“The arch-enemy of compassion is pity.”- Sister Dr. Ann Ward

Sister Ann Ward spent over 50 years with the Medical Missionaries of Mary, obtained her Master’s and her Fellowship in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at University College Dublin where she was awarded the Distinguished Graduate Award for outstanding achievement in the field of medicine, and dedicated her life to helping women suffering from obstetrical fistula in Itam, Nigeria.

Dr. Robert Walley remembers,

I was deeply saddened to receive an email message this week telling me of Sr/Dr Ann Ward of the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMMs), passing into heaven at 90 – years. I am sure that she has now seen her God as He really is and was received with a smile and a warm embrace for all that she has done for mothers in Nigeria for over 60 years, and for the example she was of love, courage and determination.

This is a personal memoir of Ann whom I knew and loved for over 40 years.

She was an extraordinary person, mother to many mothers, missionary and a fine example of a professional Catholic ob/gyn. though she could drive you to ….well whereever! Ann was a pioneer in fistula surgery and an encouragement to me. Ann stayed in our home in Canada only once, when receiving an honorary degree from Memorial University, at the same time as Dr. Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman and medic who went into space. But Ann kept her feet firmly on the ground and everyday did the work that God gave her to do. Ann was a very tough lady who spent over 60 years in Nigeria through many dangerous years (e.g. the Biafran war) caring for the sick, especially mothers.

I last saw Ann in Drogheda, Ireland, at the MMMs retirement home, two years ago. She was physically frail but very much ready to remember and to ask me how my wife Susan and I were getting on. I was delighted that she met my son John- Paul and his son Jude, who live in Northern Ireland. Ann presided as we reminisced for a couple of hours. She was not really the emotional type, and I recall one very sad event, especially for me, as it was one of the first times I was present at a maternal death..

It happened one Saturday night at her hospital, St Luke’s in Anua one of the first MMM hospitals, in Uyo State Nigeria. We were watching a video when we were called urgently to Maternity 2 ward. There we found a mother in extremis, at term. Her husband by her side was distraught. Ann asked me to put up an i/v while she listened for an F. H. As I held the mother’s hand to start inserting the needle, she died. That was the only time during my career as a doctor that I ever held the hand of a person at the moment of their death. We tried to console the husband and then watched as the baby’s movements stopped. As we walked back to the cottage in the gloom, I noticed that Ann was in tears and she mused, I think to the world, and said; “You know I believe that no matter what a women may have done in her past life, if she gives her life giving birth to a new life, she goes straight to God.” I turned to her and said, “Ann I agree, so let’s go back to the house and finish completing the grant proposal to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to try and stop this nonsense.” That proposal was the first and only time MaterCare International has received a grant from CIDA. MaterCare continues her work.

There were amusing moments of near disaster. One occurred as I took Ann to the hotel where the recipients of honorary degrees were to stay. As we walked into the foyer, Ann suddenly stopped and said, “What’s that man doing here?”. I looked over and had no idea who he was. He turned out to be a famous Irish and UN diplomat, also receiving an honourary degree, but whose family was on the ‘other side’ of Irish politics, of which I learned a lot that evening. I had to warn the Dean not to put them sitting together at the convocation and the banquet. I will miss her.

MaterCare International is lucky to have known and worked with this pioneering and compassionate champion of women’s health.

Sister Ann’s passing is a great loss to us all, but her work and dedication will live on in all the lives she has touched and changed for the better.

Requiescat in Pace Sr/Dr Ann Ward MMM

Rob Walley