Current Ministry Location: Nairobi, Kenya East Africa
Noreen McCarthy was born by the Atlantic Ocean October 9, 1926 in Kilrelig, Ballinskelligs, County Kerry, Eire (Ireland.) to Ellen (Sullivan) McCarthy and John McCarthy. She had 6 brothers: Daniel, Dennis, James, John, Michael and Patrick, and and 4 sisters: Bridie, Joan, Mary and Eileen. Noreen graduated from Holy Faith Convent High School, Dublin, Ireland in 1944.
After completing business studies in Sherry’s College in Dublin, she passed a government exam enabling her to transfer to the United States where she worked as a secretary to the consul because she knew French, English and Irish Languages. In New York, she heard about the Maryknoll Sisters who, she though, matched her spirit.
Noreen entered the Maryknoll Sisters at their novitiate at the Venard in Clark Summit, PA on September 6, 1951. She pronounced First Vows March 7, 1954 and Final Vows March 71970 in Tanzania. Noreen had always wanted to go to Africa so was happily surprised to be assigned to Tanzania in 1956. With a little time out for studies, she has been there ever since.
After language study in Nyegina she responded to a need for teaching women in Makoko, Musoma. From there she moved to Kabanga, Kigoma where she ran a Catechetical Centre for African Sisters from five East African countries. She met a thirteen year old African girl with whom she is still friends decades later. In Africa women carry things on their heads and Agnes was carrying manure collected from the nearby fields. Sister Noreen needed some for her vegetable garden. Noreen’s first question was, “Why aren’t you in school?” “I’ve no school fees” was the response. Sister Noreen paid her school fees for the year, the equivalent of about $20. Agnes was an exceptionally bright and talented young woman and earned scholarships from then on receiving her Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis and a year’s research fellowship there.
Sister Noreen became the Religious Education Coordinator for the Diocese of Arusha and taught in a minor seminary. When she and Sister Rachel Kunkler planned a lay leadership training centre in Arusha, a Tanzanian father with six children, William Kessy, left a secure government job to join their team. They trained two thousand lay leaders for small Christian communities in all the parishes. At the same time they had a small farm with ten young people working in animal husbandry to make the centre self-reliant.
For twenty years, Sisters Noreen and Rachel, responding to a request from the Tanzania Ministry of Labour and Youth Development, worked in the Iringa Region, both urban and rural, accompanying and facilitating projects for seven youth groups in four districts. These young people were able to build houses for themselves and bring water into their villages, among other things. The Sisters were consultants for women and youth groups on alternative energy—solar lighting and windmill water pumps; business and marketing skills for economic projects. They did HIV/AIDS counseling and prepared young, economically poor women for secondary and post secondary education which included tutoring, getting scholarships and keeping contact while they were away at school.
Awards: Sister Noreen, being the mzee (elder) accepted an award from the President of Tanzania in 1995 honoring the work that she and Sister Rachel had done in the villages of the Iringa Region. The Lyadebwe Youth Group and Tanzania had also been honored in 1993 by UNESCO as Janka Sanga, the young chairman of the group was the person chosen to represent Tanzania from names submitted by every Region in the country. He attended a two week program in Paris and received a medal designed by Picasso, the only youth from a rural area.
Sisters Noreen and Rachel have taken their turns staffing the house of hospitality in Nairobi, Kenya for Maryknoll Sisters in Africa for retreats, meetings, medical care, etc. However, they have been in touch with the folks in Iringa daily by cell phone and have gone to Iringa every two months for a week or so working with the youth and economic projects. Sister Noreen has also served as a tutor.