Sarah Hellmann, Keith Pfaller, Maria Meyer, Cassandra Drennen, and Caroline Drennen had a great immersion trip to Senegal to visit the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor (SFP) and their ministries March 2-11, 2014.

imparando 01Sarah, Maria, Caroline, Cassandra and Keith

Here is the story of their experience.

imparando 02Kindergarten in KoungheulThe Sisters were so kind and generous. They opened their homes to us, shared meals with us, took the time to show us Senegal, introduced us to their families and friends, and even took us sightseeing and shopping.  
We visited clinics, women’s empowerment centers and many of the schools that were founded by the Congregation. The children at the schools greeted us warmly with singing and dancing. We had the pleasure of distributing candy and school supplies to the schoolchildren which brought all of us great joy. We visited the clinic where Sr. Rose Ndong provided a week’s worth of food for hundreds of babies. We were inspired by the gentle care she provided to the sick, women in labor and delivery, and infants. We were blessed with the opportunity to meet two newborn babies whom she delivered minutes before our arrival. We also met some of the women who were learning life-skills – and whom the Sisters and Associates were teaching to be seamstresses. Most importantly though the Sisters treated us like family -- and introduced us to their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. 

imparando 03Sr Rose playing basketballWe attended a Mardis Gras party with Sr. Domitilde Manga and her sister, and the young women in formation. We met many young adults there, and we danced and tasted Senegalese beer. We had the pleasure of meeting Sr. Marie Augustine Ndione’s family, including her amazing mother, when we visited their home in Dakar. We became great friends with Sr. Marie Augustine’s brother Maurice, who was also our skillful driver for the week. In Louanga, we spent time visiting with Sr. Rose Ndong’s family. Keith Pfaller invited her brother, the village chief, to play a game of basketball. We were treated to a delicious luncheon and spent the afternoon together sharing stories and drinking tea.

Sister Teresa Lamparelli graciously spent many hours with us as she showed us Senegal for ten days, imparando 04Church in Dakartranslated for us, and made us laugh. She took us to the cathedral and showed us Africa’s largest statue, the African Renaissance Monument. We had a very emotional visit to The House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves) and it’s Door of No Return, a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island, 3 km off the coast of the city of Dakar. The museum was opened in 1962 and is said to memorialize the final exit point of the slaves from Africa.

The Catholic Church in Senegal is vibrant. We met many young women in formation to become Sisters. When we celebrated Sunday liturgy, every pew was packed, including the additional pews that were literally outside the front doors of the church in the sand. After mass, there was a big tented celebration to imparando 05Classroom in Louangawelcome the new priest, with a disk jockey, dancing, a feast – and many gifts for the priest. We had a dialogue with young adults from the parish, with whom we have kept in contact through Facebook.

Sr. Marie Augustine told us that the average person in Dakar lives on a dollar a day, and in the villages people live on even less than a dollar a day. Poverty was everywhere, but the spirit of abundance was inspiring. The people we met seemed to focus on what they had instead of what they needed or wanted. What little they had they shared giving witness to the reality of one of imparando 06Young AdultsSenegal’s proverbs: “However little food we have, we’ll share it, even if it is only one locust.”

We were inspired by their hospitality, generosity, and kindness of the Sisters and all of the people whom we met in Senegal. It was a blessing to have had the opportunity to travel to Senegal, build relationships and experience the international flavor of the Sisters’ ministries. We were all very grateful for the time spent in Senegal, the people we met, and the culture in which we were immersed. This experience touched our hearts, gave us a new perspective on life, and challenged us to learn a new way of being in this world.



imparando 07Cassandra standing in front of a house in Louanga imparando 08Door of no return imparando 09Sr. Rose’s mother


Maria Meyer, Director of Spiritual Programs at the Centennial Barn




imparando 10Cassandra, Sr Jacqueline and CarolineSister Teresa LAMPARELLI: The sojourn of the young Americans amongst us represented a strong moment of gathering, fraternity, sharing and friendship. The time we spent together, for example, just washing the dishes or walking, filled us with joy and made us feel the happiness of being together. I was particularly touched by their patience and courtesy, despite the language barrier. I also appreciated their sensitivity for the poor, especially as demonstrated by our Associate Sarah Hellman through her artistic creations. She really surprised us with her beautiful paintings! The only thing that saddened me a little was their departure!

Sister Domitilde MANGA: It was a real pleasure to welcome the young people from the United States. I particularly appreciated their sensitivity and concern for homeless children and their interest in the reality of our life in Senegal -- and the simplicity and joy of our mission. One of their questions struck -- and encouraged me -- with regards to the expression of our charism in today's world, they asked: “What concrete thing can we do to help the poor?”

Sister Rose NDONG: All of the young people were very comfortable and kind with us -- and with the sick of the dispensary of Missira. I encourage their heartfelt initiatives to better understand our realities, and I hope that eventually they will do something to help the young and the poor to be a little happier.

Maurice NDIONE (Franciscan Youth): “Friendship, fraternity, integration and mutual welcoming,” these are strong words that from my heart following my brief experience with our American friends when they met with the Franciscan Youth. From the day we met, I felt joy in accompanying them as the ‘driver’ during their travels. Their visit to my family was an occasion of great joy, and also comforted my sick mother. Thanks to their discussions with the Franciscan Youth on ‘development’ and ‘integration’, I learned that it is possible for the people of Senegal to have a better life socially and politically.

imparando 11Sr Domitilde, Stella, Elisa with American youth dance at the town hallSister Jacqueline COMPAORE: St. Francis de Sales used to say, “Man has been created for joy and joy has been created for man.”  Following the young peoples’ visit to the Foyer Sainte Bakhita, and also during the “Mardi Gras” party we had at the town hall with the youth of Parcelles Assainies, I understood more fully what the saint meant. Through their dancing and the few words we were able to exchange, I tasted the happiness of being with them. Nahman De Braslaw used to say that “if you think that something can be ruined, you must remember that it can also be repaired.” The friendship that they have shown us makes me dream that, despite the painful slave trade, white and black people can live happily together and build and build a brighter future. In this way, the healing energy of Christ can spread in the heart of every man, and we can all experience a real peace.  

The SFP family of Senegal 

Published: May 7, 2014