Relationships draws sisters to Minnesota and a visit to Little Falls
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls and community members were the recipients of joy and peace, as they greeted and listened to Sister Margaret Aringo and Sister Mary Irene Chebii of Asumbi, Kenya Tuesday afternoon.
The sisters made this trip to the United States to attend a conference for spiritual directors in St. Paul, and travelled the short distance to Little Falls to visit their sister community.
The Sisters of St. Francis in Asumbi and the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls have a sister relationship, part of the partnership which the Diocese of St. Cloud has with the Diocese of Homa Bay, Kenya.
“This visit was a beautiful expression of the sister relationship between the two communities,” said Deanna Boone, community relations director. “The two communities are a world apart, yet have so much in common; their hearts are the same. The relationship enriches everyone.”
Aringo finds great fulfillment in living her vocation.
“The gift of religious life includes the relationships in community living,” she said. “Reflecting that in my daily ministry brings me great joy — just loving what I do.”
Aringo earned two master’s degrees from St. Bonaventure University in upstate New York, and her doctorate from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Cal.
She was elected in 2010 to lead her order for five years. “I’ve travelled much more since 2010,” she said.
Chebii has been director of novices in Kenya but is now on sabbatical. She made special arrangements at the gathering to serve tea from Kenya with hot milk and plenty of sugar.
Reflecting back on encounters with people whose faith made a profound impact on her, Aringo described meeting Mother Teresa of Calcutta for the first time in Rome.
“She was coming to give us a talk, and I expected a big, tall woman because of what she was doing in the world,” she said. “I saw a small frail woman with blue eyes saying the rosary as she was climbing the stairs. Her spirit touched my heart and I thought, ‘There is God in this woman.’ This experience never left me.”
It was in Kenya that Aringo encountered Mother Teresa three more times.
Aringo also met Pope John Paul II in 1980 in Kenya. But it was when she was a student in Rome not long after that, he was able to spend more time talking.
“He came to greet us at our hostel across from the Vatican, and was greeting each one of us,” Aringo said. “It was an experience of awe. He had time for each one of us and we had a beautiful conversation.”
Although Aringo was not in Vatican Square at the exact time that the Pope was shot on May 13, 1981, she arrived shortly after and was told by bystanders what had happened. She and her companions went to the spot where the shooting occurred.
“It is one of the spiritual gifts God has gifted me. We stood at that space until the square was completely evacuated. It went from sanctity to ghostlike space.”
Chebii and Aringo began their presentation to the community with the image of an acacia tree projected on the screen next to them.
“An acacia tree is always green,” Aringo said. “It is deep-rooted, life-giving — a metaphor for our existence. We are called to witness by rooting ourselves and branching out to all regions.”
The sisters then alternated telling the history of their order and describing their lives in stories.
There are currently 425 members of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Asumbi. Their motherhouse was built by the early sisters 77 years ago, who dug the foundation and laid bricks.
“It is a blessing having these two sisters in our midst,” said Sr. Michelle L’Allier of St. Cloud. “They are master storytellers.
“We call them our cousins,” said Sr. Ruth Nistler.