Maria Chiazokam Ezeani’s devotion has brought her to hospitals and nursing homes, and now to a community college classroom far from her native land.
A member of the Daughters of Divine Love, the religious sister began SUNY Broome’s Health Studies degree program in January 2019 with the goal of eventually transferring into the Nursing program.
She’s no stranger to healthcare; back home in Nigeria, she worked in hospitals for more than 20 years, taking care of mothers and newborns in the Pro-Life Center and doing medical coding and billing online for a large hospital. She finds joy and meaning in comforting the suffering.
“That passion and desire for taking care of people is still burning in me,” she said. “When you are working in a caring ministry, it is continuing the caring and healing work of God.”
She was sent to the United States as a missionary by her order, which is headquartered in Chicago. Convents span the globe, and sisters include nurses, pharmacists, teachers and social workers among their ranks. She currently lives in her religious community at St. Patrick’s Church in Binghamton.
Where she heads after earning her nursing degree is ultimately up to the order, and God’s will. She expects to stay in the United States, contributing to healthcare for populations in need.
“We are the Daughters of Divine Love. Our mission is to show love to the whole world,” she explained. “Our work is for the entirety of humanity. You are a child of God; you are created by God. That image of God is what we protect.”
Community in college
The Health Studies degree program is highly flexible, preparing students for transfer or for direct entry into allied health professions. Maria appreciates the foundation she is building in healthcare, and tackling the prerequisites for the Nursing program a little bit at a time. She’s in no rush, she said.
When she first arrived at SUNY Broome, she faced some trepidation; it had been years since she left school, she explained. But she has met encouragement along the way, starting with orientation and continuing in her relationship with professors and advisors – particularly “the two Judies,” advisors Judi Dzuba and Judy Watson, Professor John Pierog and Professor Virginia Shirley.
While English is the official language of Nigeria, it’s British English with different pronunciation and spellings, said Maria, who grew up speaking one of the country’s many native languages. Dr. Shirley provided a tremendous role model, and encouraged Maria to master American English by listening to broadcasts and engaging in conversation.
Support services such as tutoring and the Math Lab gave her the tools to succeed when she struggled, and she ended up earning higher grades than she initially imagined.
“I think God planted these people in my way to put me true. They really empowered me,” she said. “I am so, so grateful. Their primary concern is the success of their students.”
SUNY Broome also offered assistance when it came to entering the local workforce through its Center for Career Development. Staff there helped her prepare a resume and coached her on what to expect during interviews. After connecting with prospective employers during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Job Fair, she received four offers from nursing homes and ultimately chose UHS Senior Living at Ideal. At Ideal, Maria strives to go the extra mile – and often the most recalcitrant patients prove to be her favorites. She treats her charges with patience, compassion and gentle good humor, and they often come to appreciate her dedication.
Sister Maria found SUNY Broome a community college in more than just name. She should know: Religious sisters live in community, with everything shared in common, including one another’s burdens.
“This is a community college and I’m living as a religious in community. I find all the elements of religious community in this college,” she said. “I’m so glad to be here. I have experienced a lot of love and smiles.”