Irene Wheeler never set out to be a missionary nurse. After leaving school she trained as a Norland Nanny and it was only when she was nearly 30 that she decided to take up nursing with a view, some of day perhaps, of going to Africa. At Barts, she was a gold medalist and then worked as a district nurse in London’s East End during the blitz.
She was asked to go to the large, remote Messumba Mission in Mozambique in 1950 and for the next 20 years was sister-in-charge at Messumba Hospital. There was no doctor at this hospital so Irene did everything and spared no effort in trying to train her staff to St Barts standard.
In the hospital there were usually about 35 in-patients. Out-patients averaged150 a day though the record attendance in one day was somewhere just above 500. It was always swarming with people who had come great distances needing treatment for TB, malaria, hookworm, bilharzia, tick-fever and burns on top of maternity cases, But crocodile bites were not unheard of and successful amputations had been performed….
Irene also held antenatal and baby clinics and acted as school matron to a 1,000 pupils and staff. All this in a place where for two thirds of her time there had no electricity or a piped water supply.
She was known as a wonderful and fun companion who was dedicated to her work in Messumba. No sentimentalist, but a realist, with both feet firmly on the ground. Her love of the people was deeply rooted in the love she had for Our Lord and His words:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
After her retirement in 1975, she continued to keep MANNA’s work in Mozambique on the mission agenda at her local church and today there is a plaque in her memory at St Mary and St Eanswythe’s Parish church, Folkestone. A great supporter of MANNA, Irene died in 2001, another incredible individual who quietly took on the task of building up the kingdom of God in Mozambique.