Today there are only two Brothers of Mercy in Singapore. They are an invaluable resource to two Catholic charity homes here. Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp, writes about them, their order and their mission.

THE BROTHERS OF Mercy are identified with the ministry to the sick but are open to other opportunities to serve the church as well as being missionaries. The order was founded on Jun 21, 1850 in Germany by Blessed Peter Friedhofen.

Today they are found in Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Switzerland, France, Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore. In Europe the Brothers run hospitals, homes for the elderly and convalescent, clinics for the mentally ill, a hospital using the Kneipp method (based on hydrotherapy), and are custodians of parish churches. They also administer the Domitilla catacombs in Rome.

IN THE 1930s the Brothers ran an orphanage in Japan. But staying in Japan proved impossible with war imminent, and, in 1938, they moved to China at the invitation of Joseph Lo Pa Hong, a prominent Catholic philanthropist. They administered a home for the mentally ill in Shanghai and a hospital in Lanchow, Gansu while visiting and treating patients in their homes, in prisons and in institutions. Ministering among non-Christians, they enabled the light of faith to shine among many Chinese and some of the young men joined the order.

However when the communists took control of China, the Brothers were imprisoned and by 1951 the foreign Brothers had been expelled from the country. In 1952 Archbishop Michael Olcomendy of Malacca and Singapore, expressed a desire for a modern travelling hospital to serve the poor migrant population in Malaya (now West Malaysia and Singapore). The Brothers came and ran mobile clinics - visiting kampongs and serving the sick - during the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1974 the Brothers built the Fatimah Hospital in Ipoh, Perak which is still owned and operated by them.

Above, Brother Ambrose helps a patient with physical therapy at St. Theresa's Home.

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The Brothers' Singapore Story

THREE BROTHERS OF Mercy arrived in Singapore in October 1995 and worked at Mount Alvernia Hospital as nurses. They lived at Burghley Drive and served as spiritual directors to the Legion of Mary and St. Vincent de Paul Society at the Church of St. Francis Xavier.

When Catholic Welfare Services took over the management of Villa Francis Home for the Aged (from the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood Sisters) in 2001, the Brothers were asked to assist in the running of the home. Their experience in nursing, administration and pastoral care was a boon to Villa Francis.

In 2003, Catholic Welfare Services took responsibility for St. Theresa's Home (which was previously run by the Little Sisters of the Poor). And the Brothers were again asked to help out. By then there were only two Brothers of Mercy serving in Singapore - Brother Thomas Chia, who remained in Villa Francis; and Brother Ambrose Heng, who went to assist at St. Theresa's Home.

An important aspect of religious life is living in community. But today Brothers Thomas and Ambrose are unable do so because they serve at different locations. However they try to meet on Sundays and on their off days for meals and prayers.

The dwindling in the number of Brothers of Mercy is not unlike that of many other religious orders today. "We have to accept the situation as it is and make the best of it," Brother Thomas says. "Even in Germany, our Brothers are staying alone as they work in different dioceses."

"Our priority is the people we serve and fortunately Singapore is so small and we are just a phone call away," Brother Ambrose adds.

When Brother Ambrose joined the order in 1967, there were 800 professed Brothers of Mercy. Today there are only 95 worldwide, and a couple of novices in Germany. While many Brothers are trained as nurses in their own nursing school, some are also trained as lab technicians or physiotherapists and in other medical fields. Among them are four priests, three deacons, and a doctor.

Those who join the Brothers of Mercy need not serve directly in the medical sector but may serve in other areas of pastoral care, in parishes, catechesis and administration. Professed Brothers are sometimes selected to study for the priesthood with the aim of serving as chaplains to the order's institutions. Vocation enquiries can be made to Brother Ambrose (tel: 6256 2532, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Brother Thomas (tel: 6269 2877, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). The order's website is at

Above, Brother Thomas feeds an elderly person at Villa Francis Home for the Aged

Left, Brother Ambrose he lends a hand in the kitchen.

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Founder was a chimney sweep

BLESSED PETER FRIEDHOFEN was born into a poor German family on Feb 25, 1819 in Weitersburg, Germany. He became an orphan from early childhood and apprenticed as a chimney sweep.

While working he encountered the plight of many poor German families and desired to alleviate their suffering. At 23, he set up his own business and gave all his earnings to the poor. But he wanted to do more and soon he began to gather young men who shared his mission to serve the poor and sick.

At the age of 30, he founded the Brothers of Mercy of Mary Help of Christians. Within 10 years, there were 40 Brothers. He died from tuberculosis in 1860 and was proclaimed Blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1985.

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Brother Thomas Chia, FMMA

HE WAS BORN in Sabah, Malaysia. With gentle manners and smiling eyes, he cheers the residents of Villa Francis where he resides and works. He shares that he first felt the promptings to religious life as a student.

"At school the La Salle Brothers were very caring and friendly. One particular brother was especially compassionate and I was attracted to his character and wanted to be like him and serve God. But I wasn't interested in teaching so I did not join the La Salles."

One day he came across a vocation advertisement for the Brothers of Mercy in the Crusader Magazine published by the La Salles and sold in Catholic schools. Thomas wrote to the Brothers of Mercy in Ipoh about his interest to join them but they advised him to first finish school and gain some work experience. After his 'A' levels, he worked as an office clerk for a year and a half. He joined the Brothers of Mercy in 1976.

Following his religious formation in Ipoh, Brother Thomas went to Germany to learn nursing. Today he serves at Villa Francis Home for the Aged as Assistant Director of Nursing and as bursar, while providing pastoral care to the residents.

On the joys of living his religious life, he discloses, "I believe that I'm called and chosen and I try to live out this life as a nurse and pastoral care worker, living out this vocation as his (God's) instrument. I've realised that I can do a lot as a Brother and nurse, witnessing and doing good for the sick and helpless because it is God acting and healing through me."

Brother Thomas shares that the secret to persevering in the religious life is "being happy in what you do, and being faithful to your spiritual life." He admits to sneaking off for 15 minutes in mid-morning, amidst his busy schedule, to pray his Divine Office. "I have to remind myself to be faithful."

He adds, "I pray that some Singaporeans will be able to come and be willing to sacrifice and join the priesthood or serve in the religious life."

(continued on page 5)

Brother Ambrose Heng, FMMA

THE SINGAPORE-BORN Brother appears serious but a closer encounter with him reveals a man with a ready laugh and a caring heart. Brother Ambrose was an active member of the Junior Legion of Mary at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul when he was in his teens. He discloses that his vocation arose from his close contact with the priests who provided spiritual guidance and direction to the group.

"When I was about 19, just after school and waiting for my results, I told my parish priest that I wanted to be a religious but I did not want to be a priest as I did not want to preach. Nor did I want to teach. So I told him I wanted to serve where I could use my hands." Providentially, he found a brochure about the Brothers of Mercy in the Parish Hall and corresponded with the Brothers in Malaysia.

In 1967, when he turned 21, he entered the congregation in Ipoh, Perak. Like most of his confreres, Brother Ambrose underwent training in nursing. His training took place in Bangalore, India. As a qualified nurse, he served in the mobile clinics which roamed about the various kampongs in Malaysia. "At that time medical facilities were scarce and so we treated simple ailments, while providing a free clinic in Ipoh with a standby doctor," he says.

When the Fatimah Hospital in Ipoh was built in 1974, Brother Ambrose was among the pioneering Brothers who served in the hospital. He later spent eight years in Rome conducting tours for pilgrims at the catacombs of St. Domitilla which is administered by the Brothers of Mercy. In 1995 he returned to Singapore and is now with St. Theresa's Home where he serves in administration, housekeeping, and pastoral care.

He and Brother Thomas work very closely with the laity now that there are so few Brothers. It is a collaboration that is filled with gratitude and admiration for the many volunteers who are very committed in serving at the homes.

On his vocation as a Brother of Mercy, he shares, "It is important to be Christ-centred. What you do is for God's Kingdom and the love for him and the love you have to give in the area of the sick and aged. My joy in the ability to share Christ with others and also to receive - that the people will love us back - that keeps me going."

Right, Brother Ambrose socialises with his charges at St. Theresa's Home. Sharing Christ with others and receiving their love in return keeps him happy.

(continued on page 6)

How they do what they do

From the constitution of the Brothers of Mercy of Mary Help of Christians:

- Christ gave preference to the poor, weak, and sick. In his name and service, we Brothers continue here and now his ministry.

- Christ gave preference to the poor, weak, and sick. In his name and service, we Brothers continue here and now his ministry.

- Our actions comprise physical, emotional and pastoral help in all the world.

- We minister to the sick and help the needy without distinctions of class, person, or world view. We must not shirk our care even where our full engagement or infectious disease could endanger our lives.

- Every human being is a creature and image of God. Thus we perform our service wherever the needs of our fellow humanity requires it.

"We call ourselves 'Brothers', because Christ has called us to be a community of brothers. '…of Mercy,' because of the works of mercy which we perform for suffering people. '… of Mary Help of Christians' because devotion to Mary was the expressed desire and will of our founder."

- View the complete list of religious orders in Singapore

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