Catholic School Connects with Benedictine Roots

The tribespeople waited for her in anticipation. They knew that she would help them. And help them she did – bringing clothing, blankets, medicine, tobacco for the elders and other supplies.

Members of her community, who were with Mother Maria at the time, then recalled to the Register what happened next.

After several charitable visits, a chief of the tribe (the Barabaig have no central leader, as they are nomads and so always on the move) asked Mother Maria: “Other people don’t love us. Why do you love us?” She replied, “Because I’m a messenger from God for you.” This immediately made some of the tribesmen recall something their ancestors had told them: That at some time in the future, “Someone will come who will teach you about God.

The elder asked Mother Maria, “Are you the one?” to which she replied without hesitation, “Yes, I believe so.” 

As Mother Maria’s words were being translated into the tribal language, a tribesman asked, “Okay, but you are coming to visit us occasionally while, in the meantime, we are dying with our cattle without ever knowing the Truth. Will you therefore come and teach us the Truth?”

Mother Maria replied that if they were to give her a piece of land, she would “come and live with you, together with my brothers and sisters, and teach you about the true God.” The local chieftain agreed and later showed her the area of land where Mother could build the mission — at that time essentially in the bush, but now a small town called Gehandu which is quickly growing and is located some 50 miles from the central Tanzanian city of Singida.

Much work was to be done. When the religious sisters arrived, the local tribespeople had to walk 30 miles to obtain medical treatment. They had neither clean water nor electricity and food was scarce. So Mother Maria and her sisters quickly set about providing what they could, beginning with food and clothing. 

Since the 1990s the community has been striving to discover running water for the impoverished tribe, their children and cattle, and have drilled five boreholes but not succeeded in striking water.

But for 16 years, from November to May, they would regularly bring food for 8,000 people, and built a 180-acre farm, which to this day feeds up to 200 people. They also set about building a small clinic with 15 beds and a pharmacy, currently run by an able young medic called Godlove Gadiel Kiromari. 

Mother Maria Stieren, who first came to Tanzania in 1959 as a Benedictine Missionary sister, died in 2008 at the age of 85 after a remarkable life in the service of the Lord.

Tanzanian Mothers of the Holy Cross Sister Maria Walburga, who was with Mother Maria at the beginning and now heads the Gehandu mission, told the Register that nearly half of the tribe (said to number around 20,000) are now baptized. The Gehandu area is now a peaceful place to live, and the people are relatively polite and welcoming.

“When their children start going to the school and hearing the Gospel, it changes the culture but it’s slow,” she told the Register. “This is because all the paganism is still very close to them, so it is very difficult to convert them, they need time.” Some Protestants and evangelicals have also moved in and converted some of the tribe.

The mission’s gatekeeper, Pascali Vitalis, is a member of the Barabaig tribe and is now a Catholic. He told the Register that Mother Maria “really helped us to change from our paganist ways and become Christian.” She did this, he said, by first “helping me and my people by giving us beans and maize, and then she helped to build a school here.”

Vitalis said, “We live to remember her.”

Recent Posts