Sr Kathleen McGarvey

Sr. Kathleen Mc GarveyAsk me to write an article on mission or dialogue or women’s rights or vocation in general or teaching or feminism or church or…and I’ll write it in no time; ask me to write my own vocation story and I’m wondering where to start!

Let me just start by telling my ‘mission’ story. Indeed, all my life, from as far back as I remember, I wanted to be a missionary. Why? I think I had dreams of doing great things for the poor! Now, over twenty years in the OLAs, I realise that the poor do more for me than I could ever do for them, and that in fact most of my years have not been spent in doing any great things for the poor.

Instead my years have been spent (i) raising people’s awareness of mission (ii) studying, (iii) training future priests and other pastoral leaders, and (iv) promoting interreligious relations and an awareness of how religion must liberate rather than oppress women (as religions often do). So, why am I still a missionary?

Today, I am a missionary not because I expect to do great things for the poor but because I want to witness to and somehow be an instrument of building Communion among human beings; not just as Rich-Poor but as Muslim-Christian, Man-Woman, Black-White, Catholic-Protestant, and so on. To help build right and just human relations; to help us live in a world where diversity is appreciated, where we can live together in our religious, cultural, sexual and other diversities. That is why I am a missionary today. 

I joined the OLA Sisters in September 1989, just a few months after graduating from Maynooth with my BATh and my H.Dip.Ed. I was just 21, fairly young as I look back but at the time I felt very sure of what I was doing. Six weeks after entering, I went to Ibadan, Nigeria, as a ‘postulant’. I stayed there for just less than a year and had a challenging but very enriching immersion into missionary life, religious life, life in Africa, and life in an international community. I returned to Ireland for two years novitiate.

After first Profession in August 1992, I was posted to Argentina but first I had to go to Belgium to learn Spanish! In Louvain there is a College for preparing people who are going to work as missionaries in Latin America so as well as learning the language we were taught something about the cultures and the social and ecclesial context we would meet. In January 1993, I left for Argentina and spent the next seven years there, among the happiest and most energising years of my life. I loved the people, especially the poor among whom we lived in both Cordoba and in Buenos Aires, and I was fully immersed in my work of mission awareness.

In December 1999, I returned to Ireland to begin preparations for final vows and further studies completing a PhD in 2007. I chose to write on women and interreligious dialogue, largely because I am interested in both areas and because as a congregation we are committed to promoting the dignity of women. My studies included two years research in Northern Nigeria – two challenging but adventurous years that brought me into the lives of both Muslim and Christian women, immersed me in the complex reality of the deeply rooted prejudices and distrust that colour their mutual relations, and strengthened my commitment to helping these relations be transformed and become life-giving rather than death-threatening.

In March 2008, I began a mission in Kaduna, Nigeria, from where I wrote this story. There, I lectured in a Major Seminary giving various courses, mainly Theology of Religions, Missiology, Ecumenism, Ecclesiology and Consecrated Life. I was also involved in diverse activities in the Archdiocese, particularly in the area of pastoral planning, while also being involved with a few women’s church-based groups. My thesis was a way of promoting the participation of women, especially women’s faith-based groups, in the area of interreligious dialogue and peace-building. This is an area in which I am gradually becoming much more actively involved. I am currently continuing my missionary work in Cork.