Anne Cahill OLA

I was born at Rathcormac, Co Cork and lived on a farm, the rear boundary of which was a small River Bride, a tributary of the Blackwater – one of its many brides, I was told! One of my tasks as a child was to keep watch over cows which grazed in a field where pits of potatoes were stored. It was there I met my God and was nurtured by the beauty and silence of nature.

I spent my teenage years in Cork City where I was within ten minutes walk from the North Cathedral. Daily Mass became my normal routine. At that time I became interested in Africa.

I changed from an all-Irish speaking school to the OLAs who told us multiple stories of their experiences in West Africa. I felt drawn to their way of life and became an OLA Missionary Sister.

My first appointment brought me to Kaduna, Nigeria where I spent twelve wonderful years in Queen of Apostles (QAC), a secondary school which was considered one of the best girls’ secondary in the Northern Nigeria at that time. We were helped by lay missionaries, friends of OLA Sisters or SMA priests. At that time too we had a few VSOs (Volunteers for Service Overseas) who came from the North of Ireland or from England. Both groups rendered us and all ‘QAC students’ invaluable service.

Having spent six years on the homefront based in Ardfoyle, Cork, I was appointed to Sudan. Sr. Bernadette O’Connell and myself were ‘missioned’ during Mass on 8th December 1987. This was a very new and difficult mission. Because of the war being fought in the South we joined our francophone community in ‘Hella Mayo’ outside of Khartoum. This meant communicating in French, Arabic and occasionally in English in our community but otherwise through the Arabic language. Hella Mayo was an artificial series of villages where displaced people from the south came to seek security.

The people throughout this scattered semi-desert arrived without money or goods and had to start to make some clay bricks so as to build a wall to shield themselves from the Sahara wind, cold and dust. This mud wall was the start of their new home! Sometimes the wall was started with cardboard boxes etc. Our hearts bled for them. Different embassies helped with bags of sugar, corn etc. The Southern Sudanese’ only means of livelihood was to make the equivalent of our poteen. If caught they were imprisoned and all their cooking pots were confiscated, but what other option had they? Each OLA Sister and Canadian Foreign Missionary had responsibility for a section of our sprawling parish. We did the best we could, aided by our clinic for the sick and our primary school for boys and girls. Looking back on my seven years in “Hella Mayo” it was a wonderful experience but a very difficult mission.

I have spent the last eleven years in the village of Mwamapalala (Maswa, Tanzania). Mwamapalala is a normal setting for mission. OLAs are involved in Health Care, with a particular emphasis on HIV/AIDS. The Sisters are carrying out a project sponsored by Gideon Pharmaceuticals and helped by the Vatican through us, missionaries. The Sisters’ ongoing efforts are, of course, geared to the families with special attention to women. I am teaching English in our Shinyanga Diocesan School. My special attention goes to the education of girls without forgetting the boys. Thanks to the generosity of Irish people, our families, parishes and friends, we have been able to help so many students and especially girls.

Fr. Richard Leonars S.J. Australia says “If we educated every girl child in the world we would renew the face of the earth”. Christopher Hichens, when asked on an ABC television programme: “What one thing would you do to change the world for the better?” answered: “I would educate every girl child.”

As OLAs we target aid to the education of girls. In the short term it will combat early marriage/child brides and hopefully in the long term it will transform the face of the earth.

(written October 2018)

Sr Anne Cahill returned to Ireland on 7 October 2021. You can view the images of her send off from Tanzania here: