A map showing where the Ursuline Associates live always has one star in Africa. That one star came to visit the Ursuline Sisters on Aug. 17-19, 2019.
Sister Agnes Ijoko, a Sister of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, made her lifetime commitment as an Ursuline Associate in 2004. She was completing three years of study at Brescia University in Owensboro, where she had lived with several Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
Sister Agnes returned to her native Nigeria in 2004 to open a school for girls, and this visit was her first time back to Owensboro and Maple Mount.
“I’ve been so busy seeing old friends. I’m very happy seeing the sisters,” she said on Aug. 19.
Sister Agnes came to Owensboro to attend Brescia from 2001-2004, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a certificate in elementary education. At the same time, she attended Weekend College to earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction before returning to Nigeria.
“I got a sponsorship to study at Brescia from the Ursuline Sisters,” she said. She had attended college in Nigeria for three years prior to coming to America but said getting a degree in Nigeria takes much longer, due to obstacles from the government. “Here, you can set time limits for your education.”
Since her return to Nigeria, she has been principal and teacher at Handmaids Girls Secondary School in Abuja.
“I started the school from scratch,” Sister Agnes said. “It’s all girls, from ages 10 to 16. Then they can go on to the university.
“When I first started, there were 11 girls,” she said. “We celebrated our 10th year last year, we now have 400 students. It’s going very well. What I learned at Brescia made it easier to begin the school.”
She lived with Ursuline Sisters on St. Ann Street in Owensboro, including Sisters Cheryl Clemons, Jacinta Powers, Betsy Moyer, Mary Timothy Bland, Mary Irene Cecil, Monica Seaton and Marietta Wethington.
“I really enjoyed my stay. They made it possible to have a good education,” Sister Agnes said. She chose to become an Ursuline Associate to continue her relationship with the sisters.
“I got to think of them as my happy family. I wanted to continue with that family,” Sister Agnes said. “I always pray for them. We prayed together, ate together, went out together, worshipped in church together. They were all fond of me,” she said with a smile. “I danced for them and sang for them. I felt very much at home, as if it were my community.”
Sister Agnes visited the Brescia campus on Aug. 19, visiting with sisters and instructors. “I had good teachers – Sister Sharon Sullivan, Dr. Ellen Dugan-Barrette, even Father Larry (Hostetter) was my teacher,” she said, referring to the current Brescia president.
One of the sisters who helped Sister Agnes with homework and through some tough times was Sister Mary Irene Cecil, who served as her contact sister when she became an Associate. Sister Mary Irene died Dec. 22, 2018.
“I’m sad that my very good friend Sister Mary Irene is not here,” Sister Agnes said. “I’m also missing Bishop John (McRaith) and Father (Leonard) Alvey, and Sister Rose Marita (O’Bryan).”
Sister Agnes came to visit Houston first, where 11 members of her community reside. She returned there on Aug. 20 and will head back to Nigeria on Aug. 30. Her sisters mostly serve in medical, pastoral and education ministries in Nigeria. She sees similarities between her community and the Ursuline Sisters.
“We have the same spirit and inspiration to serve God,” she said. “Ursulines share their commitment, simplicity, their love for God and humanity. They share selflessness and generosity.”
Sister Agnes remains committed to being an Ursuline Associate, even when she is so far away in Nigeria.
“I talk to my students about the Ursuline Sisters, and tell them about Saint Angela Merici,” Sister Agnes said. “We pray for the sisters here.”