Interview with Sister M. Pavla Draganová, Superior General de la Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of Saint Vincent

by | Mar 8, 2021 | News, Vincentian Family

[1] How did you Congregation come into existence and what is its spirituality?

The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of Saint Vincent of Satu Mare was established in 1842 by Bishop János Hám in the city of Satu Mare (at that time part of the Austrian-Hungry Empire; today, Romania). Even though the Congregation was not directly founded by Saint Vincent, nevertheless, from its beginning, the Congregation adopted elements of Vincentian spirituality. Our Founder, Bishop János Hám, wanted young people in his diocese to develop morally, that is, he wanted young men and women to open their hearts and their hands and to be willing to engage in service on behalf of their sisters and brothers. He viewed young men and women as the future of the church and the world.  With his attitudes and his action, our Founder not only struggled against moral poverty but also against material poverty. In his decisions, he always place the love of God and the love of others on the highest level. He was indifferent to no one. Like Saint Vincent, he was concerned about abandoned children and one of Our Founder’s first establishment was an orphanage. His vision with regard to helping those who were disadvantaged did not stop there. He built a hospital and the Sisters administered and worked in the hospital. There the poor residents in the city of Satu Mare and the surrounding areas were cared for.

Our spirituality is characterized by a realism and an unwavering trust in God. Saint Vincent wanted to reveal Christ to the people through merciful love. In the same manner our Sisters are sent forth to bring Good News to the poor and to serve the suffering Christ through the witness of love, humility and simplicity. In Christ and with Christ the Sisters give themselves to God in order to share the lot of humankind, especially the lot of the poor.

[2] What is the missionary environment in which the Sisters labor?

By nature, the whole church is missionary and the task of evangelization with be viewed as a fundamental obligation of every Christian. Therefore, the Sisters in our Congregation dedicate themselves to education and instruction and catechesis. Our Congregation has established kindergartens as well as primary and secondary schools. The Sisters also teach in some public schools.

We are also aware that all those persons who are seriously infirm, especially those who are dying, ought to be the focus of our attention. There in the Residence of the Elderly we care for those who are terminally ill and those who are dying. In the social institutions, we attempt, with our presence, to alleviate the pain and the loneliness of those who are elderly and/or living alone. A very noteworthy activity is one which the Sisters are engaged in as members of the Immaculate Family Association. This Association was established in 1975 by a member of our Congregation, Sister Bernadeta Pánčiová. The members of this Association are:

  • Infirm and disabled individuals
  • Elderly men and women and persons who live alone
  • Those who are willing to serve the infirm and those who are suffering.

 Among the primary functions of this Association is communication with the members of the Immaculate Family, communication through email and postal mail and through personal visits to the various individuals. The Sisters also attempt to help those individuals who are experiencing financial problems. Meetings for the members are organized on a regular basis and every two year there is a pilgrimage of the infirm to Lourdes (by train). Even though our Congregation is small in number (we have 140 Sisters), We attempt to dedicate ourselves to missionary work. Our Sisters are ministering in the northern part of Albania where many families are living in extreme misery. The Sisters attempt to provide people with small packages of food and medications and clothing. They also provide families with financial assistance so that they can obtain modest housing. The spiritual life of these families is also important, and the Sisters are engaged in catechesis of children and adults (preparing people for the reception of the sacraments). Part of their ministry is to accompany people who are living alone. We are also aware of the fact that if we want to combat extreme poverty, then we have to look for ways in which people can be guaranteed a dignified life. Through various projects, we are committed to helping people find work that they are capable of doing. Some people have begun their own small business and sell their goods at various events.

[3] During this time of pandemic, what are the most significant needs and difficulties that you have observed among the people?

During this time of pandemic, we have found that homeless people are suffering more than before. Many people, out of fear of infection,  are hesitant to approach them and offer them food. It often happens that even those who care for the homeless become infected and have to be treated and quarantined. For this reason, homeless people often go without food for long periods of time. Another reality that we consider important because we are always dealing with it, is caring for people who are alone and who are unable to leave their homes. In this way their loneliness becomes more intense and they really suffer. Another important issue is the fatigue among the health personnel … and therefore, it is necessary to provide assistance in our health institutions.  

[4] As members of the International Vincentian Family, we experienced a very important moment in January 2020. How did that experience impact you?

For me personally, it was a very beautiful and precious experience, to which I return with great joy in my memories. I sincerely thank God for the gift of the Vincentian Family and for being able to personally participate in this beautiful communion. I continue to follow the contributions from various parts of the world … contributions that I had the opportunity to hear about as people struggle to alleviate poverty in the world. I understood that the world can be better if I, together with the Sisters of our Congregation, play our part in this beautiful work. I have discovered the value, but also the need, of a broader community and of mutual collaboration between the different branches of the Vincentian Family, both nationally and internationally. I would like similar meetings to be held in the future because they are a source of inspiration and enrichment. I want to publicly thank the organizers of that meeting for their dedication and commitment.

[5] Could you share with us which of Vincent’s teachings seem to be closest to the spirituality and the missionary initiatives of your Congregation?

Saint Vincent often reminded the Daughters of Charity that they must give themselves completely to God in order to serve the poor with charity. Christ Himself chose poverty voluntarily and wants to meet us as we serve the poor. We cannot always help those in need in the way that we would like, but we can always present our concern for them in prayer to God. Today we try to listen to the voice of God and, in the words of Saint Vincent, we want to seek for ways that will provide Christ with a home in this world. We want to be open to all needs and we want to try to help all those in need according to our strength and using the appropriate methodologies.

Elena Grazini