The Mantellate Sisters’ mission in Equatorial Africa

Promoting women’s integral development

 Promoting women’s integral development  ING-014
05 April 2024

The Mantellate Sisters, Servants of Mary, have been serving in Africa for more than a century. Sister Noretta Zecchinon, Superior General, recounts their mission and says: “I have always been struck by the fact that women are the backbone of the household economy in Africa, as the Pope also says”.

Last year marked 100 years of service of the Mantellate Sisters, Servants of Mary, in what is now called eSwatini and was formerly known as Swaziland. In Uganda, instead, the Congregation has been present only since 2000.

Sister Noretta Zecchinon, Superior General of the Mantellate Sisters, Servants of Mary, explained the Congregation’s contribution and outlined the social situation in Uganda, from the point of view of the women’s condition. “I have always been struck by the fact that women are the backbone of the household economy in Africa, as the Pope also says. On average, every woman in Uganda has seven children. We have three communities in the country. The largest is Kisoga in the Mukono district. We began collaborating with the Friars Servants of Mary, after they invited us to help with pastoral activities they had already started a few years earlier. Some Sisters joined us to help as catechists, as animators of parish pastoral work and as teachers”.

The presence of the Servants of Mary in the territory

In Uganda, as in most African countries, the health system — which is often lacking — is the most pressing problem. “The Sisters organized a small dispensary, where a maternity ward was opened, which is in high demand, as is the presence of the Sisters in this type of care, the Mother Superior General continued.

Sister Noretta emphasised the importance of the presence of women when women are in labour. “We are tackling the request to expand this service of caring for women, especially those who are about to become mothers”. The Servants of Mary do their utmost to help women develop their skills, even in the simplest of ways. “We organised a sewing workshop and have been asked to open a second smaller workshop, perhaps a hairdresser, so that they can learn a trade. They also will need basic knowledge of computers. The idea is to expand the service, in order to promote women and ensure that they may really become ever more key players and can, in turn, support their family and the upbringing of the children”, Mother Superior concluded.

Faith literacy

“I would like to reflect on the words that the Bishop of Manzini, eSwatini, said towards the end of the centenary celebration: ‘One hundred years, and now?’. Conversing with him, we asked ourselves: which literacy is most urgent? Certainly, in African and other countries, there is still the need for basic stages of literacy: reading, writing and maths, as it was called in the olden days. But I believe that now, throughout the world, there is an illiteracy of faith and knowledge of the Christian faith that I believe must see us in the foreground. We Sisters must use all our strength and abilities precisely to share it and thus put into practice what the Church has been saying for years, that is, the need for a new evangelisation”, Sister Zecchinon concluded.

The example of the martyrs, beacon of faith in Uganda

In Uganda, the Congregation of the Servants of Mary is also responsible for the formation of novices. One of the communities in Jinja, at the source of the Nile, looks after the novitiate, and for years, there has been a continuous stream of girls, not only from Uganda but also from Congo, especially from some parts bordering Uganda and Kenya. “I was there for four and a half years, and before that for 19 years in eSwatini, and I believe that in Uganda the fact that we have had 22 martyrs, in addition to others at different times, who sacrificed their lives for the faith, is the underlying reason that local families are happy if one of their daughters expresses the desire to offer herself to the Lord. There is almost an encouragement in the country, and this poses the great task of discernment”.


Maria Milvia Morciano
Vatican City