Mara Frundt has spent her life as a missionary
Born fourth in her family, young Marcia Frundt, the name given by her parents, lived across the street from St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Blue Earth with her parents, two older brothers, Henry and Chuck, an older sister, Mary, and a younger sister, Anne.
“Due to the generous and caring hearts of my parents, I took great interest in people of other cultures and languages,” writes Sister Mara in an autobiography published on the School Sisters of Notre Dame website.
But it was not merely her parents’ moral values and teachings that led Sister Mara to devote her life to the Church.
“Since I was a small child I had a keen interest in other cultures,” she explains. “Off and on during my growing up I also had a desire to be a sister and a missionary.
“So, there was interest in learning and also a desire to share somehow the love and faith I so treasured from my own blessed life.”
By the time she graduated from Blue Earth High School in the late 1960s, Sister Mara had a difficult decision to make.
She had always dreamt of becoming a SSND, but she also had a desire to do missionary work in Africa, a continent where the sisterhood had not yet began working.
But, despite her yearning for Africa, her heart guided her to become a SSND.
“The SSNDs have believed that education empowers and I know my heart desired to be part of something bigger than myself,” Sister Mara writes. “So, I?entered with a hope that one day I would be sent on mission to Africa (…) Being a SSND?was most important and I put my trust in God’s providence.”
She began her theological schooling with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Mankato Province during the early 1970s.
While Sister Mara was attending the Mankato Province, the Cardinal Bishop of Nairobi, Kenya in Eastern Africa, Bishop Mugendi, visited Mankato in an attempt to find an education for a group of sisters from Kenya, the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph.
The only state that agreed to educate the Kenyan women was Minnesota.
“Four of them came and studied at St. Theresa’s in Winona, St. Benedict’s, Mankato State and St. Mary’s nursing in Rochester,” Sister Mara explains. “It was they who explained that most of their sisters could not come as many could not even read or write.”
Bishop Mugendi called to the SSND for their help, but Sister Mara already knew that the Bishop wasn’t the only one calling God was calling her to fulfill her destiny.
“This request for volunteers set my heart pounding and I immediately sent in a letter offering to go,” the Sister writes.
Within the next few weeks, Sister Mara and two other sisters from the Mankato Province prepared themselves as they responded to God’s call.
“We had a lovely ritual of sendoff in the Mankato Province shortly before to which our families were invited,” Sister Mara recalls in a SSND ‘Good News from Africa’ newsletter. “Being the first sisters to go to Africa from Mankato was significant and so we really had a special send off.”
Although it was difficult to watch their daughter and sister board an airplane to Africa, Sister Mara’s mother, father and siblings were not surprised by her decision to go.
“She didn’t tell us that she was going until she’d decided,” said Sister Mara’s older brother, Chuck Frundt. “We were all concerned about her going there, but that doesn’t change the fact that she wants to be there.”
A desire that blossomed inside of young Marcia Frundt had finally flourished into a stunning reality for the young sister.
“Life was simpler, genuine and it resonated with me,” says Sister Mara, looking 40 years into the past. “Thus began our sojourn in Africa which still continues. Many chapters could fill a book about these past 40 years.”
Sister Mara’s primary mission reflects that of the SSND, “Our ministries (…) were focused on formal education, especially of girls, women and later, more generally, of youth,” she writes. “We desire to reach out to those who are most needy and to help enable these to grow, learn and develop their gifts and become contributing members of society.”
According to Sister Mara, the SSND had educated and trained more than 100 African women to become sisters before the requirements to become a sister became easier, thus making the SSND’s job obsolete.
So, Sister Mara moved throughout Kenya to help wherever she was needed.
She began teaching in an all-girls’ secondary boarding school where she taught for one year.
Then, she moved on to do pastoral work by educating the nomadic peoples of Turkhana in Northern Kenya, which is a place that Sister Mara described in a cassette tape as being “so wonderfully open the moon is about three-fourths fill and it’s almost like it’s daylight.”
But, perhaps Sister Mara’s most influential mission work was co-founding the Notre Dame Children Outreach program in Western Kenya, on the south shore of the famous Lake Victoria.
“We are trying to help meet critical needs of nearly 120 orphans in our area,” she writes in her own autobiography. “We believe a good education is of basic and lasting importance to them as well as nutrition, health, social and spiritual attention.”
According to Chuck Frundt, the outreach program helps children whose parents are not able to take care of them, typically because the parents are very ill or have died of AIDS.
Also, unique to the program that Sister Mara co-founded, most of the children go home at night so that they are not taken entirely from their homes. Most of these children live with aunts and uncles or grandparents.
Although she has been of much help in saving the lives of many, Sister Mara’s older brother still has concerns about her safety.
For example, Sister Mara has had malaria on more than one occasion, and now she is even more prone to catching the disease.
She was also present during the 2008 election in Kenya.
Chuck notes that “she was right in the middle of it; people were dying all around her.”
However, he also knows that his sister is where she is meant to be.
“She went to Kenya when she first went over,” he says. “That’s where her true love is.”
However, within the past few years, Sister Mara has left Kenya to live in Ghana in western Africa, where her schedule has become a bit more routine than it was in the past.
“I?have a fairly regular schedule due to my present ministry in our Novitiate, which is the second phase for women joining us for two years of learning more deeply the life of being a SSND,”?she writes.
The Minnesota native also comes home fairly regularly about one time every other year but she always returns to the land that she loves.
“So long as she can be there,” says Chuck, “she’ll be there.”