Sister Mary Grenough

Sister Mary Grenough, M.M.

Current Ministry Location-Monrovia, California

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Sister Mary was a member of Christ the King Parish and graduated from Loretto High School. She entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1956. Sister Mary earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from St. Anthony’s Hospital School of Nursing and from Nazareth College in Louisville.  Following completion of her Master’s Degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, MO she was assigned to the Philippines in 1963 where she served as a Nursing Service Supervisor at St. Joseph Hospital in Manapla on the island of Negros Occidental from 1963-1969. She then became founder and director of the Diocesan Family Life Center and secretary of the diocesan Social Action Center in Bacolod City, Negros from 1969-1972, giving seminars and lectures, as well as serving as a consultant on various health and social issues.

In 1972, she was assigned to Quezon City. Realizing that hospitals do not adequately serve the poor, she wished to go directly to the poor, to those who could not afford to pay for health care. Together with two other Filipino religious sisters, Sister Mary pioneered the Community Based Health Program among the unserved rural poor which began in three pilot areas of the Philippines and has now spread in over 100 programs throughout the country, expanding to include inter-faith and non-government organizations. Participants were taught how to become reliant in providing basic health care for themselves and their communities, learning correct use of modern medicines and applying their traditional knowledge of herbal medicines in ways that utilize scientific and clean methods. Eventually growing numbers of professional doctors, nurses and other health professionals participated in the program. By this time, tens of thousands of people continue to receive care through the program. What started as diocesan health programs led by “Rural Missionaries,” religious of different congregations, eventually grew to include inter-faith and NGO participation with a national office named the Council for Health and Development.

While on mission in Quezon City, Sister Mary met a priest from Kachin State, Myanmar who was searching for opportunities for Myanmar Kachin youth to study in the Philippines. The initial meeting led to many visits over the next two years, resulting in an urgent request for Sr. Mary to visit Myanmar in 1995. “We need Maryknoll in Myanmar!” the priest insisted. After her first one month long visit she could understand why the priest had declared that “if our young people do not get out of Myanmar to find out what is happening in the rest of the world, there is no future for our Church or for our country.”

Therefore, in 2005 Sister Mary returned to Myanmar and in 2006 requested a mission transfer from the Philippine Region to “Maryknoll Asia South.” In January of 2006, she helped to form the first collaborative team that Maryknoll sent to Myanmar – 3  Phillippine Catholic Lay Missioners, 2 Vietnamese-American Maryknoll Lay Missioners, 1 part-time Maryknoll  Brother whose base was Bangkok, Thailand, and 1 Maryknoll Sister – Mary. She was asked to be communicator for the team and to live in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), where there was better possibility for use of telephone and internet. The 3 Philippine Lay Missioners worked in Kachin State, where Sr. Mary had served since May of 2005.

Soon she became aware of the serious HIV/AIDS epidemic there, with almost no services available and among the people a great fear of even admitting being positive for HIV. In 2007, there were only 3 catholic groups in Myanmar offering any education, support or shelter for people with HIV/AIDS, and even these three groups did not know what each other were doing. She began to develop what is now known as MCHAN – the Myanmar Catholic HIV/AIDS Network.

Thanks to Sister Mary and a team of four Myanmar staff, ignorance and fear about the disease is lessening. Tests and referrals that can lead the way toward better treatment are being obtained.  People on the diocesan and parish level are learning how to understand and better respond to family and friends with AIDS through workshops, seminars and materials offered in their own dioceses. As of 2015, 13 out of the 16 dioceses in Myanmar had hosted workshops by Sister Mary’s team, and local residents were themselves learning how to teach about the subject and help people in the community get the information and care they desperately need.

Sister Mary served in the Philippines for nearly 40 years and served in Myanmar for 12 years.

Presently, she resides at the Maryknoll Sisters House in Monrovia, California.

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