National directory of sisters creates purpose, pride in Nigeria

Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Mary Nicolette Ihenacho, left, executive secretary of the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious, and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Mary Amanda Nwagbo, assistant secretary of the conference, look over the 2014 edition of their directory in her office. (Melanie Lidman)

The National Directory of the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious is not a flashy book. Tan cover, very few pictures, 144 pages. The pages are filled with the names of the more than 6,000 sisters who make up 52 recognized congregations in Nigeria, which doesn't exactly make for gripping reading.

It may not be an exciting book, but the directory is much more than a simple list: It's a tool of empowerment that is enabling women religious to regulate and improve the organization of sisters across Nigeria.

The problem of "spontaneous congregations," or unregulated groups of women who call themselves "sisters" has been an issue in Nigeria for years and is widespread across the world. The main worry regarding these illegal organizations is exploitation of young women.

"A priest can just get up one day and gather some young girls around him, and they're running unsupervised, and maybe he's paying a small stipend for them to be cleaning or doing work," said  Sr. Mary Nicolette Ihenacho, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister and executive secretary of the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious.

Young girls from rural areas might not realize they are joining an unrecognized congregation of sisters, or even that there is a difference between recognized and unrecognized congregations. They can end up as little more than poorly paid laborers, who do not receive any training or formation.

Read the full story at Global Sisters Report.

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