African woman professes perpetual vows in Arbutus

Karen Sampson Hoffman

Special to the Review

“My journey was long,” Vivien Echekwubelu, said a few days before she made her profession of perpetual vows as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “I’m really grateful.”

Sister Vivien, 48, made her profession Oct. 3, at Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus. From Nigeria, to South Carolina and through an Internet search, she traveled a long way to find her ministry in religious life.

Her journey began in Adazi, Nigeria, inspired by the sisters who taught at her high school. Her parents asked that she finish her education before entering religious life. She agreed, becoming a registered nurse and midwife. The desire remained when Sister Vivien came to the United States in 1997 to continue her education.

“The difference of my journey was I decided in Nigeria and God brought me to this part of the world,” she said. “My friends thought when I came to the United States I wouldn’t continue on.”

She completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Nursing. While a student, she met Jesuit Father Brendan Horan at Holy Cross Catholic Church, the primary celebrant at her profession.

“She was a faithful, prayerful and happy servant of the Lord,” he said.

It was when Sister Vivien Googled “women’s religious communities with ties to Africa” that her journey took direction. The website for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur topped the list, and she emailed the contacts.

“I searched the Internet, reading all about their charism and way of life,” Sister Vivien said. “I just had that feeling inside me that, oh my gosh, this was for me.”

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have missions worldwide, working for peace and justice and bringing education, services and pastoral care to the poor and marginalized. In the United States, they serve as educators, mental health care providers and parish and in pastoral care.

Sister Vivien was soon in touch with Sister Carol Symons of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, her friend and first guide as she discerned her vocation.

“She was so positive,” Sister Vivien said of Sister Carol, who died three years ago.

In October 2010, she made her initial vows and began preparing for her perpetual vows. She is a nurse at St. Agnes Hospital in the Stroke Center, while volunteering at Shepard’s Clinic in Baltimore. Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Mary McFadden, her mentor, said it was a joy to work with Sister Vivien, who would come to her house after a nighttime shift.

“We pray together as women in relationship, across borders, cultures and generations,” Sister Mary said. “Each new sister has a mentor that journeys with her from first vows to final vows. It has been very good to work with Vivien.”

Sister Vivien said she plans to remain at both the hospital and clinic. She hopes her future missions will possibly be in Nigeria or the Congo.

“My goal is to focus on the charism, to have my ministry with the people who need it most, the poor and the marginalized,” she said. “It’s a fulfilling ministry, especially working with the younger generation.”

East-West Providence Leadership Team Member Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Anne Malone welcomed her on Saturday. “Throughout her time in becoming Norte Dame, we have been blessed by Vivien’s presence,” Sister Anne said. “She had plenty of help and many companions on the journey.”

“Today is the culmination of a long journey,” Father Horan said. “It is so beautiful to see something that was meant to be, come to be. We are gratefully thrilled, blessed and inspired to Vivien’s response to God’s call.”

Sister Vivien expressed gratitude for her family and friends who had traveled from Nigeria, Sister Mary, the religious sisters and members of the Baltimore Nigerian community who offered their support and music for the Mass.

“I wish to express my thanks to everyone who accompanied me on my journey,” she said. “God indeed planted and fertilized my vocation in the United States.”

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Catholic Review

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