Lenten Snapshot #3: Clean Water is the Key to Life

First house in Kimwenza, founded in 1894.

First house in Kimwenza, founded in 1894.

During the 2020 Lenten season, we’ll share the work of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from around the world. We hope you in turn will share their work with your family, friends, students and faculty by email or by posting each Lenten Snapshot on a bulletin board or sharing the information via social media.

Sisters in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Satellite image of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Pelende community. Yellow line shows water line from source to overhead tanks. Overlayed red line shows vehicle access road to source.
A Congolese Sister of Notre Dame de Namur checks on a patient. 
Sister Ursule teaches at the Sala-Salakia High School in Kintenda.

On June 6, 1894, at the behest of the Jesuits, seven Sisters left Antwerp, Belgium, for Congo. The voyage by sea, train, and foot was long and difficult.  After five weeks of travel, they reached Kimwenza. The children arrived very quickly at the school they staffed. In 1896, five other Sisters from Namur, Belgium founded another mission in Ndembo. In 1900, the Sisters were forced to leave Kimwenza and Ndembo; they settled in Kisantu in 1900 and in Lemfu in 1905. 

Today, in the Congo-Kinshasa Province, there are currently 131 professed Sisters, 10 postulants, and three novices in training to become Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The median age of province members is 50 and their oldest member is 91 years old.

Most people in Congo, including our Sisters, earn less than $400 a year. One of three children die before the age of five and many mothers die in childbirth. Malaria, measles, and intestinal parasites causing diarrhea and anemia are prevalent. Tuberculosis, diabetes, and AIDS are growing health care concerns.

Because of years of neglect, civil war and the continued fighting in the north and east, the whole infrastructure of the country has deteriorated. This is reflected in the general state of disrepair. 

As a result, photovoltaic and water systems (including boreholes, pumps, tanks, and distribution plans) have been installed in Intenda, Kinsaku, Kitenda, Lemfu, Mpese, Ngidinga, Nselo, and Pelende to provide reliable electricity and clean water to the hospitals, clinics, schools, and communities in these villages.

The Sisters serve as teachers, administrators, nurses, midwives, nursing assistants, and one medical doctor in many ministries including education, health care, religious education, pastoral work, social services, and justice and peace. In the midst of their daily struggle for survival, our Sisters and the people among whom they serve continue with hope, joy and confidence to proclaim the goodness of God and of each other.

During this Lenten season, we are most grateful for your support in helping our Sisters educate for life as well as provide clean water, especially for the people of Africa.

Making known God’s goodness with you,



Sister Marie Smith, SNDdeN
Clean Water for Life Volunteer