The BVM Legacy of Love is alive in the hearts of all who have been welcomed into their circle of friends. It flourishes in the hearts and actions of the global sisterhood working together for the greater good.
That circle expanded last fall when President Teri Hadro, BVM and Secretary Kate Hendel, BVM journeyed to Vietnam to learn more about the sister congregation BVMs have come to love, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), and to join them in the 60th anniversary celebration of the IHM congregation.
A Global Sisterhood
This growing friendship started more than two years ago when BVM Sisters first welcomed IHM Sisters to reside at Mount Carmel in Dubuque, Iowa, while pursuing studies at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa. Since then, IHMs Diem Ngo, Tram Tran, Liem Nguyen, and Tuyen Nguyen have become welcome members of the community.
“As we’ve gotten to know them, the IHM Sisters have become very dear to us,” says Kate.
The IHMs embraced the BVM community and the community embraced them. They lovingly referred to their BVM companions Mary (Agnes) Crimmin and Marion (John Patrice) Murphy as “Ba,” Vietnamese for grandmother. In tears, they sang at “Ba Marion’s” funeral last November as a tribute to their “housemother” who tutored them in English, proofread papers, and was a “gentle guiding presence.”
“There’s a natural sharing of cultures that develops when ideas from two very different places start to join,” says Teri. “These four young women have added a tremendous amount to the quality of life here at Mount Carmel. They bring new energy, a new way of looking at things, new challenges.”
The young sisters were happy to share their culture. They created the floral arrangements for the 185th anniversary celebration of the BVM congregation, and this past year they invited Mount Carmel sisters to celebrate the Lunar New Year, an important Vietnamese holiday. Diem, Liem, Tram, and Tuyen spent several days preparing their native food, arranging flowers, and practicing dances for the event. The BVMs were delighted to join in the celebration.
A Taste of Vietnam
In this spirit of friendship, Teri and Kate boarded a plane to journey to the home of the IHMs in Nha Trang City, Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam.
To Teri, joining the IHMs in Vietnam for their celebration seemed like a natural way to thank them and to tell them “you are a gift to us, too.”
Getting to Vietnam was challenging. They faced a 24-hour delay in Tokyo because they didn’t have the necessary visas to enter Vietnam. After a quick application process, their journey continued.
When Teri and Kate arrived in Vietnam at the Ho Chi Minh City airport, they received a warm greeting with flowers from the nephew of Anna Trang Mai, IHM (the first IHM to stay with the BVMs at Mount Carmel). He and his friend relieved Teri and Kate of some of their luggage which contained numerous books, videos and other items sent from the IHMs in the U.S. After an overnight stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Teri and Kate boarded the final flight to Nha Trang where again they were greeted with flowers and a warm welcome from the IHM leaders.
Once in Nha Trang, Maria Goretti, IHM served as their tour guide and led Teri and Kate through the region that the IHMs call home to experience their culture, food, and to visit their missions. Thi, IHM served as their driver.
Each experience held new surprises like the number of people and things you can cram onto a motorbike; the abundance of art, music, and dance; the diverse foods; and the importance of symbolism. They encountered the natural beauty of the area at Flower Island, the wildlife at Monkey Island, the pristine streets and beaches, and marveled at the artistry of local street vendors who wove mats entirely by hand and with unbelievable speed.
The globe became smaller when on one of their stops Kate and Teri encountered a priest in a rural parish. He commented that he was raised in Chicago and that his mother had cooked for sisters in Chicago. Upon further discussion, Teri realized it was a woman who cooked several years for BVMs at Wright Hall, a residence for sisters in Chicago.
“We traveled 12,000 miles to meet the son of a woman who cooked for our sisters,” says Teri. “Is this a small world?”
Loving the Outcasts
Beyond the fast-paced motorbikes and the hustle and bustle of the city, the most impactful experience of the trip was encountering the children at private schools run by the IHM Sisters.
Serving in a communist country comes with challenges. IHMs are barred from teaching in public schools and are only permitted to work with groups that are marginalized by the Vietnamese government such as children with mental and physical disabilities and minorities.
“The thing that touched my heart the most was what the sisters have been able to do for children whom the government deems not worth time and effort,” says Teri.
The IHMs serve a dire need to support, teach, and love children who need to know they matter. It’s a service similar to the BVM missions that taught the marginalized children of immigrants and minorities who were deemed outcasts by their society.
“These children served by the IMHs are loved by God—not to mention their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters,” adds Teri. “The sisters work to instill in each child a sense of self-worth and a sense of accomplishment.”
At every school Kate and Teri visited, the children greeted them with laughter, drumming, and dancing.
Despite all their struggles, “there was not a sad child,” says Kate. “I’ve been in schools with children and to keep them on task is a great challenge. These sisters had these girls and boys doing remarkable things working together. There were smiles all around.”
A Time for Celebration
These days of cultural exchange led to the 60th celebration at the IHM Motherhouse in Nha Trang.
In front of an audience of 800 guests, Superior General Mary Hoài Ân, IHM took time to thank her BVM friends in English.
“We’d like to express our deep gratitude and respect to you and all BVM Sisters for your loving care and generous support for our sisters living under your roof,” she says. “May the Trinity, through the intercession of Blessed Virgin Mary, grant you and your order abundant graces!”
It was an act that deeply moved Teri and Kate.
“I was just overwhelmed by that moment,” says Kate. “It was so kind and sweet.”
Numerous and stunning displays of music and dancing filled the celebration. In one part of the program, the IHMs shared the history of their missions with music, shadows, interpretive dance, and images on a large screen. Highlighting small parts of their 60-year history, they told the stories of their missions from Vietnam to Australia. To the astonishment of Teri and Kate, towards the end, the IHMs even featured an image of Mount Carmel, marking the BVMs as a mission of the IHMs.
Meeting the Novices
Before leaving, Teri and Kate were asked to speak to the IHM novices. Together, the IHMs, Teri, and Kate gathered in a circle where they discussed the spirit of BVM Foundress Mary Frances Clarke and the BVM core values of freedom, education, charity, and justice.
Kate remembers saying to them, “We [BVMs] have been around for 185 years, and just like you in your 60 years, things weren’t always perfect, but our Foundress Mary Frances Clarke always said, ‘I have no fear so long as you are working unitedly.”’
“I don’t know the impact of that trip on [the IHM Sisters],” adds Kate. “What I do know is that I feel a very real bond of sisterhood with that congregation.”
As they left Vietnam, Teri and Kate were met by five IHMs at the airport in Ho Chi Mihn City to guide them from the domestic to the international terminal and to assist with luggage.
“We could not have been treated more hospitably or with greater love than we were by the IHM Sisters, the students, their families, and Vietnam,” adds Teri. “It truly was the trip of a lifetime.”
As a token of their appreciation, IHMs also commissioned a silk embroidery of Mother Clarke for the BVMs, but no gifts were the same as the gifts of experiencing a new culture and an expanding friendship.
“I think we learned from their culture and will continue to uncover all that it means,” says Kate. “Hopefully, our four Vietnamese sisters will share what they learn here with their congregation upon their return.”
The Legacy Continues
After seeing the impact of the IHM ministries firsthand, the BVM congregation will financially assist the IHMs to help them build a week-long boarding school in Vietnam—allowing children who live in remote areas to attend school every day.
Once again, like many schools BVMs opened throughout their 185 years, they are answering the call to assist the IHMs in opening a new school, thus making the IHM vision a reality.
“As the IHM Sisters come to know us and know Mary Frances Clarke better, they get a sense that they’re not doing it alone,” says Teri. “I think Mary Frances Clarke would be delighted to be associated with a group of sisters whose ministry is to serve those that society rejects.”
The BVM Legacy of Love continues through the growing circle of friends near and far.
“You keep widening the circle until everyone’s included,” says Teri. “If you wanted a definition of when the kingdom is coming, that may be it. When everybody’s loved, and everyone’s included.”
This story was featured in:
Winter SALT 2019: Into the World with Love
When BVMs Teri Hadro and Kate Hendel visited the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Vietnam, they brought with them 185 years of rich BVM heritage and a message of friendship that echoed the words of BVM Foundress Mary Frances Clarke, “Where one BVM is, all BVMs are.” In this issue, discover ways the BVM Legacy of Love continues to grow throughout the world.
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