Sr Mary McNulty recently celebrated her Golden Jubilee after 50 years with the Pallottine Sisters. She returned to her mission in Tanzania for the celebrations where she had worked for nearly thirty years and was a provincial. There were also celebrations at her current home in Macclesfield where she now resides as Mother Superior.
Sr Mary had always wanted to be a missionary. She grew up near Killala, Co. Mayo in a family of nine as one of a set of triplets born on St Patricks Day in 1948. “I don’t know how my mother coped at all. We were all so close in age and we had no electricity and no running water; but in other ways it was a good training for Tanzania,” she tells The Irish Catholic.
When she finished secondary school at 18, she left home and emigrated to Rochdale in England to enter the Pallottine Sisters Noviciate. Three years later on the 15th of August 1969 she made her First Profession and was sent to London, obtaining a Degree in Theology and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education.
Sr Mary worked with the Pallottine Fathers in West London, teaching in the Visitation Middle School for five years and then became a full-time Catechetical Coordinator. After being there for 12 years she was transferred to work with the same order in Thurles, Co. Tipperary for nearly two years. After this, Sr Mary finally got her opportunity to travel.
In her early 40s, she was asked to open a mission in Tanzania with two other Pallottine Sisters, “an Italian, a German and myself”. This was then considered to be one of the most underdeveloped and poorest countries in the world. “At the time maybe 1% of the local girls attended secondary school,” says Sr Mary.
They set up their mission in Siuyu, a remote village 20 km from the nearest town, Singida in Central Tanzania. This area of semi-desert and has a population of over one million.
The Sisters struggled with many challenges – the heat, a different culture, illnesses, poverty, problems in communications and money as well mosquitoes in the rainy season. The worst of these were no electricity and shortages of water. “We had many, many struggles, we were only just a few sisters trying to start many things,” she says.
They learned Kiswahili, the national language. They decided that the most urgent needs of the area were secondary education for girls, healthcare and clean water. Sr Mary was at the head of the mission. “You could see the development. When we arrived there, people were living in mud brick houses with patched roofs.”
They managed to successfully drill for water and were able to begin building but progress was slow as the bricks and furniture were all made on site by hand. “We waited 7 years to get electricity, it was a terrible trouble,” says Sr Mary, “Each time we asked they (the local electricity provider) were after more money,” but their provincial in England wrote to the President of Tanzania after seeing him talk about ‘empowering women’.
In 1995 the Pallotti Secondary School for Girls was opened with one class of 45 students, today it has over 600. “Now we have local girls who are lawyers, a lot of them are teachers because this is the biggest need in the area. A number of them are university lecturers,” says Sr Mary.
Sr Mary was Headmistress of the school and Superior of the Pallottine Sisters in Tanzania until 2010 when she was elected Provincial Superior. She is now their General Mission Procurator. She was able to secure sponsorship for a quarter of the girls every year.
Today they have a flourishing mission with over fifty Tanzanian Sisters working mainly in education and healthcare in four different Dioceses in Tanzania.
They are currently fundraising for the renovation of Pallotti Secondary School for Girls which they built 25 years ago and are celebrating its Silver Jubilee later this year, as well as a dormitory for a primary school built for the Maasai people.
“I lived there (Tanzania) longer than I lived anywhere in my life. Sr Mary says she does miss Tanzania but is kept busy with the nursing home she runs.
Her fellow Sr Stella, passed away not long after the celebration: “She was 97, the Italian sister who came to Tanzania at 68, when she was 80 she decided to go home because of her health,” says Sr Mary, “She was invaluable in all the work.”
Sr Mary’s jubilee celebration drew a massive crowd, including the students and some former students of Pallotti Secondary School, Sisters from six other religious congregations as well as friends and local parishioners. It fell around the same time as the German sister’s celebration of 70 years with the Pallottines.
The Bishop in his homily warmly congratulated Sr Mary for her generous spirit, saying that she helped many people during her 29 years in Tanzania. He commended her for the help she gave to the local girls.
Sr Mary says she is grateful to all the people who helped her, especially her family. Her brother Kieran helped the mission with sponsorship and her brother Sean, alongside a Pallottine nun who came out of retirement form teaching, helped run the secondary school she managed.
The Bishop added that the people of Tanzania will never forget Sr Mary – “The Mother of Siuyu”.