Not Your Average Sisters

The Medical Mission Sisters is an order of Roman Catholic religious women. It was started in 1925 by Austrian Dr. Anna Dengel in response to the plight of Muslim women in India that were being denied medical care due to their gender. Dr. Dengel created this order of religious women that would study medicine in order to care for the poor and forgotten all over the world. Today, there are over 600 Sisters and almost 100 Associates (non-celibate members of the order) in the Medical Mission Sisters, spread over five continents, that combat injustice in the United States and abroad. Its North American headquarters are in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia.

Many of the Sisters at Fox Chase have retired after working abroad for thirty or more years. Even though they are retired, they continue their healing mission in their local community. The Sisters have branches throughout Philadelphia, including the Free Clinic of Catholic Workers in the north Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington. This clinic provides free care in this low-income area. Other Sisters work at women’s shelters, providing aid to homeless women and victims of domestic violence. These women are provided a meal and a hot shower, as well as conversation with the Sisters and other volunteers.

The Medical Mission Sisters is committed not just to physical cures, but also to whole-person healing. “Healing is different than curing,” says Sister Estelle, a member of the Fox Chase community. “Health is healing, becoming whole…whatever affects the body affects the spirit, and also the mind.” This belief has led the Sisters to pursue holistic medical care and to develop programs like New Jerusalem Now. Founded and directed by Sister Margaret McKenna in Kensington, New Jerusalem Now is a residential drug recovery program that seeks not just to detox those enrolled in the program, but also to aid them in overcoming all obstacles that keep them from pursuing a fulfilling life.

The Sisters also believe that the health of the planet is connected to the health of humans, and therefore “the health of the earth became part of our healing mission,” according to Sister Estelle. In the 1990’s, several of the Sisters worked in Philadelphia, cleaning up the parks and woods. The Sisters are mindful of the products they buy and are committed to recycling in order to reduce the impact of waste. Currently, a new building is being built on the Fox Chase campus that “is as green as it can be,” says Sister Estelle. The building, aptly named Mission Green, will be an independent, low-cost, living facility for seniors. Its scheduled completion date is in late November.

Outsiders are welcome to visit the Fox Chase campus. They may rent one of the three peace hermitages, a small cabin in the woods on campus meant to provide a spiritual retreat for visitors. The campus also has a sizeable thrift shop that is open to the outside community, offering clothing, books, movies, jewelry and knick-knacks. For information on how to get involved in the work of the Medical Mission Sisters or to plan a visit to the Fox Chase campus, visit their website at




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