Sister Maria, Spiritual Gardener

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Back in her native Nigeria, Maria Echezonachukwu Dim, IHM, tends to a small rose garden.

But she dreams of a much larger meditative rose garden, one where the youth in her care can go to reflect about life and about God. On returning to her country she will run a youth program at Mater Christi Youth Religious Formation and Counseling Center.

“We’ll call it a mystical rose garden,” said Sister Maria, who is receiving her master’s in youth ministry from the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. “I call myself a spiritual gardener. When [girls]come, I will teach them to understand the symbolic meaning of roses—to see that each rose grows uniquely, that each has a different scent, and each unfolds in its own way.”

Before coming to Fordham, Sister Maria said, she didn’t quite see things the way she sees now.

“Before Fordham, I was so absolute, black or white,” she said. “My Fordham education brought me awareness of critical reflection.”

Sister Maria said that she wants her students to understand that their development requires critical reflection, which is not unlike appreciating a rose garden.

“When you connect the rose to how each youth develops into a solid human personality, you appreciate their inner beauty, and you can help them discover who they are, in relation to their God,” she said.

Part of that development includes individuation and their sexuality, she said.

“If you want to come into my garden you put your hands behind your back, and you don’t touch the roses,” she said. “Sexuality is not just about sex, sex is just an iota of sexuality. To understand your body is to understand it is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

She said that in caring for a rose, one mulches, waters, and prunes—but the blossoms don’t need to be cut to be appreciated. She expressed concerns not just for the girls’ physical health, but for their spiritual health as well.

“Nigeria has moral and faith crisis, but after coming to Fordham I am able to see that there are many other ways to look at life,” she said. “Morally, you cannot focus myopically.”

At the Mater center, she said she plans to teach her girls to live holistically. This was the way that the Irish nuns trained her growing up, though she didn’t realize it at the time.

In fact, she confesses that, as a girl, she found the sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ very strict. But now, as a member of their order, she appreciates how the Irish nuns trained them with a focus on the uplifting of women and girls through education, though now as an indigenous order, they do compassionate work “within their own cultural values.”

“When you educate a woman you educate a nation,” she said.

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