Medical Mission Sisters

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Dengel receives an honorary doctorate (Nijmegen, 1958)
English Logo of the Medical Mission Sisters

The Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) are a religious congregation of women in the Roman Catholic Church founded in 1925 and dedicated to providing the poor of the world better access to health care. They were formerly officially known as the "Society of the Catholic Medical Missions".


The congregation grew out of the experiences of Dr. Anna Dengel, a native of Austria. Dr. Dengel had served for several years as a medical missionary to the poor of what was then Northern India and today is the nation of Pakistan. She had experienced firsthand the unnecessary sickness and death of countless Muslim women and children, whose customs kept them cut off from medical care administered by male physicians.

After months of traveling to give talks about the conditions in India, and speaking with many members of the clergy, Dr. Dengel became convinced that only a group of Religious Sisters who had been professionally trained as physicians could reach these women, who were cut off from adequate medical care by cultural and religious traditions. Such a project, however, was contrary to canon law of the time, which prohibited members of religious institutes from practicing medicine.

Nevertheless, she drew up a Constitution for the Community she had in mind and wrote that the members were “to live for dedicate themselves to the service of the sick for the love of God and be properly trained according to the knowledge and standards of the time in order to practice medicine in its full scope, to which the Sisters were to dedicate their lives.”

Permission was granted on June 12, 1925, to begin the new Congregation and, on September 30, 1925, the “First Four”—Dr. Anna Dengel of Austria, Dr. Johanna Lyons of Chicago, Evelyn Flieger, R.N., originally from Britain, and Marie Ulbrich, R.N., of Luxemburg, Iowa—came together in Washington, D.C., to begin the Medical Mission Sisters.

The “First Four” were unable to profess religious vows officially because the Catholic Church had yet to approve Sisters working in the medical field, yet they lived as professed Sisters just the same. Finally, in 1935, after the Medical Mission Sisters had grown, the Catholic Church changed its regulations and approved Sisters’ working in medicine and all of its branches. The Medical Mission Sisters then made their public, canonical vows, and they began to establish communities around the world.


The North American headquarters for the Congregation came to be established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1964 when, like The Singing Nun (Soeur Sourire) had done a year earlier - the Sisters began singing their own homegrown brand of spiritually-themed folk music as an aide to the medical health and wellness they professed.

In 1965 one of the most prolific of these composers, Sister Miriam Therese Winter had composed what would become a Grammy-award-winning worldwide hit Joy is Like the Rain.[1] Response was so strong to the song that other songs were written and a marathon eight-hour recording session was commissioned in Philadelphia in early 1966, at which this song was recorded along with dozens of others which would make up their first five albums.[citation needed]

Beginnings of international hospitals[edit]

In 1965, at the request of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Mother Anna made a visit to that nation to investigate the possibilities of starting a hospital for the people of that nation. Two Medical Mission Sisters arrived in Ethiopia in 1967 to start the groundwork for this mission. A few more Sisters came in 1969, and their work was able to begin. As of 2008, there were a dozen Sisters serving there, both foreigners and native Ethiopians.[2]

Current status[edit]

As of 2010, there are about 600 Sisters in the congregation, serving in 17 nations around the globe. The four first Sisters of the Congregation were from three different nations. In keeping with this heritage of internationality among the "First Four", the Sisters in the Congregation today come from 23 nations.

The Sisters serve in a wide variety of ways. Among them, through: health care and education; wholeness and wellness programs; the development of women; work for justice; worship and spirituality; and music and song. They also have 80 Associates, women and men of many nations who share their values and have committed themselves to live the mission of the Society, which is "to be a healing presence at the heart of a wounded world."

As examples of the range of services the Sisters do in different countries:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joy is Like the Rain
  2. ^ Ethiopian Catholic Church Archived 2011-05-21 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Medical Mission Sisters website
  4. ^ Kolodziej, Maureen (2006). "Sister McKenna speaks about her call to serve". Collegian. La Salle University. Archived from the original on 7 February 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  5. ^ Katting, Heidi (6 June 2018). "Heilig Kreuz – Zentrum für christliche Meditation und Spiritualität - Team - Über uns (=Holy Cross - Centre for Christian Meditation and Spirituality - Team - About us)" (in German). Heilig Kreuz – Zentrum für christliche Meditation und Spiritualität. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  6. ^ Medical Missionary Sisters. "Missionsärztliche Schwestern in Frankfurt (=Medical Missionary Sisters in Frankfurt)" (in German). Retrieved 13 April 2021.