Meet Sister Rita Kurochkina from Kazakhstan: Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Maria Lozano
Sister Rita Kurochkina CSIC was born in Kazakhstan into a family that was not practising the faith. At the age of seven, she first began to go to church, but at some point stopped. At the age of 14, she found her way back to the church, and, together with her brother, took the initiative to prepare for baptism. “From that day on, I went to Holy Mass every single day,” she says.
When she decided to enter the convent, her mother did not approve and refused to give her consent for an entire year. Sister Rita, however, did not want to enter the order without her mother’s permission. She spent a year far away from home, working and taking care of her aunt. “It was like spending a year in exile,” she recalls.
She returned home after a year and broached the subject once more with her mother. Her mother said, “I can see how you are suffering.” She finally gave her consent and said that Rita should join the order and give religious life a try. “That was ten years ago and I am happy where I am. My family changed their viewpoint somewhat when they realised that I am not locked away but lead a normal life, that everything is okay and that I am happy.” Her mother has begun attending Holy Mass on Sundays and on holidays.
“I chose this congregation specifically because of the Virgin Mary. Beginning at a very early age, Mary has always come first for me. Mary is very important to me and that is why I wanted to join an order that is associated with the Blessed Mother.”
The order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in Poland in the 1850s to support both the spiritual and the intellectual formation of women and girls. To this day, the congregation is primarily active in Poland, but can also be found in a number of Eastern European countries, as Kazakhstan. The religious sisters run schools, kindergartens and children’s homes, teach catechesis in parishes and give religious instruction at public schools, take care of poor children and support impoverished families. Some provide pastoral care to prisoners. The religious sisters also organise retreats.
Kapshagay is a city of about 57,000 inhabitants located several hours by car from the capital Almaty. In 2001, an Italian priest founded a Catholic centre there. He had a church built on the outskirts of the city and purchased several houses. He also set up a soup kitchen. When he noticed that the soup kitchen was being frequented by a growing number of children, children who were living on the streets or being neglected, he asked the religious sisters to take care of these children.
Since that time, the facility has grown to include a number of houses, each of which is named after a saint. A Catholic community has developed around the centre. A growing number of people from the city are attending divine services.
Three sisters, all of them born in Kazakhstan, work in the house of St. Clara. They currently take care of 18 children with difficult family situations.
Sister Rita says, “Spiritually, the communist system [during Soviet times] devastated the people in this country. Many stopped believing in God, which led to addiction problems and dysfunctional families. And the children suffer the consequences. The children who come to us have experienced trauma and tragedy. The children were forced to witness drunken scenes in their parent’s homes, they experienced violence and ran away from home. They ended up homeless on the streets. Each child has his or her own story and drama. We have to start at the very beginning again with them and teach them even the most basic things, for example that they can eat a hot meal every day and that they do not need to hide their food from the others.”
At the moment, the youngest of the children is a four-year-old girl by the name of Rina, but the children’s home also takes in small babies.
Impact of the work
Sister Rita: “We have to do everything with the children that a mother would at home.” The religious sisters prepare meals, do laundry, take the children to kindergarten and to school and to extracurricular activities such as sports or music lessons, they pray with the children, help them with their homework and show them how to take on simple household chores to teach them responsibility, just as would be the case in a normal family. Special interests and abilities are taken note of so that the children can develop them.
However, it is particularly difficult when a new child joins the group. Due to the terrible experiences that many of them have had in their birth families, the children are often psychologically conspicuous. In some cases, a psychologist has to be called in. The religious sisters try to connect with each of the children through much love and patience.
Once the children have completed secondary school, the religious sisters help them begin a course of study at university or professional training. Several of the former attendants of the children’s home already have families of their own and come visit the religious sisters with their own children. They say, “These are your grandchildren!”
Statements from the children:Sister Rita: “What I like best is that we all live here together, even though we originally came from different families. There are many of us and you can see the hand of God in that we have succeeded in building a family. We go together to divine services and to pray the rosary and know that Jesus accepts these children and that Jesus is also important to these children. Every day with the children is a day full of adventure. It will be my greatest joy to see these children grow up to be good people who also take care of others, do good and carry the good forward. For us, that will be the greatest reward.”
Vitalik, 9 years old: “I like it that the sisters take care of us, that they help us and love us.” The boy has hearing problems. The doctor therefore recommended that he learn an instrument. He is taking guitar lessons, which he enjoys very much. He dreams of becoming a priest one day.
Angelina (no age given, perhaps around 7-8 years old?): “What I like best about the sisters is when they are happy and laugh. They take care of us and raise us well. They watch movies with us and play with us. I like that they let us go to additional activities. I spend the holidays with my grandmother, but live here during the school year.” She sings a song: “I ask of you, o Lord, to come into my little heart.” She dreams of becoming a religious sister.