Sister Miriam Francis Perlewitz

Location

Bangladesh

“It was like beginning life all over again.” Sister Miriam Francis recalled of her first days in Bangladesh in 1985. “I had to approach the Bangladeshi way of life with emptiness. But in the creative demand on my own resources, I felt a whole new area of my being come alive.”

mperlowitzWhat happened to her personally, Sister Miriam Francis felt, is what happens to the Church in mission.

Entering the Maryknoll Sisters Novitiate in Valley Park, MO, in 1948 from Milwaukee, WI, Sister Miriam Francis made her First Profession of Vows in 1951. She received a B.E. from Maryknoll Teachers College in 1954. Sister Miriam Francis taught Art at the college and then served as an Assistant Novice Mistress and Liturgical Music Director until her assignment to Hong Kong in 1958.

After teaching Music and Biblical Knowledge two years at Maryknoll Convent School, Sister Miriam Francis was assigned to the Philippines to be Assistant Novice Mistress at the Novitiate in Quezon City where women from Asia entered the Maryknoll Sisters. In 1967, Sister Miriam Francis returned to the U.S. for studies, earning her M.A. in Biblical Literature and her Ph.D. with a Major in Biblical Languages and Literature at St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO.

In 1978, Sister Miriam Francis was Co-Director of the Mission Renewal Program to respond to the spiritual, personal and professional needs of returning missioners. She was a Faculty Member of the Maryknoll School of Theology from 1979 to 1991, and it was in her sabbatical year in 1985 that Sister Miriam Francis began teaching Scripture at the National Major Seminary in Dhaka, Bangladesh, rotating six months at the Maryknoll School of Theology and six months in Bangladesh.

In 1992, Sister Miriam Francis was assigned full time to Bangladesh, where she continues to teach at the National Seminary.

However, that same year Sister Miriam Francis also worked with another Maryknoll Sister to offer an environment where women of all religious beliefs afflicted with drug addiction problems could begin a recovery process. Of this experience, she said,  “Many of the women on drugs were beset by poverty, but some were also college graduates, frustrated because they could not obtain positions in professions and businesses in a male-dominated culture.”

After several years, the Sisters changed gears from rehabilitation to prevention through education.

In 1996 they opened the BACHA Education for Life Center in Dhaka which aims to counter drug-addiction with an innovative curriculum of human values, training young women and men as facilitators to do this in secondary schools in several dioceses. BACHA’s training course shows how human values are reinforced by the basic teachings of the great world religions because the majority of students and teachers are Muslim, with a minority of Hindus and Christians. The course given once weekly over three years enables youth to cope with life’s challenges without turning to drugs. This course has expanded to colleges, Sister formation houses and seminaries. A couple of government schools also use the program. BACHA is a Bengali word meaning “to live again,” or “to rise up.”

BACHA is also an English acronym for Bangladesh Alternative Course for Human Advancement. In order to make this successful program self-supporting, in 2001 the two Sisters opened the primary BACHA English Medium School, including nursery and kindergarten, in a lower middle income residential area. Their hopes are that the income will financially support the values education program while incorporating values education at the early stages of development.

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