Using a CSE education to help native countries

Sister Zoto in Guatemala

A College of Saint Elizabeth education has been transformational in the lives of four international religious Sisters. These women, of several different Catholic orders, left their native countries to pursue degrees at CSE that will enhance their ability to serve those in need.

Through the International Sisters Program at CSE, religious Sisters are encouraged to apply for admission at a special tuition rate and, if accepted, may request housing from the Sisters of Charity at the Motherhouse adjacent to campus.

The Sisters currently in the program are: Sister Marie-Prudencia Ahanonu, ’19, of Nigeria; Sister Cesilia Martinez-Zoto, ’18, originally of El Salvador; Sister Anna Loan Nguyen, ’18, of Vietnam; and Sister Maria Tram Phan, ’17, of Vietnam.

“The plan is to take everything I’m learning here to develop my country,” says Sister Ahanonu.

Both Sister Ahanonu and Sister Martinez-Zoto recognized that their CSE education will help them be more efficient and effective in their efforts in their home countries. As a member of the Holy Family Sisters of the Needy, Sister Ahanonu works directly with orphans, unwed mothers and those with disabilities. She’s double majoring in both health administration and psychology to better under the physical and mental needs of her patients.

“In Nigeria, the planning and management of health is quite different than in the U.S.,” says Sister Ahanonu. “I’ve seen the difference between my ideology before, and after my education here. I now know the failures in the communication system that exist between orphanages, hospitals and clinics and know how to improve them.”

Ideally, Sister Ahanonu will continue to earn her master’s in health administration and set up her own clinic to benefit children when she returns to Nigeria.

After studying psychology at CSE, Sister Martinez-Zoto also recognizes the value a CSE education will make in her efforts to assist orphans, abandoned youth and the elderly in Guatemala.

“When you don’t have the knowledge, you can make mistakes by treating people improperly,” says Sister Martinez-Zoto. “Studying abnormal psychology really helped me. When you are able to realize what specific behaviors actually mean, then you can look for better treatment options.”

Her newfound knowledge of psychology enabled her to analyze the errors made in Guatemalan orphanages and attain the skills necessary to rectify them. Sister Martinez-Zoto ultimately hopes to earn her master’s in psychology and use her education to work as a psychologist in a Guatemalan school or orphanage.

Vietnamese Sisters:

While Sister Ahanonu and Sister Martinez-Zoto both intend to improve specific functions within orphanages, schools or clinics, Sister Phan and Sister Nguyen have a broader mission: simply to serve the people of Vietnam.

Prior to studying at CSE, Sister Phan worked as a kindergarten teacher in Vietnam. However, her Superior, in the Daughters of Our Lady of Visitation, told her, “Go get your education because it will help you further your mission.”

Shortly after, she applied to CSE’s theology program and began learning how to deepen her relationship with God and further her ability to connect with people who don’t identify as Catholic.

“I don’t talk about God when I meet non-Catholics,” says Sister Phan. “I talk about my life, how we serve, the way we love and allow people to see God through our actions.”

Sister Phan believes that strengthening her understanding of theology will better equip her for spreading the message of Christ and establishing a common ground with all people. After graduating with her bachelor’s, Sister Phan hopes to earn her master’s in theology before returning to Vietnam.

Sister Nguyen, a member of The Love of The Holy Cross, also intends on using her CSE degree to foster relationships with the disadvantaged in Vietnam. She believes her sociology degree will be instrumental in preparing her to serve the poor in the countryside and encourage young females to join a religious vocation.

“I will teach the people how to interact with other people, not just within the same community, but different communities and cultures,” says Sister Nguyen. “We have to treat all people the same because all people are the image of God and deserve dignity.”

She believes that encouraging young women to join religious life will help empower them and strengthen a community dedicated to serving the poor.

All four Sisters will graduate from the College of Saint Elizabeth with the knowledge to make real, lasting changes in their native countries. Their degrees are helping them physically save lives, bring comfort to the mentally anguished, guide the spiritually broken, and above all, spread the message of Christ.

Mary Colleen Robinson has a communication degree with a concentration in journalism and is currently working as the PR/Social Media Specialist at the College of Saint Elizabeth. 

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