Religious Life Africa

The research of the Religious Life Africa project is available to download as summary report and a full report. Its completion was celebrated in October 2020, when the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, along with the Centre for Catholic Studies, Durham, hosted a visit by five sisters from East and Central Africa: Sr Margaret Sewe IBVM (Kenya); Sr Scholastica Mwale SCO (Malawi); Sr Deusdedita Lutego CTH (Tanzania); Sr Christine Keneema DM (Uganda) and Sr Helen Kasaka (Zambia).

The sisters had spent the last two years working as Project Support Assistants on a research project run by MBIT, in collaboration with the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University and funded by the Catholic Sisters’ Initiative of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in the United States. The project explored the essence and sustainability of religious life for women in East and Central Africa. We wanted the sisters to have the opportunity to some time in the two partner research institutions, and to participate in and speak at the Symposium where the results of the project were shared, at Notre Dame University’s London Centre in October 2019.

The sisters were not, by any means, newcomers to our part of the world. One had spent the summer in a programme at the Bar Convent in the York; one had completed her M.Ed some years previously in Dublin and another had studied in Germany for a PhD in Mathematics. However, none of them had been treated to a tour of Cambridge by blue badge guide Debbie Barfield before; none had been charmed by the apple trees in MBIT’s lovely garden and none had been so fortunate to attend sessions with MBIT’s very own celebrities: Dr. Anna Abram; Dr. Susan O’Brien and Sr. Gemma Simmonds CJ and Professor Janet Soskice. Furthermore, none had previously encountered a woman theologian who is even nominally a theological advisor to a Bishop (Professor Karen Kilby of the CCS at Durham); been to service presided over by a woman priest (Evensong at King’s College) or travelled on a high speed LNER train. These were some of the highlights that excited the sisters and formed the memories that stayed with them. For our part, we were just so thrilled to see the change in the sisters themselves. When first recruited, they were hesitant to stand up and speak in front of religious superiors. Yet, in our symposium they enthusiastically shared from the platform their views on the future sustainability for religious life for women in their countries – shaped and informed by their experiences in and contributions to the project. That was our highlight.

Dr. Catherine Sexton and Dr. Maria Calderón Muñoz, of the research team for the project ‘Religious Life Africa: a sustainable future’.