The History of our Nigeria Mission
In 1952, as the Great Bend Dominicans celebrated their 50-year anniversary as a congregation, the Sisters decided to take on a foreign mission in Africa in thanksgiving. When the Dominican Fathers of the Central Province learned of this, they invited the Sisters to come to Nigeria where they recently had begun missionary work. In 1956, the first three of many Sister volunteers who would follow came to Gusau, Nigeria. A few months later, a nurse-midwife Sister joined the three teaching Sisters and, by 1957, these new missionaries were able to provide both education and medical care to the people of Gusau.
Soon the Nigerian mission was extended to Yelwa, with the opening of a hospital there, and to Malumfashi where catechetical work and a medical dispensary were needed. Eventually the Sisters were successful in opening a secondary school for girls in Amokohia, with the hopes of attracting vocations to the religious life and possibly beginning a congregation of Nigerian Dominican Sisters.
Briefly interrupted by the civil war in Nigeria (1967-70), the Sisters were able to return after the war ended and tried once again to sponsor a school and start a congregation of Nigerian Dominican Sisters. With the strong support of the Dominican Bishop of Sokoto and the Dominican Fathers, they were successful.
As the Sisters accepted Nigerian women who felt called by God to be Dominicans and to serve in this area of the country, their efforts were blessed. The first postulant was accepted in February 1973, and others soon followed. Joyfully, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena of Gusau, Nigeria, became an independent congregation in April 2007, in the Diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria (read more here). This momentous occasion was more than 25 years in the making!
The hopes and expectations of current missionary Sr. Rita Schwarzenberger echo those of the 40 volunteer American Dominican Sisters who have served in Nigeria: to minister to the needs of the people and to be a presence of the Church, the Body of Christ, in Northern Nigeria.
While the nascent congregation has independent status now, the connections to their mother community, now the Dominican Sisters of Peace, remain strong as the congregation continues to support the community there with personnel, funding, prayer, and collaboration.
Nigeria Missionaries Today
Sr. Rita Schwarzenberger has been a long-time missionary in Nigeria and currently manages Hope for the Village Child. This program works with the villages in an area south of Kaduna to improve the lives of rural residents, especially women and children. The organization advances education, healthcare, and women's development in myriad ways. They build classrooms, mobile clinics, and clean water wells; train teachers and health workers, and help women learn to sew, knit, and make soap for income; establish programs for immunizations, health education, antenatal care, and corrective surgery for children with rickets, and more.