Vietnamese sisters learn from their new Buffalo neighbors
Culture shock is nothing new to two Daughters of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, who came from Vietnam to further their education. Sister Nal Y and Sister Trang, known in America as Sister Catherine Siena and Sister Robert Marie currently attend classes at Hilbert College in Hamburg while interning at SS. Columba-Brigid Parish in Buffalo. The multicultural parish regularly welcomes interns to minster to those in need.
They have been in the States for seven years, staying with different orders of religious sisters, first in Houston and later Wisconsin where they received an associate’s degree. They are now living at St. Bernadette Convent in Orchard Park while attending Hilbert College and studying for their bachelor’s degree in Human Services.
“We want to get higher education, so when we go back home we can help people in my village or in my parish,” explained Sister Catherine.
Tuition is provided by a priest with connections to the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph order that established Hilbert.
The sisters appreciate the kindness of their professors and fellow students, who willingly take lessons step by step to make sure the sisters grasp the understanding.
“They support us a lot even though they don’t know who I am and they don’t know my culture, but they always welcome me and support many things,” Sister Robert Marie said. “When I come to the school, the professors are very nice. They always ask me, ‘Do you need something? Do you understand?’”
At the parish, they continue their human services work by visiting nursing homes, helping at the parish office, and playing with the children of the parish. Paula Hunt, pastoral associate at SS. Columba-Brigid, estimates that one third of their parishioners are under 18. Many of the parents attend English as a second language classes
“We volunteer to work with children. We play with them. When their parents have a workshop at any school in Hamburg, we volunteer to stay with them for an hour,” said Sister Robert Marie.
“They’re good at having an open ear and getting used to our parishioners. The kids love them. It’s a great thing for them to see sisters in habits,” said Hunt.
The sisters have also been introduced to prison ministry, which does not exist in Vietnam.
Back in their homeland, the sisters served a diverse population of indigenous children, elderly, young mothers and lepers.
The mission of their order is to work with families in need. Sister Catherine worked with the 250 orphaned children cared for by in the order. Many of the children had physical and developmental disabilities. Those who can care for themselves move on when they turn 18. Those who cannot, stay with community for life.
Sister Catherine recalled a story that may offer some culture shock for Americans, “I was working with orphan children six years ago. I heard a baby was put with the mom (who died), because in the culture, if the mom dies the baby belong with the mom, because they believe that father can’t take care and if they are poor, they don’t have money to care for the baby. They think the best thing is to put the baby with the mom in the casket.”
The child was buried alive with the mother.
The sisters will graduate next year. The future is uncertain. If they get a full scholarship, they can stay and study for their master’s degree. If not, they will return to Vietnam.