The sister of a diocesan priest and an incoming college student will travel to West Africa in November to assist the Marian Sisters of Eucharistic Love to serve children at an orphanage in Ghana. Under the careful guidance of Sister Stan Terese Mario Mumuni, MASEL, a native of Africa who has been a missionary for over 16 years, they will help children who would not otherwise have had a chance at life.
These two missionaries are Sarah Noonan, whose brother is Father Mark J. Noonan, pastor of St. Mary and St. Mark Parishes in Holley, and Mary Clare O'Brien, a Hamburg homeschooled student who received a scholarship to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Noonan will be abroad for a year, and O'Brien six months, to serve Sister Stan's Children, Inc., a nonprofit supporting the sisters.
"I am going to Ghana on Nov. 10 of this year. I'll be staying at the orphanage. Its name is the Nazareth Home for God's Children," said Noonan. "(Sister Stan) has created the most beautiful, God-centered home for these children, who say the Rosary every day, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, litanies, and they sing songs. It's such a beautiful, beautiful home that she's built for them."
"It's something that I've considered doing since I was 10," O'Brien, 18, commented. "I think it's really important, before I go into college and the working world, to take a step back and give to other people, to focus more on God and serving other people, instead of serving myself."
O'Brien said she decided to go to Ghana after Noonan spoke at a youth group meeting O'Brien attended, and Noonan is also friends with her family, although she had not met Noonan before. "(Noonan) told me that she was considering going back, but she hadn't made her decision yet," O'Brien added, noting she had applied to go to Africa with other missionary groups, but was told she was too young.
Paula Radel, a friend of the Noonans who served in Ghana for two weeks in January with her husband, Thomas, originally invited Noonan. "She hadn't even thought of anything like this, she accepted, and it was kind of a life changer for her. She quit her job, sold all her possessions and is living with her parents until she leaves," Radel recalled. Thomas Radel, a nurse anesthetist, has traveled to the Philippines for the past 10 years. The couple will join Noonan and O'Brien in Ghana, next February, for two weeks.
"It's kind of an incredible story of God working in people's lives," Radel added. She recalled how her own experience in Ghana was "overwhelming." The children the sisters serve, called "spirit children" by the locals, were born into rural village families who believe if a child is born and the mother dies in childbirth, the child is considered "evil." Such children are often drowned or left in the bush to die, and these are not the only circumstances under which a child will be rejected by his or her parents.
"If you have twins, perfectly healthy twins, that's considered double evil, and those children are killed," Radel said. "If a child is born with Down syndrome, an extra finger or clubbed foot, a cleft lip or any other abnormality, whether it is something minor or something severely developmental, they're killed. Sister is originally from Nigeria, and when she found out about these children, she got permission to start an order of nuns, the Marian Sisters of Eucharistic Love."
Initially, Sister Stan rented out part of a building complex to use as her first orphanage. She spread the word to villagers that she would take in spirit children and care for them so they would have a chance at life. She currently has 38 babies, children and teens, ranging in age from 6 months to 19 years. She was able to build a new, freestanding building for her orphanage, into which she moved this August.
Noonan said the orphanage is able to provide a roof over the heads of these children and community life, but resources are often scarce and it is always in need of missionaries. Sister Stan needs help in the form of bodies to help and funds to pay for medical care, food, clothing and water. Water is an especially pressing issue, since northern Ghana is just south of the Sahara Desert and has a dry climate.
When she went there early this year, Noonan said the experience helped her to realize how much she has in her own life compared to others. Even so, deciding to become a missionary was a big decision for her. Since she used to be a bakery manager and a teacher, Noonan plans to help the children and sisters make baked goods they can sell to help the orphanage become more of a self-sustaining entity.
Noonan said of her brother, Father Noonan's, involvement in the project, "He was just so awesome to be able to talk to, and when I was kind of discerning about going for a year, he was so helpful in counseling me. He's just very supportive of the orphanage and Sister Stan, so he's just been an awesome support to me in doing this. I could never do this without the support of Father Mark, my family. Even work has been totally supportive of my going ... If you don't have that support system, it makes everything harder."
"I know that this experience is going to bring me closer to God, and open my eyes even wider to the needs of the world. It will be a year of discernment for me," Noonan concluded. "I've given up my job, my apartment, a lot of my things, because I feel like when I come back, I have a big decision to make about the rest of my life. I felt like having a lot of things around me that I need to take care of would slow down the process. I hope to learn what God has in store for the rest of my life."
"I hope to get more appreciation for the things that I have, a love for the poor and especially for the disabled, and just more openness and trust in God's will for my life," O'Brien said.