Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Nuns to work in Uganda

Sisters to tout women in leadership

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        PARK HILLS — Sister Mary Rita Geoppinger, principal at Notre Dame Academy, is headed for Africa.

        Sister Mary Rita, in her 16th year as principal of the all-girls Catholic high school, will leave in July for Buseesa, a town in Uganda's Kibaale District.

        She will spend three weeks there and return in the fall to be principal at a new all-girl high school, a three-year assignment.

        “Our goal is to educate women in that culture to be leaders,” said Sister Mary Rita, 60, who went to Uganda, in central Africa, for the first time on a sabbatical last year.

        Two other Sisters of Notre Dame nuns, Sister Rachel Nerone and Sister Anita Marie Stacy, will accompany her on the trip.

        Sister Rachel is an assistant provincial at the Sisters of Notre Dame office in Covington. Sister Anita Marie is a math and computers teacher at Bishop Brossart High School in Alexandria.

        The three Northern Kentucky nuns will meet three nuns from the Sisters of Notre Dame province in Thousand Oaks, Calif. They will help extend Buseesa's St. Julie School from a primary- seventh-grade, co-ed campus into an all-girl high school.

        It's the first trip to Africa for Sisters Rachel and Anita Marie.

        “Right now, I'm going to set the curriculum in place over there,” said Sister Anita Marie, 47, who is going to Africa for the first time. “I'm working with the poorest of the poor. We're hoping they make a change in those communities.”

        In doing that, the women believe they are continuing their order's mission.

        Two Catholic lay women, Lisette Kuhling and Aldegonda Wolbring, founded the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1850 in Germany.

        By 1874, an attempt by the German government to rid the culture of religious education forced the order to leave for Holland and ultimately the United States.

        Notre Dame Academy was founded in Covington in 1876. Sister Mary Rita said students have taken mission trips to Mexico and El Salvador every year.

        So why are Sister Mary Rita and the others headed for Africa?

        The main reason is to continue St. Julie's mission. It has been around for about 10 years as a co-ed primary school.

        When Sister Mary Rita first went to Uganda last yea, she wasn't sure how she would like the much simpler lifestyle (no electricity, scarce water sources), but she found the people enchanting.

        The new high school will be a boarding school and an all-girls campus because, Sister Mary Rita said, it's important for women to be educated — something that has not been the case for decades — so they can have an increasingly more prominent role in Ugandan society.

        But it won't be easy.

        Uganda has suffered under many dictators, and Sister Mary Rita said Kibaale District is the most needy in the country.

        But Sister Mary Rita said the role of women in all of Uganda is slowly changing for the better because the Ugandan constitution calls for women to have one-third of the governmental positions.

        “That's nowhere near the reality,” she said. “But it's in the constitution, it's the long-term goal.

        Though Sister Mary Rita is going to Uganda for good in the fall, as St. Julie's first high school principal next February, she believes she is in the center of God's will.

        “(The students) are wonderful, beautiful children,” she said.


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