Nigerian nun visits with help of Rotary

Friday, August 20, 2004

Talking about their first trip to a remote African village, a Nigerian nun and Cape Girardeau dentist laughed about having to push their car in the muddy roads of Kenya to reach people who needed medical care.

But the unlikely pair were committed to bringing health care to a poor region that needed their services. Now, years later, Dr. Dan Cotner and Sister Mary Christopher Ibegwam can laugh about that day and share similar stories of their work with the Rotary club and church groups in Cape Girardeau.

Ibegwam is visiting Cape Girardeau and Jackson to talk about her 25 years at a Kenyan hospital and current work at a homeless shelter in Minneapolis. She is a member of the Order of Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary Mother of Christ.

During her tenure in Kenya, many of the dentists and health-care workers who visited the hospital where Ibegwam worked were sent or supported by Rotary International.

And the Cape Girardeau Rotary Club is helping pay part of her travel costs to Southeast Missouri with a gift the club received in Cotner's honor. He was selected as the Southeast Missourian's Spirit of America award winner July 4.

"I've been so grateful for their generosity," Ibegwam said.

One thing Ibegwam learned during her years at the hospital, and as a nun, has been flexibility. Each year, she could receive a new assignment that would require a move.

Sisters in her order take a vow of chastity, poverty and obedience, she said. "So if they tell you then you obey," she said.

And that flexibility also has helped during her visit to Cape Girardeau.

Each day, she's had a different speaking engagement or visit to make. She's been speaking to Rotary clubs and civic groups but also will visit Saint Francis Medical Center and the Lutheran Home today and will talk with area Catholic groups and Sunday school classes at First Presbyterian Church before leaving.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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