Carolyn Buhs made her first contact with Notre Dame at St. Dunstan School, Millbrae., Calif. Her fourth grade teacher, Sister Marie Joseph, became a lifelong friend and mentor. The story of then "Blessed" Julie Billiart made a deep impression. To Carolyn, Julie became a real person and influential in her choice to enter the congregation.
The notion of going to the missions came early also. Sister Carolyn (Mary Charles) describes how in fifth and sixth grades her desire was fed by stories in the Maryknoll magazine. In seventh grade she earned a Girl Scout horseback riding badge hoping to ride horses on mission like Maryknoll missioners in the Andes Mountains of South America. But Notre Dame de Namur beckoned, and the experience of California SNDdeNs going to Brazil in the early 1960s raised her hopes. When she requested missionary service, she was sent to Hawaii–a wonderful four years of sunshine, swimming (by that time allowed) and hiking (which she loved), but not exactly what she had in mind for mission!
In the meantime, with the guidance of Sister Anna Voss, Sister Carolyn had found her love of geography and had begun a master's degree in that field from Cal State, Los Angeles. She had also discovered that she was slow to learn other languages, which limited her choices for overseas mission. But while in Hawaii, she had begun the study of Kiswahili, a widely used African language.
Finally, in 1976 she was sent to Kenya to teach in Egoji Teachers' Training College where she stayed for 10 years. Later, Francis Kithinji, a former student who became principal of a secondary school contacted Sister Carolyn. He was working toward his master's degree at Kenyatta University, and asked her permission to dedicate his thesis to her and his late father. Sister was for him "the pearl and shining star in my life…my inspirer."
Nearby Sudan had a large Christian population in the southern part of the country and the need for service to that population was great. For the next six years Sister Carolyn worked in northern Sudan, all the time studying Arabic while she taught displaced people from the south.
When the unrest of war spilled over the border into Ethiopia a large refugee camp was established in northwest Kenya. She spent three years there with Sister Mary Ellen Howard, SNDdeN (also a Californian) and other women religious working with refugees, including the "Lost Boys of Sudan," who found their way into the camp to escape the wars. These boys had lost family members and homes and were in great need of education as well as religious support. Sister created the camp's first library. Anticipating the future, Sister Carolyn spent three more years teaching Sudanese students in Kenya and training catechists. Her last assignment in Kenya was as Postulant Director of young women who were coming to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
Sister returned stateside for a few years working in both the NDNU Registrar's office and the SNDdeN Archives office. But in 2011, with much excitement, Sister Carolyn was able to return to South Sudan under the auspices of Solidarity With South Sudan, an inter-congregational religious community, where she taught young men and women to teach in primary school. She also helped to prepare the teaching materials for the teacher training college and, with the help of talented Refugee Librarian Daniel Garang. organized three college libraries during her nine years there.
She says of her more than 60 years as a Sister, "My thoughts are filled with gratitude to our Good God for Her great mercy in loving me and my family and bringing me to Notre Dame and blessing me with such wonderful years of ministry in Kenya and South Sudan. Reflecting on the thread of events through my various ministries fills me with wonder at how God does work in our lives."
Sister Carolyn's Ministries
1965-66 Sacred Heart School, Saratoga, Calif. (Teacher, 2nd Grade)
1966-68 St. Louise School, Covina, Calif. (Teacher, 4th and 7th Grade)
1969-70 Holy Family School, Honolulu, Hawaii (Teacher, 5th Grade)
1968-72 Star of the School School, Honolulu, Hawaii (Teacher, 6th Grade then High School)
1972-74 St. Louise School, Covina, Calif. (Teacher, Grades 3 & 4)
1974-76 College of Notre Dame, Belmont, Calif. (Teacher and Administrator)
1976-86 Egoji Teachers College, Kenya (Teacher)
1987-88 Nairobi, Kenya (Teacher)
1988-92 El Obeid Diocese, Sudan (Teacher)
1993-96 Kakuma Camp, Northwest Kenya
1996-2000 Bakhita Formation Center, Kenya (Dean of Students, Teacher)
2001-07 Malava, Kenya (Postulant Director)
2008 SNDdeN Archives, Belmont, Calif.
2009 NDNU Registrar's Office, Belmont, Calif.
2012-21 Solidarity With South Sudan (Teacher Training)
To read updates from Sister Carolyn and the director of Solidarity With South Sudan from her time in South Sudan click here.