Sister Carol Wetli

We found Sister Carol on a Thursday morning in August, stopping by the Ohio Province Office to drop off bread for the Sisters in the Health Center and the Province staff before traveling downtown to give the rest to those who feed the homeless.. She always wears beautiful bright dresses and a smile.  

Sister Carol just returned from a 30-year ministry in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We sat down with her to hear about her stories ministering to young women in both countries. While in Nigeria, she worked with young women in their 20s and early 30s. After some time looking into different types of religious life, these women decided that Notre Dame was the place where they would be happy and so officially entered the Postulate to begin a serious initiation into religious life.  After two years they would proceed to the novitiate for another two years of more formation culminating in their first profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Throughout these four years of initial commitment Sister Carol was part of a Team responsible for discernment, formation, and teaching. 

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from Britain came to Nigeria in 1963 initially to teach catechetics, but with no intention of beginning formation. After repeated requests from young women requesting to join them, the sisters finally decided in 1983 that they would do so.  Today there are 108 professed Nigerian SNDs of whom 89 have made perpetual vows, while 25 novices and postulants are currently in initial commitment. Our Congo mission was begun by Belgian SNDs in 1894. When Sister Carol served there in the 80s, there were still a good number of Belgian sisters there until recently.  Now there are over 130 Congolese sisters carrying on flourishing missions in very difficult, dangerous, and impoverished settings throughout the country. 

We asked Sister Carol what was the impact of her ministry in Nigeria on the sisters there. She said, “After serving 2 years in Zaire, the former name of Congo, I felt a strong call from God to return to Africa to support and empower our newer members and contribute to their growing self-confidence. In the end, I feel I did that very well. I was the last expatriate to work in Province formation, leadership, finance, and development. Each time I finished a major responsibility, I carefully handed over everything I could to my designated Nigerian successor. By the time I returned to the U.S. for good in 2020, I felt that I had contributed something of value to the spirit and growth of one of our younger Notre Dame Units. Having to wait an extra 5 months to return because of canceled airflights, closed borders, and lockdowns, all at a time when there were no vaccines yet, was another story. I did what I could with the opportunities I had, and I am at peace with moving into a very different ministry now.”

We then asked Sister Carol what impact the Nigerian people had upon her. She said, “It’s an impact that will never end. Nigerians, as well as Congolese, taught me ‘to go with the flow’ and that relationships are more important than tasks. A parish priest will often travel a long distance to be present at the vow ceremony of a novice from his parish, sometimes traveling late at night and rushing back home to be present for his parish Masses the next day. A wealthy donor must be physically present at a fund raiser to announce his donation. A phone call, text message or e-mail can never substitute for one’s physical presence at a burial, wedding, or award ceremony, even in the middle of a pandemic. Many celebrations can last several days up to an entire week, and it is the responsibility of the celebrants to see that everyone is housed and fed. I think Africans in general are cheerful people who know how to celebrate. There are no invitation-only weddings or funerals. Everyone comes, certainly in the rural areas - the whole village.

Another gift Sister Carol received is that of being strengthened by the resiliency of the people.  No matter how great their hardships, life goes on.  The dangers of travel with police roadblocks, “revenue collectors,” armed robbers, kidnappers, thugs, bandits, terrorists, bad roads, erosion, and scarcity of petrol, journeys continue to be made.  Most of the journeys are to offer the support of presence to families and loved ones in some kind of difficulty. Inflation, food scarcity, fear, lack of stability, never stop people from celebrating, singing and dancing even at funerals.

When we asked Sister Carol what her greatest gift was to the people in both Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she said, “I think my greatest gift to the Nigerian and Congolese communities has been to be a sister and a companion to the sisters in whatever ministry I did and to model servant leadership. That means that titles, levels of education, background, and skin color do not make one person superior to another. I wish people in the U.S. could realize this.  Whether we clean gutters, scrub floors or head a university or are elected to leadership, everything we do and however we do it brings a little of God’s goodness."