Not many will be familiar with the name Kermaria. Like Maryknoll, Mill Hill and Scheut among others, it is the name the apostolic religious congregation of the Filles de Jésus/Daughters of Jesus is popularly known by in France.
They are well known and appreciated by Mill Hill missionaries working in French speaking Africa, in particular in Northern Cameroon (Bini-Dang) and DR Congo (Basankusu).
It was a real pleasure to reconnect with them on my recent visit to Kinshasa where for a number of years now they have established a community in the Kingabwa section of town. Here they live cheek by jowl with various industrial complexes and a huge urban slum on the banks of river Congo.
Their formation house (postulancy), a little further along the road, temporarily stands empty. ‘Vocations to the apostolic religious life have dried up, in particular in our part of Cameroon, ’, Sr Denise Toublant told me. In her capacity as provincial of the congregation for Africa she had come on a visit to DR Congo and was planning the undertake the arduous onward journey to Basankusu.
In the mid-1980s the Filles de Jésus came to Basankusu mindful of their charism to go to people on the margins and now have a community at Bokakata.
Founded in 1834 in Kermaria, Brittany, France with as its goal the care of the sick, the poor and the education of girls the Daughters of Jesus began to look beyond the narrow confines of national borders in the late 1950s in response to the appeals of the bishops of the developing world and opened houses in Africa, the Antilles and South America.
Currently, the Daughters of Jesus serve in France, Belgium, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, England and Honduras. A community of Daughters was opened in Northern Ireland in 1968, where the Daughters of Jesus shared the lives and sorrows of the people of Northern Island through many years of troubled times. That community was closed in 2011.
That same year, on 1 July, the Daughters of Jesus of Brittany merged with an older congregation of the same name founded in 1820 in Vaylats in southern France. The motherhouse of the other congregation lies on the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella, and is one of the sites which has given hospitality to the pilgrims making this journey for a millennium.
At a congregational assembly in December 2017 at Yaoundé the members of the African province of the Daughters of Jesus looked at and assessed their various commitments.
“The next day we travelled throughout the Province, via the screen, where presentations allowed us to visualize the evolution of our commitments in the Province and the investment of the communities for the smooth running of our service to the “little ones”.
At Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Saint Joseph of Kermaria Literacy Center welcomes 358 children, of which 296 are in academic upgrading, and will eventually join a normal course. 62 others are in a literacy and sewing program.
At Brobo in the Ivory Coast, at the Institution of Mother of Mercy, the team accompanies 47 children with a variety of handicaps, towards greater independence. Some young people have been able to return to their village and earn their living. Six others with hearing impairments will begin training in view of obtaining a certificate of studies at primary level.
The residence of Our Lady of Africa at Soa in Cameroon, hosts 49 university students of different nationalities and religions in a pleasant and safe environment where they can experience fraternal living.
”Dorval Protection” at Daoukro in the Ivory Coast has evolved from 45 children in 2012 to 182 today, a sign that parents have confidence in our ability to give a good education to their children.
In fact, since our origins “the Sacred Humanity of the Son of God” has been honored in young people and children who, in one way or another, were deprived and are now autonomous.”
As a posting on their website loudly proclaims, the Filles de Jésus de Kermaria are not lacking in playful creativity: “Going to the peripheries is also possible in meeting people by means of dancing!”
Fons Eppink mhm