Monday, February 16, 2015

130th Jubilee of the Congregation and the Year of Consecrated Life: Peramiho Priory

 In 2015, we look back upon 130 years of our history, with more than 1300 women living as Missionary Benedictine Sisters. Over the coming months of the Year of Consecrated Life we will bring to you the histories of our Priories and Sisters across the World.
Our first four sisters arrived in “Deutsch Ostafrika” (later called “Tanganyika”) in 1888 under the leadership of Fr. Bonifatius Fleschutz.  In spite of great deprivations and diseases their missionary efforts in Pugu proved to be fruitful.  However, on January 13, 1889, the mission was destroyed by Arab-incited rebels.  Our Sr. Martha Wansing and two brothers were murdered. Sr. Benedicta Sivering was taken captive and released in March after a heavy ransom was paid.

The Pugu rebellion only enhanced the desire of the German sisters to return to African soil to bring the Good News.  In 1889 a new foundation was made in Dar es Salaam. Later, in 1901, the first four sisters came to Peramiho. With true missionary zeal, they bore the difficulties of the climate, disease, language and culture.  They started immediately a “hospital” and school.
However, tragedy descended upon the community once again, this time in the “Maji Maji Uprising” of 1905.  Sr. Felicitas Hiltner and Sr. Cordula Ebert were en-route to their new assignment in Kigonsera (Peramiho Priory) when they were murdered along with Bishop Cassian Spiss and two other monks. Hearing rumors of the rebels nearing Peramiho, the missionaries fled. The mission was attacked and destroyed. 
Never to be stopped, within two years the missionaries returned to Peramiho with new vigor and confidence in God’s help.  Yet, once again, during World War I, under British occupation, the missionaries were taken prisoners to South Africa and were later repatriated to the Mother House. 
Finally, in 1923 three non-German sisters were allowed to return to Peramiho.  By 1926 the Germans were allowed back and a steady influx of new missionaries came to build up the mission. There was an intense need at this time for well-trained personnel to open the Teacher Training School and Trade School according to the rules of the British government.  Twelve outstations were founded under the first Prioress, Sr. Ermenilde Morrisey.  In 1933 Peramiho Priory was officially established under Abbot-Bishop Gallus Steiger. The priory grew to nearly 100 sisters. 

Already in these early years, many of the native girls expressed their desire to become sisters.  It was decided to help them found their own community. The girls were taught by our sisters and had their first convent on our compound. This was the birth of the Congregation of St. Agnes (often referred to as “The Chipole Sisters”) which has grown to be over 700 members today.

By the 1950s fewer and fewer missionaries could be sent from the Mother House and the hardships of missionary life became burdensome for many of the senior sisters.  It became impossible to keep up all the outstations.  One mission after another was handed over to the Chipole Sisters.  However, as our congregation also developed, new missionaries were sent, first from the Philippines and later from other countries.
In the early 60s a strong political independence movement began in the country and Tanganyika became independent under Julius Nyerere. The name of the country was eventually changed to Tanzania.  In 1969 the Peramiho local Church received its first African bishop: Bishop James Komba.  Many of our schools and institutions were nationalized.  
However, uncertainty of the political situation lingered heavily and in 1973 the sisters were invited to follow the monks to establish a new foundation in Kenya in case they would have to flee once again the Peramiho mission.  This little sprout developed well into our Sacred Heart Priory in Nairobi.

In the 1980s a “New Chapter” began in the Peramiho Priory history when the first African candidates were received.  This hopeful step was initiated by our far-sighted Prioress, M. Isentrud Lehner.  Our first candidates were sent to Nairobi for formation.  By the concerted efforts of Prioress M. Pia Portmann and the help of Filipino missionaries, in the year 2000 Peramiho Priory developed its own formation program.  To this day, there is a steady increase of new members into the community. As of 1 January 2015 the community numbers 45 final professed sisters, 10 junior professed sisters, 7 novices, 12 postulants and 2 aspirants.

With the renewed hope and vigor of new members, ministries could be strengthened and new ministries established.  At this time the sisters are engaged in the following ministries.

·   Peramiho Girls Secondary and High School, six levels
·   Dressmaking and electrical vocational schools (owned by the monks)
·   St. Joseph Mission Hospital and Nursing School (owned by the monks)
·   St. Martin’s Hostel for girls attending government schools.
·   Non-Institutional ministries, bible groups, Small Christian Communities, social-pastoral teaching
·   St. Anna’s Health Center, Outpatient Department, and Orphanage
·   St. Raphael’s Vocational Training School for sewing and cooking
·   Leprosarium (resident) & Outreach Care for lepers
·   Orphan Assistance – secondary school orphans
·   Good Shepherd Orphanage and Kindergarten


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