A newly built medical centre has opened its doors in Ttomi Buloba, Uganda and is already making a difference in the life of the local community in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, thanks to a collaboration born of a shared name and a shared charism, writes Debra Vermeer.
The St Veronica Medical Centre began taking its first patients at the beginning of this year and was officially opened on May 4. It is operated by the Good Samaritan Sisters in Uganda, and was built with the help of funding from Australia’s Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
The history of the collaboration goes back to an international gathering of leaders of religious institutes (UISG) held in Rome in May 2019, where Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner SGS became acquainted with Sister John Evangelist Mugisha, the leader of a religious congregation in Uganda named the Good Samaritan Sisters.
Sister John sought out Sister Patty among 800 conference members because she could see that both congregations had the same name. She invited Patty to visit Uganda to see how the bonds between the two congregations could be strengthened.
In December 2019, Sister Veronica McCluskie SGS went to Uganda on Patty’s behalf to visit the Sisters. The congregation is an institute of the diocesan rite, founded in 1978 by the late Emmanuel Cardinal Kiwanuka Nsubuga in the Archdiocese of Kampala.
Uganda is not much bigger than Victoria but has a population of 43 million. The congregation’s Mother House and headquarters are located at Nalukolongo.
Sister John introduced Veronica to some of the members of her council to discuss ways in which their congregations might support each other and work together.
“They had a dream to build a dispensary (health clinic) that would service the needs of their orphanage, schools and the local community,” Veronica said.
The Good Sams in Australia decided to give $US10,000 per annum over three years to help the Ugandan Sisters realise their dream.
The money helped fund the construction of a dispensary with reception area, doctor’s consulting room, a room to store medication, a laboratory, separate rooms for children, women and men, two self-contained rooms for seriously ill people, and a counselling and labour room for pregnant women.
“Meeting Sister Patty in Rome was a miracle!” Sister John said. “When I told Sister Patty the situation we work in in Uganda, she was touched. She promised me that one of her members would visit us. When Sister Patty sent Sister Veronica to Uganda, the love and relationship increased.”
Sister John said while their local district does have existing health facilities, they are old and a significant distance from their community.
“The local people have been going long distances to get medical treatment and now they no longer have to. The people have confidence in the Sisters too,” she said.
“The people are very happy to have this medical centre here. Five children have so far been born in the St Veronica Medical Centre and we have treated 150 patients.”
Veronica said she had a wonderful time in 2019 meeting the Sisters in Uganda and was impressed by their ministries.
“They are beautiful young Sisters and really Good Samaritan to the core, giving themselves totally to the care of the poor, not only with the clinic, but also in schools and orphanages,” she said.
“The Sisters are serving the needs of the local area. And what they told us they needed most was a medical clinic. Our Council took the decision to help them fund it over three years.
“We are delighted it is up and running and that, in a little way, we have been able to help the people in Africa.”
As a sign of their gratitude, the Ugandan Good Samaritan Sisters have paid tribute to their Australian Sisters.
Sister John said the medical centre was named after St Veronica for two reasons.
“First, to remember Sister Veronica who visited us and as a sign of appreciation to the Good Samaritan Sisters of Australia. Second, to honour St Veronica, who our Catholic tradition tells us was near Jesus Christ in his suffering, while he was carrying his cross and, in her love and simplicity, she wiped Jesus’ face.”
The maternity wing of the hospital has been named the Sr Patty Fawkner Maternity Ward.
The clinic was officially blessed and opened earlier this month by the Archbishop of Kampala, Rt Rev Paul Ssemogerere.