Sr Tariro Chimanyiwa O.P is currently the Assistant Prioress General of the Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Congregation. She made her First Profession in 1977 and perpetual profession in 1982 in Zimbabwe. She is a trained teacher for the Hearing impaired and served as school administrator in Harare. She was a Directress of Postulants, also served on the Regional Council in Zimbabwe.
I come from a very big family of ten children. My Father had two wives, my mother being the second wife who came into his life in his old age. We never called my half brothers and sisters anything but brother and sister. I am the youngest of them all. After my father separated from his first wife, the remaining family members were baptised in the Catholic Church.
When I was about four years old my father died, and we moved to live with my grandfather where the rest of the clan was. This new home was a Protestant area. There were no Catholic schools. Our village school was under the influence of Methodist missionaries. My first years of Primary education was in a Methodist run school and the upper primary was under the Anglican influence. So, I got a good dose of both Methodist and Anglican teachings which I enjoyed very much. I particularly enjoyed the missions they run sometimes in the villages having all weekend singing and preaching especially in the evenings. Despite these influences I always said I was a Catholic and my mother never stopped going to the Catholic church which was quite some distance from our home, but we would walk together once or twice a month to attend services. The Priest came occasionally to the out station. In the village where we lived, they also tried to convert my mother, but she remained faithful to her Catholic faith until she died.
When did I feel called to Religious Life?
For me it was a process that took many years of formation in my youth. Things I got interested in and the way I started thinking about my future.
I always thought there was more to life than just finishing primary school and then get ready for marriage. I saw my friends getting into marriage as soon as they finished their primary education. I wanted more in life. So, I would not settle for this young man and want to marry him, and then what next?
This was quite foreign in my time and my friends found me strange. I was also quite principled that I did not play about with boys. If I was going to be married I wanted it to be white wedding in every sense. No experiments. For me on reflecting on my life this was God’s way of preparing me for my call to religious life.
The clear message of my call came when I went to Secondary school run by Dominican Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was my first real encounter of people who left their Homeland and followed the Lord where he wanted them to be. Their dedication to the education of the African girl child touched me deeply. I was used to help only those whom I knew or were related to me. Here in a foreign land were young German girls who totally were for us and the good of those entrusted to them. I felt I too can give my life for my people and work together with the sisters. God had put this deep desire in me to be free to love and serve whoever needed to be helped. Marrying one man and loving him and the family was limiting for me. This was the answer to me wanting more in life.
The atmosphere at the school made it possible for me to realise that I was being called to the Religious life. there were possibilities of attending Mass daily as a student and receiving the sacraments. The Sisters prepared the students to receive the sacraments or be received in the church. The other students did not discourage one if anyone felt that was what they felt God was calling them to be. So, every year there were several girls who joined Sisterhood and there were several Congregations one could choose to join.
Where Friends and family supportive?
Back home away from school, this was not welcome at all. My friends told me I was wasting my talents to go to the Convent. How could you waste such chances of education and go to the Convent? My mother wanted grandchildren from me and wanted me to look after her in her old age as I was the youngest. It took some persuasion to get her permission.
Fortunately, I had one sister who understood my desire and she took the trouble to talk to the family until they saw the point. It took two years for me to get permission. In the meantime, I decided to work for a year just to give my mother a little support, also to experience what it is to work and earn a living.
Did I have any doubts?
Doubts did not come early in my religious life. I was full of eagerness to serve the Lord. I was happy in what I was doing as a young Sister. I enjoyed my work and I felt I was making a difference to the lives of the Deaf children I taught.
I had doubts when I saw some of my friends having children and enjoying life with their families, especially those who had entered religious life with me and left some years later. I questioned myself, ‘Am I in the right mind or they are?’ or During the Liberation war when things were hard shall I stay or go home and look after my mother? Fortunately, my sisters were very supportive both Religious Sisters and blood sisters. They always affirmed me and encouraged me that I was in the right place.
Have I been able to maintain hobbies and interests I had before?
I loved music and singing, and I was gifted with a good singing voice. My community realised this, and it has been always appreciated and encouraged. I loved dancing, and in the communities, I have lived there was always time for dancing and singing. Yes, I have kept my hobbies of gardening and sewing and even learnt new ones in the process. In the convent we are encouraged to have hobbies so that we have some creative work or things to do in our old age.
What brings me most joy as a religious?
In my family I was the last born and had no young sisters but when I came to the convent I have so many young and old sisters who are my family now. I belong to such a big family that I can go anywhere in the world where I find religious sisters, I have a family. I was studying in Finland years ago. When I was in Helsinki, I told the lady I was staying with that I wanted to visit my brothers. And she asked me how I am related to them - I told her they were Dominicans and I am a Dominican, so they are my brothers. She could not believe it, so we went together to the Priory and we met the Brothers who were very happy to meet their little African Sister and they invited me to stay for lunch. She was worried that I would get in trouble, but the Brothers told her not to worry and they will put me on the bus to come home in good time. She even wanted to leave some bus money but they just told her we will take care of her. She was amazed how I felt at home with these strangers. For me they were not strangers. My Dominican family brings joy. The other thing that gives me joy is to see that my life makes a difference to other people’s lives, my service to them, my visiting them and just being with them makes people appreciated and valued as people no matter what their status is.
What would I say to someone discerning his/her vocation?
Consecrated life is self-emptying of one’s life for the sake of God’s Kingdom. It is wasting (might be a typo?) life in pursuit of fulfilling God’s will no matter what the cost maybe. Are you ready for such sacrifice? Are you ready to forget self and put others first in your life? It is a public profession of taking a stance that declares the primary aim of their life is seeking God above all things. If the person is drawn to such high ideals, I would encourage the person to try the life. It does not mean that those who are in it have achieved but they still work on it until they die. It is a perfection we aspire to achieve with God’s grace and help. Like St. Paul we say, “I am still running the race and I haven’t won yet but keep trying to reach the finishing line to win the prize for which Christ captured me for”.