Missionary nun celebrates Centenary

Sister Sarah Jordan who celebrated her 100th birthday with her great great grand niece Annabelle Mary Berne, Dublin who was seven weeks old at the time. PHOTO: GERRY STRONGE.

It has been something of an adventure for Sister Sarah Jordan who experienced some of the toughest conditions while working in South Africa.

Sarah spent a life of giving to others but the 60 sisters in the Franciscan Order in Ballinasloe rallied round to give her a very special 100th birthday.

Sister Sarah spent 44 years of her life in some of the most deprived parts of Africa and still has compassion for those who are awaiting a death sentence. She still prays for those on death row.

It is an incredible story of a woman who decided to take a boat to Africa in the 1940s, took a train, car and lorry before walking for two days across marsh to get to her destination.

The community in Ballinasloe rallied around to help her celebrate a milestone. She has the distinction of being the first Franciscan nun to reach the century. And still has compassion for those on death row.

Local councillor Michael Finnerty described Sister Sarah as an inspiration. He said that she came from a family of three nuns and her presence in Ballinasloe was inspirational for a lot of people.

“She went to work in Africa at one of the most difficult times. She worked with the poorest of the poor but enjoyed every minute of it. Her story is something that every young person should hear”, Cllr. Finnerty added.

Sarah Jordan entered Portiuncula Convent in Ballinasloe in 1945. She is a native of Belfast but around 40 family members were in attendance for her 100th birthday.

Five years later her desire was to bring the word of Christ to people in Africa and to work in a leper colony. She ended up in Northern Rhodesia in a mission that was run by the Franciscan sisters.

Sarah’s journey began by boat to South Africa and from there it was an epic journey by train, car and lorry to Nsombo which is a port in the lake of Banguewelo.

According to Brid O’Sullivan, Sarah then met Sr. Carmel who was the community leader at the time. Carmel had waited three weeks for Sarah’s arrival. They crossed swamps to get to the mission.

When Sarah arrived at the leprosy settlement she was enthusiastic about the work ahead of her. Food was in short supply and there was a high incidence of malaria at the time.

She and other nuns prepared children for baptism as their accommodation consisted of them sleeping on mats or occasionally on camp beds. The baptism celebration on Easter Sunday in the mission church in Kasaba was a huge celebration.

Sarah was transferred to the Mangango Mission in 1957 which was run at the time by the Irish Franciscan Capuchin Fathers. The sisters looked after a busy general hospital where they catered for a lot of patients with leprosy.

Brid O’Donnell in her tribute to Sarah Jordan said that she had cared for the sisters and welcomed numerous visitors who were on missionary duty in the area at the time.

Some described her as a mother to all she cared for including the medics who flew into the airport in Kasaba where Sarah returned to in 1977. It was a much different place to where she was first appointed.

Brid said that Sarah supervised the kitchens and bought in all the food locally which she described as a mammoth task. The nuns described Sarah as “a Godsend” who gathered the parents of starving children to say the rosary.