A tribute to Katy Penner

Medical missionary to DR Congo, 1953 to 1989

Katy Penner was a special person. She touched so many people in so many ways and leaves a lasting legacy following her death Mar. 5 (see Deaths, May).

a mother, mentor and teacher,” he writes. “She liked discipline and order. Those who studied under her leadership knew that patients were their firstI asked Dr. Pakisa Tshimika to give us some idea of her missionary career from a Congolese perspective. “Many of us Congolese will remember Katy as priority. She was a model bridge-maker, able to work within both church and government institutions. She respected both and was herself very much accepted and respected. She amazed many of us in the way she submitted to our leadership later in her life although we were once the little boys she had vaccinated in the clinic.”

As Katy’s colleague, I represent another facet of her career. My association with her as a medical missionary began in 1961 in a government hospital in Congo. She walked me through the initial exposure of a new physician to the tropics and the change in medications available in a low resource country. She repeated this training, time and again, as she worked with different physicians over the course of her career. She was the epitome of a nurse practitioner working with a team to provide the best medical care under trying circumstances.

She was also a teacher. This was probably her most important contribution over the span of 37 years in Congo. In 2000, she wrote in her Reflections On My Life, “My major activities were in the field of nursing, starting and directing the nursing school. As general education improved we also raised the standards of the nursing program from nursing aid to the RN level. Teaching Sunday school and Bible studies was always part of my program. I found much joy in teaching and counselling students, women, and children who came forward seeking salvation. My last year as a team member of Christian Education workers, we went to various outposts for seminars on weekends.”

Katy was an administrator. Throughout her career she combined teaching with administration. However, her greatest challenge was running the nursing department of an 1,800-bed hospital in Kinshasa. The experience she had gained teaching nursing students in a church setting was now put into practice in a secular setting with huge challenges in the level of training, integrity, and professional standards. She was honoured for this work by the personal physician of Congo’s president.

She was an author. In writing about her missionary experiences, she focused on the Congolese she worked with as diamonds, rather than concentrating on herself. The extent to which the book Diamonds in the Sand influenced people became very evident at her funeral, March 8.

Above all, Katy was a friend. Many people can attest to that. Many examples were given at her celebration day, beginning with her early years, her educational journey, her years in the nursing school at the mission hospital in Kajiji and the government hospital in Kinshasa, as well as in the family circle.

We say farewell but not goodbye. See you in heaven!

 Dr. Ferndinand Pauls is president of the Mennonite Mission Health Association and a member of Portage Ave. Church, Winnipeg.

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