February 11, 2015
When Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus stood to speak at the 2014 Time magazine’s 100 Gala, she danced and laughed for several seconds before solemnly addressing the achievements for which she was being recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Her infectious positivity is a prerequisite for her challenging and highly emotional job. Since 2002, she has directed St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring Center in Gulu, Uganda, where she helps to educate, employ and emotionally support young women previously abducted by and forced to fight for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Ugandan and South Sudanese civil wars.
She has since opened another learning center in Atiak, Uganda.
She was recognized for her efforts with an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Duquesne University earlier this month as part of the school’s 2015 annual Founders Week celebration, which has a theme of “Faces of Courage.”
The Rev. Ray French, vice president of mission and identity at Duquesne, said that part of the school’s mission is to “serve God by serving students so that they will serve others. And (Sister Rosemary) is the quintessential 21st century example of that.”
She also has won the 2007 CNN Hero Award and the 2014 United Nations Women’s Impact Award.
Founders Week at Duquesne celebrates the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, or the Spiritans, who founded the university in 1878. It will be filled with special Masses, meals and speeches from members of the Duquesne community who have demonstrated courage in overcoming obstacles.
Sister Rosemary, a native of Paidha, Uganda, joined the Catholic order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1976. In 2011, she earned an M.S. degree in community leadership with a concentration in leadership in mission from Duquesne.
The part-time master’s program is specifically for religious sisters and aims to allow them to integrate their spiritual formation and professional development. She attended classes at Duquesne’s Rome campus.
In a phone interview from Vancouver, Sister Rosemary said she participated in the program because she thought it was a wonderful opportunity to communicate with religious sisters from all over the world. “Sometimes we have one thing we are doing, but we do not understand or share what is going on in other parts of the world,” she said.
Sister Rosemary is the subject of the recently released book and documentary “Sewing for Hope,” which highlight her work teaching the young Ugandan women to sew. That allows them to financially support themselves by making and selling school uniforms, cloth diapers and purses made from soda can tabs, which are sold in America by the nonprofit Pros for Africa.
The school also offers classes in catering, secretarial studies and computer programming.
The best compliment one can give Sister Rosemary is to acknowledge her emphasis on work ethic. “People don’t want to be beggars, but they need work, and they need to be supported. They need to be educated to make use of their resources. And people need to know how important women are in contributing to the economy.”
Seemingly equally important to Sister Rosemary’s work is allowing the women to overcome the psychological trauma of their prior lives of hardship. Many of the women at St. Monica’s, while under the rule of warlord Joseph Kony, were enlisted as child soldiers, forced to kill their friends or family members and raped by rebels or Kony himself.
Upon being released, many were rejected by their own families for fear that they had returned only to kill more people for Kony’s army.
Many of them gave birth to children who were unwanted by the community because of their fathers’ identity and, often, by the mothers themselves.
In a community of women who suffered similar tragedies, Sister Rosemary works to reteach them confidence and acceptance and to help them to love their own children.
When asked how she measures daily success at St. Monica’s, she said that sometimes it’s hard to see it from the ground, but she knows it’s there.
“I measure success by seeing how the dignity of these women is restored” she said. “Many of them now are working with their heads up.”
Spreading awareness is so important to her because “the more people get to know what is happening, the better, because it will help us to prevent it from happening again in the future.”
DUQUESNE, Pa. (AP)