Feminist Chronicles: Diary 18: Sr Theresa Camillo

Women of cloth; that is what we used to call them. Often they were and still are misunderstood. People ask; why would a healthy woman choose to live a life of total celibacy in the name of serving God. Others think these women are living a lie, purporting to live a saintly life, married to Jesus yet they are not half as good as they seem to be.

When I was young, I was also of this mindset. I expected nuns to be perfect in their ways. My ideal nun was a gentle person, calm in temperament, never the one to get angry even when wronged, never one to shout even when exasperated and never one to punish mischievous children (and if punished we perceived it as cruelty). But now I realise that expectation was very unfair and unwarranted. After all nuns are human beings just like me and surely they are entitled to a little anger from time to time. Looking back at my expectations I realise they were outlandish, childish and very selfish.

Regina Mundi High School: Picture credit Tendai Madenyika a former student at Regina Mundi

Sr Theresa Camillo (Click here to see her image dressed in grey) is a catholic nun in the (SJI) Sisters of the Child Jesus Sect. She was the headmistress of Regina Mundi High school in Gweru, Midlands province of Zimbabwe where I spent 6 years of my secondary and high school. She recorded amazing pass rates for many years in her all girls’ high school. We did better than all the boys’ schools in the region such as Shungu and Fletcher academically yet she also nurtured in us the sportswomen, the basket-ballers, the hockey players, the soccer players (like I was), the great debaters, public speakers, musicians and dancers that we became.

Our motto mens sana in corpore sano‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ was her preoccupation and she always wanted us to be fit in both mind and body. She taught us to eat all our meals hence meals were compulsory (and then we hated it). She also demanded that we walk briskly and purposefully from one point to the other, something I have made into a habit in my adulthood, after all loitering is a sign of complacence and laziness.

The main school block with the headmistress's office the first window to the right: Picture Credit Tendai Madenyika a former student at Regina Mundi

Sr Theresa was a loving woman, maybe even more loving than some of the mothers people left behind in their homes. She was a also a very liberal woman, accommodating of our very many misdemeanors, little temper tantrums and mood swings.  We spent 9 out of the 12 months of the year at school and she was the grounding force when we were developing from adolescence into adulthood at that boarding school. Imagine being mother to 700 teenage girls all aged between 12 and 19 years. Surely you would be pulling your hairs out each day until you had none left. But she did it. Each year she let out 100 students and took in another 100.

The fruits of the kind of women she nurtured are self evident. One only needs to look at the women who emerged out of the girls she received many years ago. She raised doctors, models, television presenters, beauty therapists, chartered accountants, human rights activists, occupational health practitioners, dentists, biomedical laboratory researchers, veterinary surgeons, engineers, pharmacists, medical surgical nurses, movie directors, lawyers, writers, lecturers, among other and some of them are wonderful mothers and wives too. Indeed she can boast of rearing numerous generations of capable women who are doing wonderful things for the development of Zimbabwean society.

The continuation of generations of women that are still being raised by that school is also the fruit of her work. In 2008 at 14 years of age, Makhosazana Moyo groomed at Regina Mundi was picked as the overall winner of the 2008 cover to cover short story writing competition. In the 2014 class of the US students achievers, three of the girls profiled for their amazing achievements, Senzeni Mpofu studying at Yale university, Rudo Esther Mudzi studying at Mt Holyoke university and Rumbidzai Vushe studying at Smith college were all from Regina Mundi. Thabiso Machingura in 2011 won awards in the American Black History Month write ups for her short story.

The Convent in which the nuns lived: Picture Credit Tendai Madenyika a former student from Regina Mundi

When we were still students guided by her, we began a youth HIV/AIDS awareness group called ‘Worth the Wait’ which advocated abstinence among young girls to refrain from sex. Today that club has been transformed into the ‘Youth Against Aids club.’ and it gives these young girls life lessons on how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.

As ‘Worth the Wait’ members we made this vow:

I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my future husband and my future children to stay sexually from this day forward until the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship.

I made this vow in 1999 and I have done my damnedest to keep it, at a cost of course. I have been dumped unceremoniously in relationships for holding on to this commitment which many will argue is very old-fashioned but I will always be grateful to Sr Theresa for that value she inculcated in me. I have lost friends who I went to school with, to AIDS and I believe I am still here because of this vow which she taught me.

To date I carry two things that she always emphasised:

1. Greet visitors with a smile

2. Throw away all your litter in a bin

She has never been celebrated but I feel she deserves that history should remember her with pride, admiration and reverence for all she has done to uplift and empower the girl-child in Zimbabwe and beyond.

31 thoughts on “Feminist Chronicles: Diary 18: Sr Theresa Camillo

  1. Hie

    Thank you so much for all you wrote. How i wish one day i could just wake up and hug Sr Theressa or just call her or write an email to say THANK YOU THANK YOU. She was a mum and a mentor.Wherever you are God bless you.Trust me…. a lot of the girls are looking for you right now.Including me of-course.We just wanna share our life experiences with you and you are going to be proud of us.

    One lesson i learnt is SOMETIMES YOU CLOSE AN EYE when you are wronged. And this has helped me be the person i am today.I greet visitors with a smile and i am forever smiling.thank you Sister for that lesson. I would love to talk with you.And by the way, that VOW you made me sign on the 4th of June 2001- TRUE LOVE WAITS…i have kept it up until now. I am so GRATEFUL. Thank you for empowering me. I LOVE YOU

      1. Madube

        Thanks Let it be known that Sr. Theresa’s Golden Jubilee (50years of Service) will be celebrated on the 26th April 2014, at Driefontain Mission. She said all gifts in cash will be for the construction of Bethlehem school. Let us come in ours to support her.



  2. One day we were busy gossiping in the sunshine club while the good girls where out playing sports. We wer sitting by the double doors on Queens hostel and sr Theresa walked towards us from the convent. To be honest she appeared from nowhere and we were so engrossed in our gossip that we didn’t notice her walking towards us until it was too late to run. ‘Ah well’ we thought here comes punishment at the irrigation. She walked straight over to us and sat down then she started telling us bible stories. Isn’t she the sweetest? Oh Sr Theresa wish I could give her a hug right now. I remember one of those phenomenon of hers, “Greet visitors with a smile.” I can actually hear her saying that right now!!!

  3. MaDube, I have become a fan of your blog since I met and been working hand in hand with Sr Theresa Camillo on the Alois Haene Schools Project – and I truly admire you girls at Regina Mundi back then when she was much younger – but that touch indeed into anyone’s life she still has – and is indeed a great visionary given what we have shared in the past months on this project. I tell you – Zimbabwe is hiding a woman of many talents in her – it is an honour working with her – at times we feel like giving up – then Sr. walks in and just says ” You know how far back this dream school has been in my head, if I had given up back then, I would not be around today… but I will see it to the end” Each time she says that you know the work must go on. How – we always wonder but again Sr has the answer “I HAVE THOUSANDS OF GIRLS OUT THERE IN THE WORLD WHO WILL SUPPORT ME NO MATTER WHAT – Sr Camillo would then lower voice ‘all you have to do is call on them by whatever means necessary – they will come and help.”

    Days after we read your blog on her, we shared it with her – her eyes are still strong and she read it herself, and you could see a little tear in her eye as she remembered the days at Regina Mundi with most of you girls. She is truly touched by your writings Madube. As I write this, I am waiting for her to walk into the office anytime here in Gweru, Zimbabwe, and will share this response with her. I believe in Christ, Our Lord and that all things under heaven happen in due time – this could be a start of a great fund raising drive for Alois Haene Primary School and Bethlehem High Schools at the SJI Farm in Gweru. I hope all the girls who were at Regina Mundi can give us a hand as we built the dream that Sr Theresa Cammillo dreamt years ago – she helped us fulfill our own dreams – let help her and the future girls of ZImbabwe.

    MaDube I hope your friends, their spouses, their friends, families, Catholics, non Catholics and a great many others that enjoy your blog can assist us – my email is tawamet@gmail.com

  4. I love this. truly Regina Mundi made me the woman I am today. I’m in a male dominated field and the way we would take up any challenge from other school, the way We were pushed has moulded this in me… I hated Mundi but today I’m very thankful for the 6 years tht have made me who I am. God bless sister Thesesa. all the staff at Regina mundi for instilling in us a culture tht has made us women of such diverse qualities in our society.

  5. Wow – you know last night all I was dreaming of was Mundi High, and this morning decided to google it n see wat I cud find. This article is a great reflection of my time there – I was there 1998-9, left early as I felt it was the punishment of a lifetime and wondered wat I had done to my parents to deserve such – how could they send me all the way from Botswana to such a school?

    Within a year of being at another school I regretted my decision, realizing wat a g the school was. I got very good grounding, and up to now I’m an above average achiever in the local context, due to the principles taught at Mundi. I tell people everyday this, for
    I truly believe that without it id honestly be something else (given my crazy personality).

    In Sr I would like to thank tho is Sr Mtombeni….bless her for the days n nights she comforted me and told me to grow up and get myself together – as I cried asking to go home!

    Ive been planning a return trip for the last five years – never got round to it. I’m DEFINATELY going by next year – or sooner if I drop into Zimbabwe before then.

    Thanks for the article

    1. Thanks Tumisang. There are things we hold dear but never take the time to express and this is one of those things. It doesn’t take much really to just say how grateful we are to a system that raised and bred amazing women of valour. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  6. Thank you Madube for this lovely piece. It took the words right out of my mouth and my memory back to those days at Regina Mundi. Just to share a bit [which I can do now because I’ve made it, thanks to Sister Theresa]. Everything that I am, what I have achieved, where I am and how people view me, I am because of what Sister Theresa did for me. Miracles need not be something that only happened during the time of Jesus or just after. Sister Theresa gave me a miracle…the miracle of a second life, a second chance [Madube you’d know this one]. Having associated with ‘bad company’ and having the ‘I know all of life’s social turns’ mentality and attitude, I fell pregnant just after enrolling for A level, I dropped out of school, was chased away from home [after all, that’s what culture demands so I don’t hold a grudge against my parents] and my future was very bleak, if I even had a future to talk about after that. Sister Theresa, with the ability to judge character and tell the good character from the bad, knew that I had somehow fallen by the wayside due to bad judgement and immaturity. She, together with Sister Getrude Sunduza (SJI), came to talk to my parents [they had great difficulty locating where we lived, with only an address but without knowing the direction on how to get there], using their own resources to fuel up the car and taking time off their busy schedules, they came to talk to my parents, on a Sunday afternoon, to tell them that they should admit me back into the home and family and that as soon as I deliver, I should come back to school for A level…the same school that I had disgraced, to the same teachers and students who knew me and what I had done or what had happened to me. And it all came to pass; I was admitted back home, I delivered a healthy baby girl without incident or accident, I went back to school and I passed my A level. The rest is history [I made it to university and I passed and I keep ‘passing’ in everything that I do]. Sister Theresa believed in me and gave me a second chance. Without her, perhaps I would have become some ‘housewife’ in some pathetic set-up, but I am here today, 10 years later, a single mother, an independent and confident woman and a woman who has made it in life, because she gave me my miracle. This is just but one miracle I mention from my personal experience with Sister Theresa, I know there are many other untold miracles out there from other people. Madube, thanks again, I don’t mean for this comment to be misconstrued to say I’m encouraging other young women to make mistakes in their life so that they can receive their ‘miracles’, but this is my life story, which could have taken a nasty, sad and dramatic twist had Sister Theresa not intervened. May God continue to bless her, and all ‘women of the cloth’, whose good intentions may not be immediately noticed but are only noticed long after we have parted ways with them, whose reprimands are mistaken for ‘cruelty’ and who contribute to our lives as ‘mothers’ because they have taken an unselfish vow to mother us all, irregardless of whether they are younger or older than us. Thanks Madube.

    1. Hey Cathy. Wow, this is amazing. You managed to capture so beautifully in your experience what I was trying to say about this phenomenal woman. You have redeemed my perspective of her and your comment responds so beautifully to a comment that I received when I wrote this post where someone criticised me for the way I wrote it and that person had this to say,
      “Hmm…I find your account to be rather egregious and subjective! Perhaps that was your intent. We are all products of our sum life experiences, not just our time at Mundi. So to credit that experience and Sr. Theresa for our successes as former Mundi students is misplaced in my opinion. To begin with, Mundi attracted students of high caliber, who already had the capacity and motivation to succeed. Secondly, most of the teachers there were stellar, and genuinely interested in our education. How then can you credit the school’s pass rates to Sr. Theresa? (Especially since each student had to buy their own books and supplies!) What about the disadvantaged girls she had sent away for non-payment of fees? Or the students’ diet compared to what she and other nuns ate at the convent? As a former hockey captain, I can tell you that my coaches – not Sr. Theresa – nurtured my athleticism. My point is that Sr. Theresa played a part, among many others, in the school’s success. I think that the image you’re portraying of her seems largely influenced by your sole high school experience, and nostalgia even. I could be wrong. Every student’s experiences, though united by a common thread, are different. In her own right, Sr. Theresa is a remarkable woman. I’d have loved to read a balanced account though of her vision, background, lasting contributions, and reflections on her tenure as Headmistress. She was not a saint.”

  7. Oh beautiful comments. I am one of her products, I was a candidate to sisterhood by then, Surely she was a mother and a mentor. I was very slim and she forced a glass of milk pass through my throat every morning and monitored my food intake. Now she speaks to me often about this new baby ‘Alois Haene School’ she wants to crown her last kick with. She says, “Talk to your collegues, the former Regina Mundi Girls, I know you can surely help me build it, for the girl child, your children and young sisters.” Honestly I feel it is a challenge to us ladies and gentlemen who were groomed by Sister Theresa Camilo. She is calling for help from her own products. Madube toita sei

    1. I totally identify with your drive to do all you can to help Sr Theresa because she has contributed a lot to who we are. Surely we can mobilise each other to make a difference and help her achieve one of her many dreams for the empowerment of the girl-child. I have a number of Regina Mundi Girls in my network, we shall brainstorm fundraising ideas then I will get back to you. Meanwhile, thank you so much for reading the blog.

  8. Thank u so much for all the fantastic articles Madube. You know I can’t sleep without re-reading an old one if I don’t get a new one, which is very impossible. If at any time you happen to be near Regina Mundi ask the librarian to lend you a very slander novel called Death bed Reflections by Rev. Fr Walter Nyatsanza. It will give you the best answer for the first part of your article “Feminist chronicles: Dairy18: Sr Theresa Camillo. Please Rumbi don’t share this.

    1. Hi there. I’m afraid once you submit one comment on my website the rest of the comments you make will automatically appear. So if you want to send me something private, send a private email and do not send it as a comment on this website.

  9. Thank you for these words. Sr Theresa has touched so many lives and to find this really confirms that which I already knew of her. I met Sister only 4 years ago. We brought her to Colorado and she so enjoyed working with the elderly. She helped so many pass from this life to the next with dignity. She has returned from the U.S. to Bethlehem farm to try to realize her life long dream, to build another school and bring a project, chicken production to full operation to ensure sustainability for the Order as well as the future of the school. I would love to here more and would like to connect with as many students as possible to capture their stories. I believe that there is no other woman in history that has impacted the status of a woman and I would loke to work with as many of you as I can to preserve her story.

    I would love to paste a link to this story on the sjisisters.org site we have up.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Yes indeed, Sr Theresa touched my life and the lives of many others at Regina Mundi in an amazing way. Her passion about educating the girl child brought us to where we are today and for me that achievement on her part deserves to be told. Please go ahead and paste the link on the SJI website and I hope somehow it will also reach her. I would love for her to know that I appreciate the work she did.

      1. I spoke to Sr Theresa and she asked me to tell you to please call her. She was very touched by what you shared and she would like to speak more with you.

        Thank you again for your sharing. Please spread the word.

      2. Speech is never an indicator of what one feels about someone. I’m really happy with the work u do you people to the entire society. Keep it up people. I can’t spend a night without reading your articles. I believe Aloise Honey school is going be a great success and produce world’s legents like Regina Munndi

    1. NO. Thank YOU for reading and supporting the work that I do and indeed many thanks to the amazing women who give me a reason to do what I do.

  10. She was in many ways an amazing woman, for a woman of the cloth. God knows, i loathed them at the time and Sr Muthombeni and Sr Clara and them got on my nerves the entire time I was at Mundi! lol. True story. I remember very vividly standing in her office, collecting my 0’level results thinking – “Wow! She is made in heaven!!!”. I spent my life at Mundi thinking I was just an insignificant girl busy being insignificant and people like her knew me not. She knew me – BY NAME. Can you believe it? She was that kind of super-woman. Changed my attitude towards her completely – a bit too late though coz i left Mundi that year

    1. Yes she was super-woman. Everytime I look back and think to myself: seriously, how much more could she possibly have done to make our lives comfortable. There were close to 700 of us and only one of her. We never gave her a break when we were young and yet we owe her so much for who she made us out to be.

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