For centuries missionaries have been taking Christianity to Africa but changing times has led to an African religious order coming to Australia to conduct missionary work. Three Sisters of the Nativity (from left – Sr Grace Onaivi, Sr Anna Abba and Sr Mercy Akoh), joined the Cranbourne parish in November, 2007.
Sr Anna Abba was Pastoral Associate and sacramental coordinator. Sr Mercy Akoh was Youth minister and Sr Grace Onaivi was providing family ministry and support.
St Agatha’s parish priest Fr Andrew Wise became friends with Sr Anna while studying for a Masters Degree in the United States several years ago. The idea of the Sisters of the Nativity coming to Cranbourne and the Diocese of Sale began after Fr Wise invited Sr Anna to come to his parish as part of her sabbatical in November 2006.
Thus began a considerable period of consultation and investigation for the parish, diocese and the sisters in Nigeria. Fr Wise said there was wholehearted support from all parties and he would like to thank Bishop Coffey for his support and assistance.
Parishioners had been extremely generous in preparing for the arrival of the sisters. Eventually, after lengthy visa processes and other delays, the sisters arrived on November 29 to become the first indigenous Nigerian order to come to Australia for missionary work in parish communities. Fr Wise said the three sisters would begin a rotation process in three years time when one of them would return to Nigeria and another would come out to replace her.
The sisters had made a great start, settling into the parish and parish work quickly and were negotiating cultural challenges brought about from their move from Africa to Australia. With Nigeria being a former British colony English comes naturally to the sisters, but as they were raised in three different parts of Nigeria, they speak different tribal languages.