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Sister follows passion for law, another avenue for helping others

posted in: Education, Ghana

by Sister Callista Tetteh, CSC

Sister Callista's graduation from law school.
Sister Callista Tetteh, CSC, celebrates her enrollment in the Ghana Bar Association in September, 2021.

Growing up, there were different things I wanted to be. Each involved helping people because I had benefitted immensely from the help of others. A great mentor and benefactor once told me, “I will be very happy if you become a sister or a lawyer because in these roles you will get to help a lot of people.” At that time, I wasn’t sure about becoming a sister. I was 15 and had not yet heard that call. But I knew that if I studied very hard, I could become a lawyer.

After high school, I applied to Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, to pursue a law degree. But I was steered away from the law program and admitted as a political science major with a minor in English. I was not happy with that plan but did it anyway. Yet, as I was about to complete my degree, I became interested in religious life. I felt a persistent urge that I could not ignore.

A path revealed

I learned about the Sisters of the Holy Cross from the Holy Cross brothers in Cape Coast, my childhood home. One brother introduced me to Sister Esther Adjoa Entsiwah, CSC, then vocation director. We became friends. And in time, my desire to become a sister grew stronger, nourished by the community and hospitality I experienced and the relationship we shared.

Sister Esther encouraged me to explore other congregations and to expand my understanding of what religious life was about. Her willingness to help me discover my vocation—and not to convince me to join her congregation—was attractive to me. I forgot about law and pursued a religious vocation in Holy Cross, which also offered opportunities for service and helping people.

When I returned from the novitiate, I prepared my five-year plan, which included discerning potential areas of ministry. I wanted to explore something that would serve my passion and the needs of the Congregation and God’s people. Naturally, law came to the forefront, as it would allow me to serve in the areas of justice and advocacy, and generally be of assistance to people in vulnerable situations.

Holy Cross sisters and Sister Callista’s family members celebrate her accomplishment.

Acting boldly for justice

However, deciding to pursue a legal education was not easy. I could see myself studying for at least five years, and that did not look attractive. And the rigorous nature of legal education in Ghana—acquiring a bachelor’s degree in law, taking the law school entrance exam and bar examinations—meant that I would have to brace myself for hard work and sacrifices. Also, law was not an area pursued by religious women in Ghana. What were the reasons for that? Were there unknown obstacles I could encounter? And would pursuing law adversely impact my vocation? At the same time, I was settling into my ministry as a teacher at Our Lady of Holy Cross School in Kasoa and was having a lot of fun with my students.

But still, the longing kept tugging at me. So, after many prayers and discussions with mentors and sisters, I took a leap of faith to pursue my passion. I applied to the Faculty of Law, University of Cape Coast (UCC), Ghana, and gained admission in 2016 to the Bachelor of Laws program. To my great fortune and surprise, I met a sister from another congregation who had also been admitted to the program. I immediately relaxed, realizing I was not the only sister in Ghana interested in law.

An affirmed alliance

The various courses I took fed and heightened my interest in law. Particularly, I was drawn to tort law, international human rights law, environmental law and jurisprudence. I was especially intrigued by the tort law concept of “duty of care” and the neighbor principle. This principle requires a person to “take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions that s/he can reasonably foresee as likely to cause injury to the neighbor.” With this concept, I learned that being a good neighbor is both a Christian demand and a legal requirement. From there, I was able to proceed with confidence, assured that the principles of law were in consonance with who I was and who I aspired to be. I could be a lawyer and a sister; the two were not mutually exclusive.

One tremendous help during my time in Cape Coast was the sense of community I had while sharing life with Sister Cynthia Godia Bienaan, CSC, who was also my bandmate. Though we had our individual schedules, we prioritized living in community as best as we could. Our life together strengthened our bond as sisters and enhanced the witness we gave of the defining elements of religious life.

Equipped by God to go and serve

Three years went by quickly. In June 2019 I graduated from UCC with first class honors from the Bachelor of Laws program. I was happy with what God had done for me. However, I was so concerned about preparing for the Ghana School of Law entrance exam that I could not even celebrate. I took the test in July and the results were released that September. Out of 1,820 applicants only 128 had passed—I was one of them. I felt so lucky and realized that God must have wanted me to do “this lawyer thing.”

The two-year professional law course trained law graduates to become lawyers. I finished the first year amid COVID-19 disruptions. The second year went quickly, and we wrote our final exit exams in June 2021. While waiting for the results, I completed the other requirements of the program, an internship and internship exit interviews. On September 24, 2021, I learned I had passed; I was going to be a lawyer! I was so happy that I had made it and that the five years of academic work had come to an end.

 When I heard my name called and walked on stage at the enrollment ceremony, it dawned on me that my dream had become reality. It was time to put my passion into action. My mind raced with thoughts of how I could serve the Congregation and people of God. Would I pursue direct advocacy work, or perhaps help transform the Congregation’s corporate structures in Ghana? I carry a large responsibility on my shoulders, as now I am both a sister and a lawyer. I have many tools to help me help others.

My continuing faith walk

Currently, I am working for Ghana’s Legal Aid Commission, a government agency that provides legal assistance for people living in poverty. The commission assists in dispute settlements through mediation, offers free legal advice, and gives legal representation for qualifying individuals. Per Ghana’s requirements for newly qualified lawyers, I will work closely with a senior lawyer for six months before receiving my practicing license. Working at the commission has been an eye-opening experience. I have met a lot of people suffering from abuse and domestic violence. This experience is offering me a sense of direction as to where I need to focus my practice.

I am determined to do the best that I can as a Sister of the Holy Cross and as a member of the Ghana Bar. And I will trust God to translate my efforts into real results. It is my prayer that I will always recall my initial passion and be guided by it. I am exceedingly grateful to my community for giving me this opportunity. So many other people also have been a tremendous assistance to me; I thank them for their guidance and mentorship. With the psalmist I say, “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim God’s name, make known among the nations what God has done. Sing to God, sing praises, tell of all God’s wonderful acts.” Indeed, God has done wonderful deeds.