A Time to Remember


28 August 1900.PNG


On this Mission Sunday, Sr Eileen Cummins shares a little of the OLA History.



The OLA were founded by Fr. Augustine Planque SMA in 1876 for Evangelization, especially in Africa and the education, formation and the betterment of the life of the African Woman

It’s the month of October, normally recognized as the month of Mission and this year 2019 is declared the Extraordinary Month of Mission by Pope Francis because he wants to mark the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedicts XV Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud on Overseas Mission or Mission ad Gentes, Mission.

Pope Francis wants to rediscover and renew our understanding of overseas mission. Put simply, to awaken or reawaken our commitment to Mission, to be Evangelizers wherever we are and to wherever we go, and keeping very much in our mind and hearts, Mission Ad Gentes.  Hence the logo for the month - Baptized and Sent, the Church of Christ on Mission in the World. In a way reiterating the great Missionary Mandate in Mark 28:19

Go then to all the peoples everywhere and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit….

We pray that it will be a time of great blessings and a reawakening of the Faith of our Fathers and Mothers in our lives and in our homes and our country and indeed worldwide.

For me, it’s also a time to remember with deep gratitude our first OLA Sisters who some 143 years ago took on and lived to the fullest the teaching and spirit of Maxumum Illud – mission ad gentes. They left all, and literally all; because the first OLA Missionaries never returned once they left their native shores and set out into Africa. The climate and tropical diseases of Yellow fever, Black water fever etc for which there was no medicine or cure at that time, claimed their young lives within a very short time.

The nineteen young women who formed the first group of OLA Sisters came from France and Ireland, among them Sr. Dominique O Riordan from Cork and Felicite Kirwan from Dublin. The SMA Priests already working on mission in Africa soon realized that women missionaries were necessary to reach out to and work with the African women and so their co-founder, Fr. Augustine Planque SMA took immediate steps to found a New Religious Congregation in May 1876 to address this great need, and so The Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, the (OLA Sisters) were established. Their mission was clear from the beginning –Evangelization and the education, formation and the betterment of the lives of the African women.

I am not going to dwell on facts and figures here as these are all well documented in the Archives; this is just an expression of gratitude and a tribute to our first heroic OLA Sisters in story form. In a way and unknowingly they portrayed the spirit of Miximum Illud.

The Sisters brought with them what they had to offer, not third level degrees which were unheard of at the time but they did bring the essentials for any missionary journey – a deep Faith in God, a Hope - that interior awareness that God was in charge of all their undertakings and a Charity that shares life, love and concern with the local people and especially with the poor, no doubt the family Rosary was a given in their daily schedule.  Many of the Sisters died soon after their arrival, Srs Dominique O Riordan and Felicite Kirwan died within six months, and for the first quarter of a century the average life-span of a Sisters in West Africa was less than five years. But the Seeds of their young lives did not fall into the ground in vain; many more Missionaries Sisters came from Europe and who survived the tropical illness through improved health service and medication and thus began the great missionary movement of the OLA. The Sisters worked in close collaboration with the SMA Priests on mission, whose advice and knowledge of the local people and conditions were priceless. A group of Franciscan Sisters were working with the SMA before OLA came into being, sadly through lack of numbers they could not continue and withdrew.  However a small number of Franciscans did remain on to initiate and work with the OLA Sisters for some time.  In the beginning the OLA Sisters visited the families, engaged with the women folk, prayed with them and encouraged the mothers to send their young daughters to school.

Emphasis was placed on education as an essential tool for upgrading the life of the African woman. And so schools with a steady intake of young girls and women were readily set up wherever there was space available, often times a single room close to the Sisters house, likewise with health centers, small beginnings but within a relatively short space of time they grew into renowned primary and secondary schools, and training colleges for teachers. The same applies to the clinics and health centers they too become well-known hospitals and training centers for student nurses and midwifes.  All forms of pastoral work, home visitation, encouraging a deeper relationship with Jesus through prayer were also taken care of by the Sisters. And the Seeds of the Kingdom of God continued to spread and to grow deeper, putting down permanent roots in 1956 when the first intake of young Nigerian and Ghanaian women entered the OLA Congregation in Ibadan, Nigeria. What a tribute to the self-sacrificing life and foresight of our pioneering Sisters. There is now, thanks to the grace of God, a vibrant, thriving and dedicated African Church with many OLA African Sisters among who would continue to implant the Seeds of the Kingdom of God throughout West Africa and beyond. 

The logo for the Extraordinary Month of Mission – Baptised and Sent, the Church of Christ on Mission continues its missionary journey over the miles and back into Europe. There are now many West African OLA Sisters working in parishes and other social services throughout Africa, in the Americas, in France and Italy and in the Middle East. Not to any great extent in Ireland yet but it is on the way slowly but surely. They take with them that Eternal Seed of the Kingdom of God into wherever it needs to be planted or replanted and are well prepared to serve a multicultural society which is ours in the Europe of today.

I often wonder if our pioneering Sisters are looking out from their eternal home, smiling and saying, we thank God our living and dying has not been in vain!

Maybe a bit remiss of me if I do not mention another feature of our missionary story and that is our committed lay volunteers on mission. Even on a short time basis, from 8 weeks to months and years and some on repeated years.  Their contribution is priceless, teachers, nurses, accountants, physiotherapists, radiotherapists, and medical doctors, student doctors they have all come and contributed substantially to overseas mission. And so we return to our official logo for this special month of October 2019.

Baptised and Sent, the Church on Mission....



Sr Eileen Cummins OLA
20 October 2019