I have an Irish story. I’m not Irish, but I was educated by nuns from an Irish order and we always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a festive program at school. My story, however, is about my best friend from college, Mary Rose Ryan. As we became friends, she told me she was from Africa and had been raised in an orphanage in Kifungilo, Tanzania (then Tanganyika).

Left, Mary Rose Ryan in college.

Mary Rose Ryan participated in the St. Patrick's Day celebration in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. She had an Irish last name, which she had chosen herself. She had heard about Ireland from an Irish missionary priest who helped her get admitted to a high school run by American Maryknoll Missionaries. All Mary Rose knew about herself was that she was biracial (African and white) and had been left at the orphanage for biracial children founded by German nuns.

At the Maryknoll high school, she met Catherine Murray from Minnesota, a teacher with Irish ancestry, who adopted Mary Rose and brought her to St. Paul to attend St. Catherine's College (now University). Catherine made her wear green on St. Patrick's Day and a button!

Why did she choose the name "Ryan"? At the orphanage she never had a last name. When someone there told her that her last name had an "r" and "n" in it, she “adopted” the name Ryan. That actually turned out to be a very good name to have in St. Paul, Minnesota, with its strong Irish ancestry! (Continued below.)

Maria Nhambu (formerly Mary Rose Ryan) and her adoptive mother, Catherine Murray Mamer

She now uses her African name, Maria Nhambu, and has written her amazing story of surviving abandonment and abuse in a three-part trilogy. Africa's Child, the first book, recounts growing up at the orphanage and ends with her and her new mother on the plane to a new life in America. America's Daughter continues her story as a young immigrant and at times clueless college student who must learn about and fit into American culture with its racial complexities, build a relationship with her adoptive mother, and deal with the reality of her biological mother. Drum Beats, Heart Beats reveals her origins and all that she made of her life.

Our friendship has lasted these many years. I had the privilege of working with her as editor of her inspiring memoir trilogy. She is also the creator of Aerobics With Soul®, the African dance-based workout. Visit her website www.MariaNhambu.com to find out more about her and her books and to see the workout videos. Her books are also available at Amazon.

Maria Nhambu claims her ancestry is not at all Irish, but her ability to tell the many heart-breaking to humorous stories from her life makes me wonder! JM

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Tags: Africa, Memoirs, Publishing

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