"They are giving of themselves to bring about peace in our society and the world. They live the life of poverty and are detached, showing by way of example, not to be materialistic. Through their vow of chastity, they show that things of the world are not to be counted, and instead consecrate themselves to God and to others. Their vow of obedience shows that they are not egoistic, but do things for the Lord." – Archbishop Nicholas Chia, praising golden jubilarians Sisters Anna Ong, Mary Siluvainathan and Mary Tan, and silver jubilarian Sister Theresa Seow


Road to religious life began
after watching film on the Passion of Christ

SISTER MARY TAN grew up during the war-torn years of the 1940s. She was one of the lucky few to have been able to complete her education, first in Nanyang Chinese High School – a Chinese-medium school – then later in an English-medium government school. Her father transferred her after learning that she and other students were under constant daily pressure from the Communists to "go back to China".

Although her lack of English proficiency saw her joining the new school at a lower grade, she managed to overcome this handicap and won a place at St. Anthony’s Convent.

Coming from a non-Catholic background, she found herself "very much against the Catholic religion" as people then considered it a foreign religion. "… [T]hough I was receiving a convent education, I was not prepared to accept the religious teachings", she wrote in her life story for Archbishop Chia.

One day, during Lent, the school principal Mother Margherita Lazzaroni made the students watch a film on the Passion of Christ. It was the horrific scene on the scourging of Christ that brought about a sudden change of heart in Sister Mary. Immediately, she sought out Mother Margherita for catechism, and was eventually baptised in 1954 after having obtained her then Taoist parents’ blessings.

Baptism alone, however, had not satisfied her "spiritual hunger". In a book she read, the phrase "You must love God with your whole heart…" led to the discovery of a call from God, a vocation. She wrestled with the hurt and pain she knew it would bring to her non-Catholic parents and siblings.

Her parents were initially heartbroken and upset with the Catholic faith which they blamed for causing them to "lose" their daughter. But she recognised that it was "only through God’s grace" that her parents were eventually reconciled with her life option and even went as far as to accept the Catholic faith through baptism.

"Today, as I look back over the last 50 years, there is nothing I would change in my life if I have to live it all over again. I feel very blessed, happy and grateful to God, to my natural family, as well as to my spiritual family in the Canossian mission."


Enjoys living in community

SISTER ANNA ONG was the youngest of 16 children. When she was in Primary Five, she was attracted by the kindness of a Canossian Sister teaching in St. Anthony’s Convent where she was studying. She thought of becoming a nun, but feeling inadequate and unworthy, she cast the idea aside. In addition, her parents were against the idea, despite being staunch Catholics.

However, she continued to pray about it and eventually joined the religious order at the age of 21. She did her novitiate in Hong Kong together with Sisters Mary Siluvainathan and Mary Tan.

Upon returning to Singapore in 1962, Sister Anna taught at St. Anthony’s Canossian Primary and Lower Secondary schools which were then located in Middle Road, before being assigned to assist in the kindergarten at Canossa Convent in Salim Road.

Her other appointments include taking care of the Lifesprings Canossian Spirituality Centre at Jalan Merbok, and pastoral care and handicraft work with the elderly at St. Joseph’s Home.

"In the past 50 years, I have enjoyed living together with others in community because I recall the times at home with my 16 brothers and sisters. I see community as a place where people can challenge each other to grow in love and peace," she wrote about herself in an article for Archbishop Nicholas Chia.

"I thank the Lord for the opportunity to have lived and served in the different communities throughout these years, and experienced God’s love through the many (Canossian) sisters and people I have met. Daily I pray that I may communicate the knowledge and love of God to each person I meet as I remember the words of St. Magdalene, ‘the greatest charity is to make God known and loved’."


Grateful to God for her life despite the pains

WHEN SHE WAS born on Apr 12, 1940, Sister Mary’s father was told by the doctor that she would not live. After having lost an elder daughter before, her father rushed to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes to beg the Virgin Mother to save the life of his new daughter. As he prayed and cried, he felt a touch on his shoulder and heard, "Go back to the hospital." He did so; the child lived but took a long time to get well.

Three days later, she was baptised by the parish priest, Father Michael Olcomendy, who later became the first archbishop of Singapore.

Her mother died when Sister Mary was five years old. She also has a faint memory of a younger sister who died, maybe when Sister Mary was around two years old. "Thus I was left alone with Father," she recalled.?"My father was a wonderful man of faith.
He worked hard. I remember
him incensing the altar and praying for a long time every night."?

At the age of 10, she entered boarding school and there missed sorely a normal family and the love and hugs of parents. Her father visited once a month, but that was not enough for her. As she grew older, she became angry with God, asking questions and receiving no answers. So she became silent and took company with books.

Fortunately she found a confidante in the boarding mistress, a Canossian who awakened in her a call to religious life. She also became an admirer of two of her teachers, which led her to dream of becoming a teacher. Her boarding mistress helped her to realise that she could be both a religious and a teacher at the same time.

In 1959, she joined the Canossian novitiate in Hong Kong and underwent a formation she described as "awful and difficult". After her profession of vows, she was sent to teach in St. Anthony’s Canossian School in Middle Road. "My teaching years were wonderful because of the lovely teachers at St. Anthony’s in Middle Road," Sister Mary said.

A loner by nature, Sister Mary does not find community life to be easy, even today. "At times I just wish to go away and be somewhere else. But, all in all, because of the God-given calling, I wish not to be anywhere else or do anything else," she wrote in her article for Archbishop Chia.

She has been in the ministry for catechists in the RCIA since 1988. She is also a Sojourner in Prayer Guiding and an intercessor in Changi Hospital.

Sister Mary continues to live life as best she can, after having suffered cancer and a heart attack. "It is precious time leased out to me to serve my God," she said. "My heart plays tricks still and I have to be good to it to carry on."

Her father died in 1975. Though her immediate family was never complete, she has the consolation of her cousins, who have been family to her since young.

Despite all the pains she has endured, Sister Mary feels that God has been good to her and she is grateful to Him for everything, especially her life.


Finds joy in knowing that salvation is for everyone

SISTER THERESA SEOW was born, the sixth of eight children, in a family that practised a traditional Chinese religion. Today, her biological mother and siblings have embraced Christianity and belong to different denominations.

Sister Theresa grew up however as an adopted child in a staunch Catholic family. She was the eldest child and had four younger brothers. It was her paternal grandmother’s faith through prayer and encouragement that, from early childhood, influenced Sister Theresa and sowed the seed of vocation to the religious life. Both her parents also expressed joy at her choice of becoming a religious and they continue to support her with prayers and love.

She received her education in CHIJ St. Joseph’s Convent and the nearby Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was a frequent stopover en route to school each day. She grew up in an environment where her parents worked and lived with people of other religions.

As a young adult, she was initially attracted to St. Francis of Assisi and his spirituality, but through years of discernment, she was gradually guided to the Canossian Sisters. She entered the postulancy phase in 1980, and professed her first vows on Dec 10, 1983.

Of her past 25 years as a Canossian, a total of eight-and-a-half years were spent in Rome. From 1990-1994, her studies in Rome led her to a growing appreciation and love for the Logos (‘Word’).

When she returned to Singapore, then Archbishop Gregory Yong appointed her the archdiocesan representative in the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), where she served for 10 years, including becoming the first woman President in the IRO from 2003-04.

In 2001, she was appointed by Cardinal Walter Kasper to sit in the Joint Working Group of the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. She was also appointed by Pope John Paul II as Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID). Both are Papal Offices set up to assist the pope in his ministries in interreligious and ecumenical affairs.

In 2004, she joined the PCID where she facilitated interreligious dialogue in the Church in Asia and was also the Official for relations with Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians and other traditional Oriental religions.

"For me, interreligious dialogue is ... living a life of witnessing God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ ... it is a call to share the news that salvation offered by Christ is God’s will for the entire humanity," she wrote in her life story for Archbishop Chia.

In her 25 years as a Canossian, she has also been involved in moral education, catechism and programmes for children from single-parent families. She taught Comparative Religions in St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary and conducted formation programmes for different archdiocesan groups.

She has served on the Archdiocesan Commission for Missionary Activity (ACMA) and the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI). She has also served as a Director on the Board of Mercy Relief from 2003-05, and has resumed her position after returning from Rome in September last year.

In December 2008, together with Sister Marilyn Lim and Sister Geraldine Tan, she is now on the Provincial Council team for Singapore as the Vicar Provincial.

In her life, she experiences the deepest joy from her conviction of the Lord’s love and fidelity to her and in the certainty that God is revealed in Jesus and salvation is for all.

"My vocation is to share Christ’s passion and to spread God’s love for the entire humanity," she said.

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