GLENDALE — It’s a good thing the newest trio of sisters to serve the Phoenix Diocese has vastly different apostolates.
It will expose more people to how sisters of the African order “Live Love in Truth.”
It’s the motto of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Those initials are engraved on the inside of the ring each sister receives as they profess final vows. That was 15-30 years ago for the three now living in Glendale.
The South Sudanese congregation established its first American apostolate when Sr. Betty Benjamin Banja and Sr. Betty Duduka stepped foot in Arizona July 4. Sr. Sophie Angela Lado, who is serving as the local superior, arrived Sept. 22.
Each one is settling in to her respective apostolate and meeting people outside of that. Sr. Sophie was only a week or so into her assignment at St. James when The Catholic Sun visited the sisters’ home Oct. 8.
Sr. Sophie most recently worked with women seeking self-sufficiency in South Sudan and Sudan. Now she is the director of religious education for children at St. James. Her 62-year-old order with 328 sisters in Sudan, Uganda and Kenya began as a teaching apostolate. Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus taught Sr. Sophie when she was in school.
They have since branched out to also develop the local Church through pastoral work, social work and health care. That largely explains why refugee clients at Catholic Charities Community Services often ask for Sr. Betty Benjamin. They think she’s the boss.
“Where they come from, they see sisters in charge of schools, in charge of hospitals,” Sr. Betty Benjamin said.
In reality, Sr. Betty Benjamin will be at the mercy of everyone else’s schedule. She’s working in Catholic Charities’ office near Northern and 19th Avenues a few days a week assisting Arabic- and Swahili-speaking refugees.
Those language skills were among the reasons Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted invited the sisters to Arizona. All three sisters will soon offer Natural Family Planning training to interested Muslim women.
Catholics will find Sr. Betty Benjamin visiting parishes on the weekends — as soon as she secures a reliable vehicle. As outreach coordinator for the refugee program, it’s her job to spread awareness of its needs and recruit volunteers.
Though not on official business, the sisters have already visited St. Helen, St. James and St. Andrew the Apostle parishes. Each of them has a pastor who belongs to the Apostles of Jesus. Their order has the same founder.
Daniel Kelly, Sr. Betty Benjamin’s supervisor, briefly broke from welcoming 50 refugees to America in one week, to explain the sister’s value and his program’s need for parish support. He praised her joy and ability to advocate.
“Being a nun, she wears conservative dress. People are very smitten by it. It grants her a very unique access,” Kelly said.
Kelly also noted Sr. Betty Benjamin’s ability to explain rules and systems vital for a refugee’s understanding and success in a new country. Some 80 percent of recent refugees have arrived from Middle Eastern or Asian-speaking countries.
Sr. Betty Duduka, or “Sr. Betty D,” spent 15 years teaching kindergarten in Uganda. Now she is an aide in third grade at St. Louis the King. It was an encounter with Comboni Missionaries around that same age that she said awakened the religious vocation within herself.
It has taken time to adjust to the 10-hour time difference, but Sr. Betty Duduka said she is settling in and her students are also getting used to her. She will teach them religion plus serve all grades in the school library and extended care program.
“In our places of work, they love us,” Sr. Betty Duduka said on behalf of all of the sisters.
Even strangers compliment their dress. Others have offered help. A parishioner from St. Clare of Assisi in Surprise made her way to the sisters’ home to help them settle in and take them grocery shopping.
They’re looking forward to their first American Thanksgiving. Sr. Sophie earned a degree in leadership and management four years ago from DePaul University’s Kenya campus. Students surprised lecturers with a Thanksgiving feast using local food.
She is eager to taste the traditional American turkey. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will certainly get their chance. They have accepted three dinner invitations.