WHAT is the secret to longevity?
For Roman Catholic nun, Sister deLourdes of the Chichester Convent in Harare, this question is a mystery she cannot answer conclusively.
Having recently celebrated her 100th birthday, Sister deLourdes — born Tabeth Manhide — says attitude, prayer and joy are key ingredients to a long life.
Good genes help too.
Looking spritely for someone her age, the centenarian missionary prides herself as “having seen it all” and remains eager to live even longer.
She looks in good health and was blessed with good eye-sight.
Speaking to The Sunday Mail last week, Sister deLourdes said she continues to enjoy life to the maximum.
“We celebrated my birthday last week, but up to now people are still coming to see me,” she said.
“I’m failing to explain how I have managed to live this long; it is a mystery.
“For the first time, the Pope’s representative and Archbishop of Harare Robert Christopher Ndlovu, visited to celebrate this great mystery of my life.”
In order to understand her story, one should start from the beginning.
Born Tabeth Manhinde on June 10, 1921, she grew up in Manicaland where she did her primary education.
Being the ninth child in a family of 10, Sister deLourdes said she did not grow up with most of her siblings who passed on when she was young.
“I was born in a family of 10. Unfortunately by the time I grew up, the majority of them had died and I was the only surviving girl.”
She said her calling to sisterhood came at a young age.
Sister deLourdes unfortunately did not answer to the calling believing that she had a lot of unfinished business to attend to before leaving her family.
“I studied up to Standard Six and during that period I realised that I had a calling to work for God as a nun.
“At that time my mother was the only surviving parent, so I thought it was not wise to go to the convent because I wanted to help her financially.
“I then decided to enrol at Monte Cassino Teacher Training College.”
She fondly recounted how, while working as a teacher, she saved money to help her younger brother with raising money to pay lobola.
“After completing my studies as a teacher at Monte Cassino, I worked for five years.
“During that time I was raising money for my younger brother, Lambert, because I did not want him to struggle when he wanted to get married.
“I gave the money to sisters who were working at our mission in Mutare for safe keeping so that they would give him the money at the right time,” said Sister deLourdes.
However, she still could not shrug off the desire to serve God as a nun.
After realising that she had achieved her set goals, Sister deLourdes then decided to answer to her calling.
“Initially my brothers were not in agreement because they were expecting me to get married.
“But as we all know, our ways are not God’s ways.
“I remember my younger brother crying for the whole day and refusing to eat because he did not want me to go,” she said with a chuckle.
She commenced her training in 1945 and was renamed Sister deLourdes.
She was ordained on December 15, 1951 under the Little Children of Our Blessed Lady (LCBL) congregation, which was the first to accept black nuns in Zimbabwe.
From there, she worked under different missions as a Sister and teacher.
After 70 years of diligent service to the ministry, the centenarian said prayer has helped her sail through her long life.
“Being called to work for God, without a husband like what most parents wish for their girl child, is not an easy task.
“I don’t think I would have been celebrating this milestone if I was not prayerful, God-fearing and obedient.”
Sister deLourdes is currently stationed at the Chichester Convent in Harare, an old people’s home for Catholic sisters.
“When I pray, I always thank God for all the priests who helped me since l was young and all the Sisters especially the Precious Blood congregation,” she said.
She applauded the work of the late clergyman and national hero Father Emmanuel Ribeiro, who passed on recently.
“Father Ribeiro used to visit us here, he was a cheerful priest. People thought we were related since we looked alike. We appreciate the work he did for the church and we are still celebrating the life he lived on this earth,” Sister deLourdes said.