July 18, 2017

OBITUARY: Sister Constance Gemme, MSOLA


HOLYOKE – Sister Constance Gemme, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa, 85, of Holyoke, died on July 15.

Born in Worcester, Mass., July 1, 1932, she was the daughter of the late Henry W. Sr. and Clara (Bolduc) Gemme of Worcester. She was inspired to join the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (MSOLA) by the example of her older sister, Sister Irena (Theresa) Gemme. She entered the congregation of MSOLA in April 1953. She graduated as a registered nurse in 1959 and learned midwifery in Ottawa, Canada.

In the early 1960s, she missioned in Africa in Algiers, Burkina Faso and then in Ghana, where she lived out the majority of her missionary calling until 2004. During her years in Ghana, she served as matron of Navrongo and Nandom hospitals, as well as executive secretary of the Diocesan Health Committee in Tamale.

Sister Gemme cared full time for her ailing mother in Worcester from 1980-1985, during which time she served at her home parish as eucharistic minister, chorister and folk group guitarist among other roles. During this time she also earned an undergraduate degree in liberal arts and a graduate degree in pastoral counseling from Worcester State College and Assumption College. She also enjoyed art classes at the Worcester Art Museum, where she specialized in creating portraits in charcoal, oil and pastels.

Back in Ghana in the early 1990s, she ministered to prisoners and street children. She founded the Collaboration with Women in Distress (COLWOD) in 1995, addressing the prostitution problem in Tamale and raising the standard of African women. COLWOD trained African women in income-generating skills such as sewing, batik and tie-dying.

In 1995 she began traveling throughout Ghana, raising awareness about human trafficking. She departed Ghana for the last time in 2004, and continued her work in the U.S., raising awareness about modern day slavery in churches, schools, and women’s groups through various media. The Constance Gemme Rescue Home from Human Trafficking was established in Ghana in the early 2000s.

After retirement, she resided in Holyoke and she was active in pro-life activities in Springfield, as well as fundraising for the Shriners Hospital.  

In addition to her sisters in community, she is survived by her sisters, Anne M. Berthiaume of Holyoke, and Lorraine T. Boucher of Atkinson, N.H.; her brothers, Henry W. Gemme Jr. and his wife, Claire, and George J. Gemme and his wife, Anna; and her sisters-in-law, Yvette Gemme Brodeur and Anne Gemme, all of Auburn, Mass.; and several nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her siblings Irene C. Gemme, Sister Irena (Theresa) Gemme, MSOLA, Leon H. Gemme, William H. Gemme, Lillian A. Boisvert, Claire Sevigny, Sister Marguerite Gemme MSOLA, and William P. Gemme.

A Celebration of life will be held at Providence Place in Our Mother of Sorrows Chapel, 5 Gamelin St., Holyoke Ma. 01040 on Thursday, July 20, from 1-2 p.m., followed by a Mass of Christian Burial to begin at 2 p.m., and burial in Calvary Cemetery Brightside.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, 5 Gamelin St. Holyoke Ma. 01040 Apt.340 or to a charity of choice.