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Sister Maria (right) enjoying a piece of cake with our oldest living
North American Sister, Bernadine Cupen (left), who turns 99 on April 17.


Medical Mission Sister Maria Hornung recently retired from a six-year term as a Unit North America Coordinator.  Her years of gracious leadership have been invaluable; her wisdom and authentic kindness has assuredly been deepened by her years of study on interfaith dialogue.

Entering the Medical Mission Sisters in 1954, Sister Maria worked as a pharmacist in Fort Portal, Uganda, eventually serving 25 years in Africa. She encountered people from a multitude of unique religions and cultures. It was not lost on her that, when she engaged respectfully with people from other faiths as equals, never with any intention to convert them, she began gaining a deeper understanding of her own faith. It became clear to her that, while no one religion has all the answers, we do all at least have some of the answers that we can share with one another.

“In my encounters with people of many countries, cultures and religions, I have been delighted to continue my search for God and know that I have met God in many places and under many guises,” she says.

Still, religion remains a source of so much conflict in the world. Sister Maria was particularly troubled by the Islamophobia that emerged in the United States after 9/11. In a nation with so much religious diversity, how could we be so divided? Enrolling at Temple University, she earned a second graduate degree in religion, with interreligious dialogue as her theme. In 2007, she published a book through Paulist Press called Encountering Other Faiths, along with an accompanying workbook. Hoping to empower others in her community, she began offering seminars on “Deepening Faith Through Interreligious Dialogue,” designed to teach people not only how to relate to people from different faiths, but also how to accept one another’s differences.

Sister Maria shares: “Interreligious dialogue is hard work. Investment in this work has evidenced its great potential for being a way of relating. It has netted many results: violence stopped, creativity came alive, levels of happiness increased, destructive energy turned to creative energy, growth in the authentic self.”
In 2005, Sister Maria began working as coordinator of Interfaith Education at the Interfaith Center of Philadelphia, at one point helping to coordinate an interfaith program for recovering addicts. She found that, with an interfaith spiritual component, relapses declined significantly. Today, her interfaith curriculum for adults is available both to congregations and to the public.

“[Interfaith dialogue] changes your understanding of God,” she says, “I can’t go back to the understanding I had of God 40 years ago!”