bible study programs and taught baptism preparation classes. Using her healthcare training, she cared for a retired priest.
In Albany, Sister Pedro has already started planning a Bible study for adults of the Mother Teresa Community.
The Mother Teresa Community began as a way to maintain a Catholic presence in Albany's South End after Our Lady Help of Christians parish there closed in 2002. The community now sponsors a food pantry, meals after Masses and housing for men who have been homeless, incarcerated or addicted.
Sister Pedro is planning evangelization, catechesis, possible door-to-door visits, RCIA programs and "faith-lifting activities," a term that seems to get more responses than "retreat.
"So many people are into drugs," Sister Pedro said of the South End. "Some of them don't even go to church. They need spiritual food. They need to be catechized."
The new resident doesn't know how long she'll be in the Diocese, as needs in Nigeria can always change: "Everything is for the good of the order."
Posted: Saturday, October 27, 2012
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Attn: Angela, Cave. Dear Angela, I wish to say a very big thank you for the wonderful article you wrote on me. I cannot thank you and the other staff in the Evangelist enough for that big honour given me.Silver and Gold I have not, but be rest assured of my continued prayers. May God bless you and your wonderful ministry.