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Ugandan nun included in Time magazine's '100 Most Influential People' issue has strong Oklahoma ties

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, named to Time magazine’s 2014 “Most Influential People” list on Thursday, has a powerful connection to Oklahoma that began through her friendship with Oklahoma City attorney Reggie Whitten, founder of Pros for Africa.
by Carla Hinton Modified: April 24, 2014 at 10:36 pm •  Published: April 24, 2014

The more he traveled with the nun, gave out food to impoverished women, hugged small children and saw the way Nyirumbe worked tirelessly to improve their lives, the more he realized that he had found a type of cure for what ailed him, something that helped push back the pain and grief over his son’s death to manageable levels.

The attorney said helping others gave him a new found sense of peace that he hadn’t felt before.

“It was almost like I found medicine,” Whitten said, smiling.

Nyirumbe said just as Whitten learned to move beyond his pain, the women and children she continues to serve must do the same.

She said she is encouraging them to rebuild their lives by learning new skills such as sewing purses made of aluminum pop tabs.

She said she has come a long way since joining the Roman Catholic religious order Sacred Heart Sisters when she was 15.

Nyirumbe said she never imagined that she would be listed among the world’s most influential people.

“It was a great surprise — genuinely because I couldn’t imagine myself being one of those people,” she said.

And she said she didn’t ever dream that her journey would take her to Oklahoma and so many other places beyond Africa.

‘I’m an Okie’

Realizing that others needed to know about the tireless activist and mother figure for hundreds of Africans, Whitten was inspired to start Pros for Africa and through that organization he’s introduced Nyirumbe to numerous professional athletes along with other professionals from other career fields. Traveling to Africa with these professionals and helping the nun as she offers love and tangible aid to people in Gulu and other areas has brought a new sense of purpose to his life, he said.

That purpose has extended to others in Oklahoma, including Whitten’s wife Rachelle, who founded Sisters United, an organization that also aids Nyirumbe and her efforts to improve lives.

Nyirumbe said she loves Oklahomans and is amazed and humbled that many have chosen to embrace her and her mission.

“I’m an Okie,” she said.

And Oklahomans love her.

She was named an honorary Oklahoman by proclamation from Gov. Mary Fallin.

An Oklahoma gospel duo called JAIA (Linda Knox and Lisa Davis) wrote a song in her honor called “Touched by a Rose” and recorded it as a single.

Many Oklahoma businesses and individuals have donated aluminum soda tabs to Nyirumbe’s tailoring school and many others have purchased the purses made from those pop tabs by women from the African school.

Also, Whitten said numerous students and faculty members from state schools including the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have traveled to Uganda to work with Nyirumbe.

“She is teaching a lot of our Oklahoma kids about life and love and forgiveness and about overcoming obstacles,” he said.

by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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For more information about Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe and the “Sewing Hope” book and documentary, go to


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