Maryknoll Sister served overseas for 50 years

Maryknoll Sister Mary Grenough walked with two young girls through the Hlaing Tharyar Township in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, in 2015. She was on her way to visit the homes of residents who needed basic medical care, one of the services provided by “Mary’s Dream,” a non-profit she founded. (Photo Special to the Record by Sean Sprague)
Maryknoll Sister Mary Grenough walked with two young girls through the Hlaing Tharyar Township in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, in 2015. She was on her way to visit the homes of residents who needed basic medical care, one of the services provided by “Mary’s Dream,” a non-profit she founded. (Photo Special to the Record by Sean Sprague)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
When Maryknoll Sister Mary Grenough boarded a cargo ship to the Philippines on her first overseas mission in 1963, she wasn’t completely certain that’s where she wanted to live. She was certain, however, that she’d go anywhere she was needed.

A desire to serve the poor led Sister Grenough, a native of Louisville, to spend five decades living with and serving the poor in the Philippines and Myanmar in Southeast Asia.
Sister Grenough, 83, returned to the United States on Sept. 8. She is recovering from an illness and will retire to the Maryknoll community in Monrovia, Calif., by the end of the year.

Sister Grenough, who recently celebrated her 60th jubilee, entered religious life at age 23. She had recently graduated from Nazareth College, now Spalding University,
with a degree in nursing and a strong desire to be a missionary.

“I was attracted to doing work with the poor abroad,” said Sister Grenough during a phone interview from her temporary residence in Maryknoll, N.Y.
She said her parents instilled in her the desire to serve people in poverty. Raising their family in the post-Great Depression era, the Grenoughs were no strangers to struggles.

“We grew up poor, but we were always made aware of people who had much less than we did,” said Sister Grenough, noting that her parents always reached out to those in need. “We were taught that the best thing to do was to please God.”

Her brother Richard Grenough, formerly a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville in the 1960s and early 1970s, said that’s what he recalls about his sister.

“She was always trying to help people,” he said. “We’re proud of her. Between the Philippines and Myanmar, she lived on that side of the world for more time than she’s lived here.”

Richard Grenough said he and his six siblings grew up in a home devoted to the Catholic faith.

“We were daily Mass goers,” he recalled. Five of the seven Grenough siblings, entered religious life at one point, he said. His brothers, the late John Grenough and Vincent Grenough, are also former priests of the archdiocese. Mildred Grenough, a sister, served as a Maryknoll Sister for 10 years in Lima, Peru, before leaving religious life, as well.

For their parents, Richard Grenough said, “It was a very special thing to have so many of us in religious life at the same time.”

Sister Mary Grenough said her first experience with the Maryknoll Sisters came while she was in the fourth grade at Christ the King School. Two Maryknoll Sisters, who had recently returned from serving in China, visited her classroom and spoke about living in that country and ministering to the Chinese people. At that young age she was already drawn to a life of service to the poor.

Her first overseas mission was to the Philippines, where Sister Grenough spent 10 years on the Negros Occidental Island, located in the Visayas region of the country.

Seven of those years were spent working as a nurse in a hospital. She spent the other three years working with peasant farmers and sugar plantation workers through a community-based health program providing basic education, teaching lessons on how the body functions and how to stay healthy.

In the years following, she served in several other areas of the Philippines, developing community-based health programs where people in need could access basic medical care. In turn, she said, the people taught her about traditional treatments using medicinal plants.

“They were wonderful people,” she said. That experience is “what drew me to start a similar program in Myanmar.”

Sister Grenough visited Myanmar briefly for the first time in 1995 and stayed only a month. Ten years later, she returned to serve the people and remained there until a few weeks ago.
One of her first projects in Myanmar was to provide scholarships for young people of ethnic minority background who wanted to study English.

The scholarships, funded by donations she received, gave the young people a foundation on which to further their education, she said. Many of these young people went on to become teachers and nurses, she noted.

Sister Grenough was also concerned about the high rate of HIV/AIDS infections in the country. As a result, she founded the Myanmar Catholic HIV/AIDS Network (MCHAN) in Yangon in 2010. MCHAN provides sexual health education as well as treatment for the illness.

Four years later, she had another opportunity to make an impact on people in Yangon. Two of her siblings, Vincent and Mildred Grenough, visited her in Myanmar.
“My brother Vince asked if I had any other dreams I wanted to accomplish,” said Sister Grenough laughing.

Maryknoll Sister Mary Grenough visited a woman who sought help from the non-profit “Mary’s Dream” in Myanmar in 2015. Sister Grenough, who recently retired, started “Mary’s Dream” in 2014 with the help of her family and friends in the United States. (Photo Special to The Record by Sean Sprague)
Maryknoll Sister Mary Grenough visited a woman who sought help from the non-profit “Mary’s Dream” in Myanmar in 2015. Sister Grenough, who recently retired, started “Mary’s Dream” in 2014 with the help of her family and friends in the United States. (Photo Special to The Record by Sean Sprague)

As it turned out, she did. And Vincent Grenough took it upon himself, she said, to coordinate donations from her family and friends in the U.S. to launch “Mary’s Dream.”
The program, based in the Hlaing Tharyar Township in Yangon, trains volunteers to provide treatment for non-serious illnesses, check blood pressure and blood sugar.

It also provides basic medical care and health education and connects people to other medical services. Because of this relatively new program, hundreds of people living in this very poor part of Yangon have received treatments in their own homes, she said.

She noted, for example, of the 56 pregnant women who joined the program, only four had sought prenatal care. She found out that many were suffering from anemia, vitamin deficiencies and high blood pressure. “Mary’s Dream” also has helped 10 people receive major surgery.

The program also funds treatment for people suffering from HIV/AIDS and presents workshops about human sexuality and relationships. In many instances, she said, the people who go through the workshop turn around and teach others what they’ve learned.

Sister Grenough said that many of the people who live in the Hlaing Tharyar shanty town fled there to seek a better life following a devastating cyclone in 2008. What they found, she said, was low-paying factory jobs and “deplorable” living conditions.

Some, however, are finding empowerment through “Mary’s Dream.”

“It’s helping them to realize their potential and access available resources,” said Sister Grenough. “They are discovering they can work together and help each other.”
Sister Grenough said she’s confident that the programs will continue in her absence.

She said she has great respect for the people she met and worked with in Myanmar.

“They’ve become better educators of each other than I can ever be,” said Sister Grenough.

The Maryknoll Sisters’ motto is “Making God’s Love Visible,” said Sister Grenough. “The opportunity to be among the poor — to interact and work with them — has been that for me.”

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One reply on “Maryknoll Sister served overseas for 50 years”
  1. says: Thang Sawn Piang (also known as Clement)

    Sr. Mary Grenough has been a very dedicated missionary minded person who without hesitation would reach to the needy. I worked with her for some years in an Institution where she was the coordinator of the Medical Training before she founded MCHAN. I have known her in person for a long time and experienced her good heart and humility even though I was not directly involved with her work. We are fortunate to have her in Myanmar; along with her, she brought some Americans good-will people who have helped young people in so many ways. I am convinced that the Maryknoll sisters proved their moto ““Making God’s Love Visible,” in Myanmar. God bless you Sr. Mary and long live! wanna see you again some day!
    P.S. She is a very good swimmer too!

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