First Mother Superior In Iraq General Mother Superior Mary Amy of the Dominican Order
Translated by Naima S. Panow, MD, FRCS

Taken from many articles

1948 from the right; Mother Amy, Naima's  mother and Naima wearing white blouse kneeling on the grass with the children






Picture taken in Mosel, Mother Amy and  Priest Michael Hendow, Cousin of Naima Panow








Mother Amy and her two sisters in the convent







Martha Mossa Hendow was born in Azekh, Turkey in 1885. Her parents were very strong Assyrian Catholics. Her mother died when she was studying at the Catholic school run by the Dominican priest, Father Calland. The Ottoman Empire did their best to destroy Christianity, but the Dominican priests came to Azekh, Turkey, opened few Catholic schools to keep Christianity growing and spread the word of God in Azekh and around the villages and towns.


Father Calland knew Martha had a great ability to study and her love to Jesus and his blessed Mother Mary made her study to follow their steps. The German army came to Iraq to control the oil by the agreement with the Ottoman Empire and allowed the Christians to attend their churches and schools.


Father Calland asked Martha’s father and her grandfather to allow him to send Martha to Mosel- Iraq,  to join the Dominican girls Catholic school.  The family allowed her to leave Azekh in 1898 and join the Dominican School.


Martha learned reading and writing in both Arabic and Chaldenian languages. She studied mathematics that helped her to teach in the future.


After graduation, the schoolmaster, Father Romaine, appointed her to teach in the same school in Mosel. The Dominican Order allowed her to start a center for the young and old students to learn how to teach Christianity, reading and writing.  It required that every member of the center she started should wear black as a uniform dress.


Few years later Martha was appointed to join a convent in a town called, Telkaf, close to Mosel. There was a large convent in Telkaf.  Almost all were Chaldenian Catholic and they spoke only the Chaldenian language.  


The Dominican superiors appointed Martha to become assistant to the head mistress of the school and the convent. She started another center in Telkaf as she did in Mosel.


Many women and girls joined her and again wore the same black uniform.

After the school hours, Martha and her group opened the school on Sunday afternoon to teach the bible and the Christian life. The Christian life in the family was the basis of a good family and brought out the happiness of every member.


While Martha was still in Telkaf, she was asked to open many centers in the towns and villages around Mosel and the north of Iraq. At every center she opened, she started the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Society of the Rosary and the Society of the Our Lady of Mt.Carmel of the Scapular.


Martha worked hard in Telkaf.   Being a teacher and the assistant to the headmistress, and opening centers all around the north of Iraq, affected her health. Twenty five years later, the Dominican center in Mosel decided to move her to a smaller village.


During one of her visits to her many centers, she had car accident and it caused a severe skull fracture and heavy bleeding. They rushed her to the Mosel Hospital. After being unconscious for many hours, the doctors were so surprised to see her later sitting and talking as if nothing had happened. The doctors believed it was a miracle and the Lord was there to help Martha.


During the WWI, the Moslems and specially the Kurds persecuted the Christians by the thousands.  Many Christian villages were completely massacred.  Hundreds and thousands of refugees left their homes and property to live in Iraq.


Martha was heartbroken to see the fruit of the war. Hundreds were sleeping on the floor and filling the roads. Many refugees were starving and many died in the streets.  Beautiful young girls were kidnapped by the Moslem and many more were raped in front of their parents. Every member of the center rushed to help them, find them food to eat, medicine to treat and as Martha said, many times she used to go from house to house to find them food, some clothes to wear, blankets to cover them in the cold weather, shrouds for the dead and so on.


Martha worked hard to find shelters for the girls and young women who were living in the streets. Many orphan boys and girls found them shelters to live in.


The Catholic Chaldenian and Assyrian, the Orthodox and Latin superiors met to decide what to do about the war refugees.


Hundreds were living in different shelters with no family to go home to. After meeting, the superiors decided to approach the Holy Father in Rome to allow them to start a third convent in Mosel. The permission was granted and they started a new convent named,

“The Convent of Saint Katrina Al Syriania”


On April 30, 1927 the convent door was opened and the first group were the members of the centers who wore black for more than 30 years.


In the largest Catholic Church in Mosel, the representative of the Holy Father in Mosel, the Superiors of the Chaldenian, Assyrian Catholic, the Latin and Dominican orders and the Orthodox Church superior in Mosel were united under one church.


For the first time, the center group wearing black walked in two lines wearing the white Dominican Order’s habit. It was an unbelievable sight to see women age 50-60 years old who for the first time were living under one roof and would be called sisters.


Martha could not become a nun although she was wearing white. The Dominican order needed her to teach and open more centers in other towns in the north of Iraq.

Martha became a nun in 1931. Her name was changed to Sister Mary Amy.  


The Dominican Order needed somebody to enforce rules in the new convent. They got a nun from France to teach and uphold the rules for the nuns to follow. Sister Mary Amy was appointed to assistant the French nun and at the same time was appointed to assist the convent director who would take care of the business part.

The French nun finished her job and left to France to join her convent. The convent director was appointed to continue taking care of the convent on daily bases until they elect the Mother Superior.


On July 3, 1933, the religious committee met and voted for Sister Mary Amy to be the first General Superior and the first Mother Superior of the Convent of Saint Katrina Al Syriania.


In 1936 the first group who entered the convent in 1927 were able to take their vows.

Mother Superior Mary Amy was not able to do that because according to the convent rules, she should be a nun in the convent for at least for six years.


The religious superiors again wrote to Rome asking for a special permission to allow Mother Superior Mary Amy to take her vows with her group. The Holy Father in Rome granted the permission and Mother Superior Mary Amy became a nun for life.


Mother’s health was getting worse, complaining of severe weakness and developed a large lump on her right side of the abdomen. The pain was so severe that many times she could not stand up from the pain.  Mother Superior went to many doctors in Mosel and no one knew the cause of her pain. There was a convention of the Holy Spirit in Lebanon, the superiors sent her to attend the meeting and to be treated in their hospitals. Again the diagnosis was not known and she was given some medications to relive her pain and vitamins for her health.


The doctors asked her to stay in Lebanon for at least a year to relax and get complete rest.

Mother Mary Amy refused to stay and went back to her convent and the many centers she opened until she again fell ill and could not work as hard.


Mother Mary Amy asked the superiors in Mosel to relieve her from her general responsibility and they accepted her to stay as the Mother Superior of the convent.


My grandfather, who was living in Zakho, and treated her as his sister (although she was his cousin), heard about her illness.  He went to Mosel and joined her in the trip to come to Basra south of Iraq.  His son, Dr. Toma Hendow, my uncle, was an internist working in Basra General Hospital.


In 1948, Mother Superior Amy and my grandfather arrived to Basra and stayed in my uncle’s house.


The blood test results showed she was very anemic. The lump in her right side was getting larger and more painful. More tests were done to find the cause of this pain.

The diagnosis was a disease called Hydatit Cyst of the liver (a disease affecting cats and dogs, a type of worms.) The food carry the eggs of these worms and once they are in the human body, they grow in a cyst filled with these worms and once it bursts, it could develop more than hundred cysts in the abdomen, lung and even the brain.


Uncle Toma and other surgeons talked to Mother Mary Amy and explained to her the diagnosis. They advised her to have surgery as soon as her health is better.

The chief surgeon (an English surgeon) would do the surgery.


Mother Amy went to church prayed, went to confession, attended the Mass and received the Body of Christ. Mother Amy did not want to have the surgery, but her pain was becoming more than she could handle.


The next day she had the surgery with out a complication. Her condition became critical, however, her temperature got so high and did not respond to any medication.

Mother Mary Amy never got her consciousness.


Mother Superior Amy died the next day. That day was December 8th 1948, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. She died at the age of 64.


The Carmelite convent in Basra, sent three nuns to the hospital and dressed her in her beloved Dominican Habit.


The Latin priest and the three Carmelite nuns prayed around her body.  Joining them were my grandfather and his sons and one daughter, who was my mother.

Mother Amy was placed in a large casket coffin.  She was carried to the Latin Catholic Church in old Basra city. The Latin superior, the Chaldenian Bishop, the Assyrian Catholic monsieur, the Orthodox priest and the mother Superior of the Carmelite convent celebrated a special mass.


The Latin Church in the Old Basra City was packed with the family, friends and even many Moslems who heard about her death.


Mother Mary Amy was buried in the grounds of the Latin Church on the same day she died. A large marble headstone carved on it a nice poem written by one of the priests.

The poem represented her life and her work from a young age until the day she died.


Two years later her convent in Mosel insisted on bringing her remains to Mosel. A nun arrived from Mosel with a permission to open her grave and rebury her remains in her own convent.


The Catholic priest in Basra said a special prayer with all members of the family around to say goodbye to our beloved Mamer Amy as we used to call her.

The Nun took the remains back to Mosel. At the train station in Mosel, a huge number of the superiors, nuns and the faithful were there to welcome her back to her convent

On the same day her remains were taken to the largest Catholic Church in Mosel and her remains were put in the front of the altar. 

Every Bishop, priest and all the superior religious men and women, the nuns of her convent and every member of the centers she opened were there to attend the High Mass celebrated by the Bishops.  The faithful, men and women, packed the church and many stood outside the church. Many were crying and remembering her good character and her help to every member of the families she helped, but most of all her love for the poor.


During her life she was able to spread the Christianity, opened many kindergartens for girls and boys, helped many young women to live the Christian way and became the best of mothers.


Similarities between Mother Teresa and Mother Mary Amy


Meeting Mother Teresa in 1997 and talking to her in person, I remembered Mother Mary Amy.

I found there are many similarities in their lives.


Both lost one of their parents, Mother Teresa lost her father and Mother Mary Amy lost her Mother, both at a very young age.


Mother Teresa left her home to go to Ireland, became a nun and could never go back to her country of Albania.  Mother Mary Amy went to Mosel- Iraq and could not go back to Turkey.


Mother Teresa became a teacher in the Catholic school in India. Mother Mary Amy became a teacher in the Catholic school in Iraq.


Mother Teresa started the Missionary of Charity. Mother insisted on using the Indian Sari to be the official dress for the nuns.

Mother Mary Amy before she became a nun, opened many centers for teaching Christianity, mathematics and the Arabic language, in the North of Iraq. The group members chose the black uniform.  Because of her work and the many centers she opened, the Dominican superiors opened the new convent, “St. Katrina Al Syrian Convent.” Once the group joined the new convent the black dress was replaced by wearing the white Dominican habit.


Mother Teresa helped refugees coming from the creation of Pakistan after the British divided India. Mother Mary Amy helped Christian refugees fleeing from the Moslem Kurds in Turkey. Both knew the terrible fruit of the war.


Mother Teresa took so much interest in the poor and the orphans, especially the children.

Mother Mary Amy took care of the poor, the orphans and helped the girls to get shelters to protect them from the powerful Moslems and especially the Kurds in the south of Turkey and the North of Iraq, which is now the Kurdistan of Iraq.  


Mother Teresa in person was accepted and loved by many heads of state, kings, queens and even the non-faithful welcomed her and helped her to do her work.

Mother Mary Amy was, welcomed by the people living in the north of Iraq.


Both Mother Teresa and Mother Mary Amy worked for the people and not for themselves.

Even when they were sick, they continue to serve and not to be served.


Mother Teresa worked so hard and felt the pain of every member of the family, the poor and the helpless.  Mother Mary Amy knew the meaning of what it was to be poor and suffering for the Christians in Turkey and Iraq, for refugees who were happy in their homes and suddenly were the poorest of the poor. Many of her teachers in Turkey were killed during WWI and many were prosecuted for being poor or Christian.


Mother Teresa had poor health due to her hard work, her poor diet, the bad air pollution in Calcutta, India, the effect of the pain of severe arthritis and weakness due to heart failure.

Mother Teresa died suddenly due to heart attack and heart failure.


Mother Mary Amy suffered of weakness, anemia and poor health. For many years Mother Mary Amy suffered of sever pain due to Hydatit Cyst.  

Mother Amy’s death was very sudden to every one who knew her. She died due to high fever and possible rupture of the Hydatit Cyst which contains high level of protein which cause sever allergic shock.  


Mother Teresa and Mother Mary Amy believed in Jesus and his Blessed Mother. Both accepted the good and the bad, never complained and did their work with love and happiness.


Mother Teresa and Mother Amy continue to work until they knew it was time to step down from being the superior position.

Both Mother Teresa and Mother Amy resigned from their Superior position due to bad health and both stayed to help the new Superior.


Mother Teresa gave the title to Sister Nirmala as the General Superior of the Missionary of Charity. When I asked Sister Nirmala if she is going to be called Mother Nirmala? Sister said, “There is only one Mother of the Missionary of Charity.”

Mother Mary Amy gave the title to the head of the convent to be the General Superior for all the centers she opened. Mother Mary Amy became the assistant to the new General Superior.


Mother Teresa was very short. Her height was only 4.8 feet.  Mother Amy was very short and her height was only 4.8 feet.


Mother Teresa tried to visit her many homes in India and all over the world. She used planes, trains, boats and cars to reach to her homes.

Mother Mary Amy visited the many centers she opened in the North of Iraq. She used trains, cars and Mules to reach to her many centers.  


 Both Mother Teresa and Mother Mary Amy died in the East and not in the West.


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