- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Sister Agatha Munyanyi was 13 years old when she began to admire the work of the nuns at a private Catholic school she attended in Zimbabwe.

“My parents and grandparents were Catholic,” she said. “I went to boarding school where there were sisters of the congregation of Sisters of the Child of Jesus. Some were working in hospitals and some were teaching us. I wanted to be like one of them. I didn’t understand all of the other implications.”

As she followed the steps to becoming a nun, she was encouraged through this nurturing environment to choose a career that would fit her dreams and gifts. She has since acquired degrees geared to her interests in science, health, research and the environment.

Munyanyi, who has lived in Charleston in community with two other sisters, is a staff scientist with Potesta & Associates Inc., an engineering and environmental consulting firm.

“We have all enjoyed having sister here,” said Ron Potesta, company president. “She is an asset to the company and a great person to work with.”

She holds an armload of credentials and experience as well as a heart full of enthusiasm for serving others.

“I am very grateful for what I have been able to do,” she said. “Other people have made it possible for me. When I pray, I don’t want to ask for anything, but to thank. I have received a lot and I owe gratitude to people and to God.”

She first came to the United States in 1976 with a scholarship funded by the Benedictine Sisters of Yankton, South Dakota, to attend Hampton Institute in Virginia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Over the years, she has earned degrees from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, including a bachelor of science of medical technology, master’s in clinical chemistry and a doctorate in biomedical sciences.

She returned to Zimbabwe in the early 1980s and worked in medical laboratories for a mission hospital, as well as a private company. She conducted tests related to tuberculosis and drug sensitivity. After several weeks of treatment, she would see patients progress from extremely ill and thin to healthy again.

“It was the most fulfilling time of my profession,” she said. “They would come almost like a skeleton and you could see them changing. You saw people getting well. That was my reward.”

She also helped open satellite laboratories in rural areas where simple tests could be conducted saving people long, arduous trips to larger health facilities.

She eventually returned to the U.S. to further education at Old Dominion.

“I was offered a full scholarship for a teaching assistantship,” she said. “I taught laboratory classes for beginners in chemistry. It was a lot of fun.”

It was also a lot of work with juggling her coursework, teaching and grading papers.

She later was awarded a scholarship with additional funding, allowing her more time for coursework and research.

“That gave me two semesters I did not have to teach,” she said. “I worked seriously on my research.”

In 2013, she began writing her dissertation on “Experimental and Computational Analysis of the Synucleins.” She said this meant studying proteins, including one associated with Parkinson’s Disease. She graduated with her doctorate on May 10, 2014.

She and her fellow sisters were invited to Charleston by Monsignor P. Edward Sadie, rector of the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of Sacred Heart. The sisters help visit the sick and shut-ins.

In July 2014, Munyanyi was offered a position with Potesta & Associates.

She works in the office and reviews information to help businesses make sure they are meeting regulations to operate in various areas such as coal, natural gas, concrete, asphalt and chemical industries. Co-workers collect samples that are analyzed to see that environmental standards are met.

“I hope to (one day) go to the rivers with co-workers,” she said. “I analyze under supervision and release results to clients.”

Clad in the religious habit she wears daily, she said her day typically begins when she joins her fellow sisters in morning prayers. Her work day is 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The three sisters take turns with the cooking and household chores and join for evening prayer, as well as to share information about their respective days.

In her spare time, she enjoys going to the mall in search of “bargains,” reading relaxing novels and studying articles related to health.

Munyanyi, 62, said she enjoys life at a more gentle pace and prefers space to belongings.

Recently, after flying out to Washington to attend Pope Francis’ address to Congress, she continued on to her native Zimbabwe to spend time with family, including her father who is now in his 90s. She was one of seven children growing up. Her mother has passed, as well as three of her siblings.

“I am longing to see my Dad,” she said. “His eyesight and hearing are no longer good. I want to see my other sisters, fellow nuns.”

She has loved her life as a nun and has no regrets for choosing it. God has been good to her, she said. She also notes there are many ways to serve God in all walks of life.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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