Nun follows God's call to Africa - Catholic Courier

Nun follows God’s call to Africa

Listening to God can bring you to some interesting places, as Sister Mary Felice has found out.

She’s gone from Tioga County to the other side of the world as a woman religious — a vocation she didn’t even envision until young adulthood.

This unforeseen odyssey was sparked by a retreat she attended in the mid-1980s. It was given by the late Father Albert Shamon at her home parish, St. John the Evangelist in Newark Valley.

"I saw a peace in him that I had never noticed in anyone before," Sister Felice recalled. "I let God know that whatever it was, I would like to have some of it in my life." 

She said God responded by intimating that she could best achieve this ideal by dedicating her life to him — and that meant, to her, pursuing a religious vocation. However, she didn’t want to shed her plans to become a doctor since she was just beginning medical school.

So she did both.

In the mid-1990s, after several years of simultaneous preparation, Sister Felice became a doctor trained in internal medicine and shortly thereafter a sister in the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. For the last five years she has served the sick and impoverished in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sister Felice, 48, presented details of her missionary life at St. Patrick Church in Owego on July 17 during a family visit home before heading back to Africa later that month.

"I feel like I try my best — like I’m in the right place, where I’m supposed to be. Do I find it easy? No. That’s OK as long as I’m doing God’s will," she told the Catholic Courier.

Sister Felice began following God’s will in earnest after that pivotal retreat. She began attending daily Mass regularly, although the former high-school cheerleader and college dance major admitted that "I didn’t give in easily" to shedding worldly desires — "giving up fashions, make-up, doing my hair."

Sister Felice began weighing religious communities while attending medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. In 1993 she completed her three-year residency at the University of Rochester, and one year after that she entered the Daughters of Charity. Over the next decade Sister Felice practiced medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, Conn., and St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy, N.Y.

Following a longtime desire to do missionary duty, she arrived in the Congo in 2006. Sister Felice is stationed in Mbandaka, a city on the Congo River near the equator. Since 2009 she’s served full time with Project D.R.E.A.M. (Drug Resource Enhancement Against AIDS and Malnutrition), an initiative that serves chiefly to prevent the transmission of AIDS in Africa from a mother to her baby. Thus far the program has been highly successful, she said.

"There is much joy in helping those we can," she remarked. "They know I’m fighting for them, they know we’re there for them. We can’t give them everything to make their lives easy, but we’re there to do what we can."

During her presentation in Owego Sister Felice showed photos of limited hospital facilities and houses with dirt floors, no running water and no electricity. She noted that food options are quite limited and access to health care and education is substandard. 

"I love our work amongst the very poor there, but I do find the way of life challenging," she said.

Many might consider her commitment to be heroic, but Sister Felice quickly dismisses that kind of thinking: "When you’re there doing this, you don’t feel exceptional. I feel like I get by, and that’s OK. God just wants us to try and put our best effort forward; that’s all he asks."

In order to extend such an effort, Sister Felice emphasized the need to listen to what God is asking. A longtime devotee to youth ministry, she said she encourages young people to tune in to God amid myriad electronic entertainment coupled with such everyday demands as school, work and sports. She also implores parents to promote an environment that will allow for this special listening.

Recalling her own youth, she said that "God had been trying to get through to me for years, but there were just too many distractions for me to be able to hear it. It was a real grace that I was finally able to hear what God was asking of me or that I heard him at all."

Sister Felice said people shouldn’t avoid listening to God out of fear that he’ll ask for more than they can give.

"He has a special purpose for each of us which will bring us the most fulfillment and happiness in our lives," she said. "We need to be careful not to miss it."


EDITOR’S NOTE: Donations for Project D.R.E.A.M. may be made payable to International Project Services and mailed to Daughters of Charity, International Project Services, 22255 Greenfield Road, Suite 501, Southfield, MI 48075-3734. For more details, visit www.daughtersips.org. Sister Mary Felice also invites people, particularly youths, wishing to learn more about her ministry and vocation to e-mail her at srmlf@yahoo.com.

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