December 20, 2010

Mercy means making a difference

Some years ago a small boy in Nigeria found a missionary magazine at the back of the church. One advert ended with the words, "If you would like to be a Sister of Mercy, write to the Convent of Mercy, Barnsley." The boy wrote to the address and his letter brought a reply from Sister Mary Aloysius (Cathleen Manning). So began a correspondence and sometimes Sister Mary Aloysius enclosed a ten shilling note. This money made a huge difference to the boy and his family, and helped ensure he had an education.

The boy - Boniface Ezaegu - is now the Barrister General of the Ebonyi State in Nigeria and, in gratitude for his own education, he is building a school in memory of Sister Mary Aloysius. The SISTER MARY ALOYSIUS COLLEGE OF MERCY now has four hundred and fifty students (many of whom are boarders because of distance) and a staff of twenty. There is a six year programme and students are entered for examinations with the West African Examination Council, the National Examination Council and the National Board for Technical Education.

As in other countries, there are many graduates in Nigeria who have been unable to obtain employment. So the decision was made that this school would provide technical education. All students learn the skills to be electricians, builders, carpenters, tailors etc. - the skills and trades that are much in demand in the area. During their summer holidays, the older students took part in four weeks' work experience in these trades. The senior classes have one more year of education before they enter the world of work or move to third level education.

The Manning family in Ireland helped raise funds for the borehole. Having a water supply has made a huge difference to the health and hygiene at the school.

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I met Boniface Ezaegu when he visited London recently. He has financed most of this school himself but he does not make a big issue of the fact. He wants these young people to have the same chance in life as he had - a chance that came because Sister Mary Aloysius (Cathleen Manning) chose to reply to his original letter and continued to encourage him to complete his education. Mercy means making a difference. Now he is doing the same. The anniversary of the death of Sister Mary Aloysius (19 January) is an annual school holiday, marked by the celebration of a Solemn Mass in her memory.
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