SISTER ANGELA MCBRIEN, an FMDM pioneer to Singapore and who who initiated the birth of Mount Alvernia Hospital, died on Nov 22 in La Verna, an extension of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood Motherhouse in England.
The Memorial Service for Sister Angela was held on Dec 7 at Mount Alvernia Hospital Chapel. The eulogy was delivered by Sister Agnes Tan, FMDM. Edited excerpts of the eulogy follows:
SISTER ANGELA MCBRIEN was born on Jun 28, 1914. She had a brother and five sisters. She joined
the FMDM congregation in 1930, made her first profession of vows in 1933 and her final profession of vows in 1939. Between 1935 and 1940, Sister Angela did her General nursing training followed by Midwifery in London. From 1940 and 47, she worked in Mount Alvernia Hospital in Guildford and Godalming, the congregation’s two nursing homes.
June 1947 saw an event in her life which completely changed the course of her life story. Sister Angela and her two companions were sent to join a group of Irish Franciscan Friars, who were setting up a mission in China. This was the congregation’s first mission to the East.
Unfortunately, their stay of about two years was short-lived. They were compelled to leave China because of the Communist offensive. Sister Angela and her two sisters arrived in Hong Kong not knowing what their future would be. But God worked in mysterious ways!
World War II had ended – Singapore and Malaysia had undergone Japanese occupation for three and a half years.
Post-war Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) was totally for tuberculosis patients.
Tuberculosis was rampant and it was considered contagious. The government was having difficulty recruiting nurses.
Bishop Michael Olcomendy, together with Doctor Smith, were instrumental in negotiating with our Mother General in our Motherhouse in England.
Sister Angela and her sisters were told to come to Singapore where they set up the first FMDM community in Singapore. This was the start of her stint in the East which lasted for 22 years!
Initially, she worked in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and later moved to Mandalay Road Hospital where the government requested them to start a training school for nurses in conjunction with the Singapore General Hospital.
Soon there were plans for building a Catholic hospital in Singapore. During this time, Sister Angela worked closely with the late Dr Ee Peng Liang.
The government of the time, promised to give the sisters "dollar for dollar" grant. But when the People’s Action Party government took over, they wrote to say that they could not honour the grant as their kitty was rather low. They allowed the sisters to go door-to-door begging.
She had a positive attitude even when times were difficult. She did not give in. One of our Asian sisters had this to say of her:
"She had a driving spirit and didn’t she drive us!" What she expected from us, she did not shirk from. She did not spare herself in the mammoth task of building Mount Alvernia Hospital.
Two things which Sister Angela did in her early days were:
recruiting nurses for the training school, and recruiting young girls to join the congregation.
I first set eyes on her when I was in school in the Infant Jesus (IJ) Convent, Victoria Street. The IJ sisters housed them until the government was able to find them a house in Moulmein Road.
When I heard that they were recruiting nurses, I was interested and met up with Sister Angela for an interview. She was kindness personified. I just had admiration and praise for the great person she was – to have the courage and integrity to do what she felt she had to do!
In 1971, she was appointed superior of Mount Alvernia Hospital in Bendigo, Australia. After a three-year stint, she went to serve in different missions. First in Ireland, then Kinmen, after which she came back to Singapore for another two years, then to U.S.A. for a while.
In 1985, she became a member of the Formation Community in Canterbury for the Temporary Professed Sisters. She was an example of kindness and sensitive attentiveness, and the young sisters used to love her.
In 1999, Sister Angela moved to La Verna, an extension of our Motherhouse which was purpose-built for retired sisters needing care. On Nov 22, she died peacefully at 7.40am in the presence of many sisters.