by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What interested you in becoming a Franciscan Sister?
Sister Madge: I grew up in a family that was very close to the Church and very active in the parish. We had a lot to do with the sisters, the congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis (SSJ-TOSF). We had a grade school and the high school in our parish, so we had about 40 sisters living in the convent. They had no car so people from the parish often acted for drivers for them; my Dad was one of them.
My Dad would often be called to pick-up sisters from night school where they were studying. In the summertime, we would all get to take sisters to summer courses at various colleges or universities. I got to know the sisters as more than my teachers and I grew to love and appreciate them. They embodied what I knew about St. Francis at the time. As I was growing up I heard lots of stories about my great-grandmother, a member of the Third Order, welcoming Franciscan Friars and Sisters into her home and providing for their needs as she could. I learned to admire her and to love the Franciscans. It was their attractive Franciscan qualities that drew and awakened in me attentiveness to how God was calling me to share in Franciscan life.
I learned through the example of my family to be concerned about others and be concerned about the poor people. My parents stressed the fact that our faith needed to be expressed in outgoing love.
Gordon: You are also a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. For our readers who may not be acquainted with this organization, please provide an overview of this order.
Sister Madge: When I was in high school my freshman homeroom teacher, Sister Mary Euphebia, told me about the Third Order group at the school. I inquired about it and thought it would be a good fit. The Moderator of the group was Sister Narcissa who introduced us to Franciscan life and stressed prayer, concern for poor people and the missions. Later, after I entered the congregation, our chaplain, Fr. Sergius Wroblewski, OFM gave me a copy of the Writings of St. Francis and my heart caught fire and I wanted to live the Gospel as Francis lived it. This led to an opportunity to study at the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University where I was able to study in-depth the works of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi.
The Franciscan Family is organized in this way: In the First Order, there are three different groupings: The Friars Minor (OFM), the Friars Minor Conventuals (OFM Conv.), and the Friars Minor Capuchins (OFM Cap). The Second Order of the Franciscan Family is composed of the Poor Clare Nuns (OSC). There are different branches here too: Poor Clare Colettines (PCC), Capuchin Poor Clares (OSC Cap), and Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (PCPA). They are all contemplative sisters who besides the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, also take the vow of enclosure. The Third Order is made up of two groups: The Secular Franciscans whose members are lay men and women who are organized into fraternities. Members live as seculars in the midst of society who seek to live the Gospel in their family and work environments. They are to be a leaven in the world to help transform the various societies in which they live to reflect the teachings of Jesus. The second group is the Third Order Regular which includes both sisters and friars. We are vowed religious who work in various ministries. By the way, we live and work we seek to give expression to the Franciscan charism. We live by the Third Order Regular Rule and the Constitutions of our Congregations.
Gordon: What are your responsibilities at the Missiology Dept. at the University of South Africa
Sister Madge: I spent twenty-two years in South Africa and earned a MTh and DTh in Missiology from the University of South Africa (UNISA). When I received my doctorate, I was offered a teaching post in the Department of Missiology. While there I wrote three study texts and directed both Masters and Doctoral students. I received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the university along with tenure and a promotion to Associate Professor. I was a member of the University Senate and Vice-Chairperson of the Department. My research areas were and continue to be mission spirituality, Intercultural Studies, and Interreligious Encounters.
Since moving back to the United States I serve as an External Examiner and an External Supervisor for doctoral students for the Missiology Department of UNISA.
Gordon: What are some of the challenges that affect missionaries in Africa?
Sister Madge: one of the most significant challenges that affect missionaries is the ability to enter into other cultures with respect and patience. One needs to be what I call a “trans-cultural person” with the ability to enter into another culture as a listener and learner. There is no room here for an attitude of cultural superiority.
There is the challenge of coming to understand the workings of another country’s organization. One needs to understand how a country works and its underlying values. A missionary working in another country also needs to know that the rights and duties of the citizens of that country as well as if the government of the country cares for its citizens justly.
Missionaries also need to have a deep sense of Church and how the Church works in another country. One needs to learn how leadership works in the local church where they work to see how their specific ministry fits in. Efforts have to be made in collaboration with others. These are necessary because a missionary’s chief concern is helping people to encounter Christ and grow in their relationship with him and the Church. Depending on a missionary’s ministry there may be a need to relate with members of other Christian denominations.
There are the practical challenges of learning a new language or languages, adjusting to another climate, food, time-consciousness, medical care, housing, and travel restrictions or regulations.
One of the most important challenges is being open to other worship styles, and different approaches to catechetical ministry and methods. Respect for differences is key.
Gordon: Why is interreligious dialogue increasing in importance in contemporary society?
Sister Madge: The Second Vatican Council teaches us to respect other religions. In fact, the Catholic Church has the best body of documents about interreligious dialogue. In the 1991 document, Dialogue and Proclamation (42), we find a very clear explanation of how all of us can enter into interreligious encounters. The document says there is four form of engaging in dialogue with people of other faith traditions: 1) a) The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations. 2) The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people. 3) The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages and to appreciate each other's spiritual values. 4) The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute.
We see what happens where there is not a spirit of an encounter with others: wars, violence, divisions, unrest, and chaos. Diversity in every sphere of life is part of human life. We need to foster and promote interreligious dialogue to give witness that we are all children of the same heavenly Father. When we meet a person of another faith it is helpful to see them as a sacred vessel in which God lives and treat them accordingly. In this way, we open more possibilities to make God known and loved.
Gordon: What aspects of St. Francis’s life are most inspirational for you?
Sister Madge: Three aspects of Francis’ life are especially important for me: love for the Church, Christ’s Body; his dedication to prayer to be in union with Christ; and his own stress on poverty and respect for all people, but especially for poor people. He did everything with love and this is what I strive to do in my own life. The fruit of such a life is great trust and joy.
Gordon: Thank you for a beautiful and informative interview.