SINGAPORE – The FMDM Sisters celebrated 60 years of their presence in Singapore on Oct 12. About 200 people attended the thanksgiving Eucharist celebrated by Archbishop Nicholas Chia and concelebrated by 16 priests, at the Church of the Holy Spirit.
In his homily, Franciscan Friar Michael D’Cruz said that although St. Francis was asked by Jesus to “Repair my house”, and although the saint had initially used stones to rebuild the walls of the church building, “the reality of Francis’ mission was to tear down walls, not build them up”.
This, said Friar Michael, is what the FMDM Sisters have been doing in Singapore, by tearing down the walls and borders which separated the lepers and tuberculosis (TB) patients from the rest of society, in their work at Mandalay Road Hospital and Trafalgar Home for Lepers.
Sisters Angela McBrien, Camillus Walsh and Baptista Hennessey arrived in Singapore in 1949 and were shortly joined by other Sisters from England. The Sisters began their ministry by taking care of TB patients and training nurses in this field. Later, they built and opened Mount Alvernia Hospital, a general and maternity hospital which emphasises the sanctity and dignity of life.
The FMDM Sisters served Villa Francis Home for the Aged which came under their administration in 1977 till 2001 when Catholic Welfare Services took over. In 1993, Assisi Hospice was opened to provide care for cancer patients, and help terminally ill patients to live life to the fullest.
Over the past 60 years, the Sisters have expanded their mission to Malaysia by their presence in Ipoh, Penang, and Port Klang.
Archbishop Chia, in his congratulatory message, said, “We rejoice with our FMDM Sisters on the occasion of the celebration for their 60 years (of) presence in Singapore. We join them in thanking God for blessing them these past years. The running of the Hospital and Hospice are in the hands of competent lay people. Sisters in their older years have moved to the ministry of pastoral care and spiritual care, both in the Hospital and Hospice as well as in the wider community of Church and society.
“We are very grateful to the FMDM Sisters for their dedicated services all these past years, and look forward to their continued services. We also pray that more young women will be inspired by their examples and come forward to dedicate their lives in the service of Church and community.”
Archbishop Chia presented the papal blessing to Sister Teresa Mitchell, the FMDM Congregational Leader who came from England to celebrate with the Sisters in Singapore on this occasion.
Sister Teresa, in her address, said, “We thank God for the fearless courage of our early Sisters here who despite many difficulties built Mount Alvernia Hospital and the other institutions which continue to give highly professional and holistic care to their patients today.
“We remember today with deep affection those early Sisters, like Sisters Angela McBrien and Mercy Roach, who have now gone to their eternal reward and those like Sisters Baptista Hennessey and Campion Lowe who are being cared for now in Ladywell, our Motherhouse in England.
“FMDM Sisters are now encouraged to use their God-given gifts and talents wherever there are people in need.”
Present for the Oct 12 celebration were several notable figures whose lives have been intertwined with the FMDM Sisters over the past 60 years in Singapore.
Ho Weng Toh, a World War II veteran and trainer for Singapore Airlines for over 20 years, recalled how in 1962 he once spent an entire night in the hospital chapel. He was praying for his wife who was having complications during the delivery of her youngest son, David. In the morning, Sister Thomasina Sewell came to greet him with good news that his wife and son were both well.
J. Y. Pillay, Chairman of the Singapore Exchange and former Chairman of Assisi Hospice Board of Directors from 2003-2007, said of the Sisters, “I have great respect for the work they have done.”
National Kidney Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Gerard Ee said, “I hope that this celebration will be an inspiration for new vocations for the FMDM Sisters. A big thank you for all the services that they have rendered to Singapore!” His father Dr Ee Peng Liang was Chairman of Mount Alvernia Hospital from 1987-1989.
By Sister Mariana D’Costa, FMDM and Sister Florence Wong, FMDM