• Mama Lee Lee (Lee White)

“I expected to find God in Ghana. I was not disappointed”: Ogdensburg’s Sister Mary Elizabeth Looby


On a mission of mercy on the other side of the world, Catholic Sister Mary Elizabeth Looby’s day began and ended with the sound of the Muslim call to prayer. “It sounded at 5 a.m. and in the evening at 7 p.m.,” she recalls.       In March, Sister Mary Elizabeth traveled to the largely Muslim town of Sang, in Ghana, accompanying a volunteer team of dentists and audiologists. The team journeyed there to bring needed health care to the children of Nazareth Home for God’s Children. The Home cares for orphans who have been abandoned by their families because of cultural superstition about their disabilities.     “I wanted an experience of going to an underserved area and serve, in whatever way was needed,” she says. “Sister Stan Therese Mario Mumuni, foundress of the Marian Sisters of Eucharistic Love, and founder of the Nazareth Home, asked if I would give classes on religious life to her novices. So I had daily classes with those sisters.”      The African sisters were in their early 20s and had only had a high school education. “They were eager to learn but didn’t have a lot of materials or resources to use.”      The rest of the time, Sister Mary Elizabeth was actively present to the children who enjoyed touching her hair, so very different from their own. The children loved being held and holding hands.      The children ranged in age from infants to early twenties. Some have normal intelligence and go to school during the week and return to the Home for the weekends.       “I expected the children to be more compromised than I found them. Most were healthy, happy and full of energy. There were some with conditions like schizophrenia, hydrocephalus, some had seizures, some were missing limbs or hands or feet; some had been poisoned and had resulting health conditions. Some were perfectly normal.”

   The children, she recalls with a smile, loved to dance. “As soon as music began to play, they all started moving to the beat. They all got along well and helped each other to get to meals, go to school in the complex or to prayer. They had names like Precious, Solomon and Caesar. There were 2 year-old twins named Philip and James.”      Her engagement with the young sisters and her delight in the children were happy distractions from the intense heat and the shortage of bathing water in the dry, desert-like environment. “The temperature was 105-106 most days,” she remembers. “The heat was very draining, physically. A great gift was a siesta in the afternoon, which gave us a break from the heat.”

  A new well had been dug to provide water to the complex but was not yet working. “We drank bottled water and we were provided with a large trash can full of water for bathing and washing clothes. I learned how precious water is! I now value water more and use it more carefully.”      Despite the privations she observed and experienced, Sister Mary Elizabeth says her journey brought her many gifts. “Even in their poverty, the Ghanaian people are peaceful, joyful, creative and industrious. Respect for others is evident, particularly respect of older people.”     Most striking, she says, is the presence of God in the spirit and the culture in Ghana. “Even in the humblest of little shops there were religious sayings or words reflective of God. Taxis and jitneys had religious sayings on the back windows of the vehicles. Their lives are not easy but they are very religious.”     Sister Mary Elizabeth’s final musing on her journey?  “Although we may have different color skin, my God is the same as theirs. I expected to find God in Ghana. I was not disappointed.”

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updated 9-3--2020

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