WASHINGTON, DC – Congregations of women religious around the world can feel overwhelmed with the care older sisters need, but often resources that are taken for granted in developed countries are not even available in other countries.
For example, while churches around the world provide their older sisters with access to spiritual care, only 11 percent of nuns in Kenya have facilities with accessible ramps and there is no free medical equipment.
In some countries, women religious do not even talk about the problems of their aging members.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University is engaged in a global research partnership to identify the needs of Catholic sister communities in caring for their elderly and frail sisters in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mexico and the United States . The researchers found that in many cases women religious did not realize that other congregations faced the same problems as they did.
Some of the researchers spoke to a small group in Washington in June.
Every religious community has “suffered the effects of aging – alone,” said Sister Brenda Hernandez, a member of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate of Guadalupe in Mexico City who was involved in research for the CARA project. “We lack facilities, we lack support,” as well as trained caregivers and money to support the aging sisters.
Sister Bibiana Ngundo, a member of the Little Sisters of St. Francis who conducts research at the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, had similar findings showing that African sisters don’t talk about aging.
“Sisters who were put into nursing homes were never prepared for it,” she said, and one even refused, saying, “No, if I go, I’ll die.”
“Sisters need to be prepared from their 40s, 50s and 60s,” she said, emphasizing that religious communities need to talk about aging.
Assumption Sister Candida Mukundi, who is working on the research with Ngundo, spoke about the challenge of the lack of homes for the aging sisters and said communities could help each other by working together.
“Each congregation cared for its own sisters,” she said, and while participating in the research, members of different orders learned that they could share their problems.
She and her colleagues spoke to members of 57 religious communities in Kenya. One of the first things they did was train the religious leaders on how to fill out the Google form survey.
At the 12th Triennial Conference on the History of Women Religious at the Cushwa Center of the University of Notre Dame, Mukundi and other project participants presented some of their research results.
Mukundi said the results are “a wake-up call for churches in Kenya to become more aggressive in vocation recruitment, vocation sustainability, preparing for old age, stepping up with the signs of the times in apostolates and in caring for older sisters to keep”.
She said the nuns hoped to share resources and receive funding for a central physical structure to enable aging sisters to live in a holistic community life. This would make it easier for geriatric professionals, among others, to offer services.
It would also help reduce some of the sisters’ stress.
“I’m old and weak, but sometimes I have to carry water in a bucket to bathe because there are no showers,” an elderly nun told them in the survey.