From left: Canossian Srs Marcellina Fumagalli, Rose Low and Jane Chong at their jubilee celebration at the Church of St Stephen on Jan 2. Sr Fumagalli celebrated 60 years as a Religious while the other two nuns celebrated 25 years.
Wanted to be a missionary at age of 6
“You find happiness where you are … although there were misunderstandings, obstacles, but among these, my joy was in my heart … I can go on,” says Canossian Sr Marcellina Fumagalli, who celebrated 60 years of Religious life recently.
Although her life has not been without obstacles, she firmly believes that “without some suffering, you cannot achieve anything.” Furthermore, “through suffering united with” Christ, one can accomplish much.
Sr Marcellina said she had wanted to be a missionary from the age of six. Her mother had told her stories about the saints and the young Marcellina had understood that her calling was to be a missionary.
Joining the convent required one to give up one’s worldly possessions and make other sacrifices, and it was a bit of a struggle for her as she came from a close-knit family. However, she left Italy and arrived in Singapore in December 1954.
Sr Marcellina said her greatest joy comes from educating the poor. A skilled dressmaker, she was put in charge of the Sewing Centre managed by the Canossian Sisters. There she managed to secure sewing contracts for the girls studying there.
She also worked at the now-closed Canossian Vocational Centre (CVC) which accepted girls who dropped out of school. There she taught vocational skills and other subjects.
Sr Marcellina was concerned about her students’ spirituality as well. Daily morning prayers and weekly spiritual sessions were conducted at the Sewing Centre. Rosary recitation, catechism lessons and retreats were also held for CVC students.
Her care for her students extended beyond their graduation and also to their families. Sr Marcellina recalled that in 2010, an ex-pupil approached her for Catholic instruction for her dying father. The nun later helped arrange for his baptism and he passed away not long after.
Now at 80 and with her health not as good as it used to be, Sr Marcellina says she does whatever she can to serve others. She helps out at the San Zeno thrift shop at the Canossaville Children’s Home at Sallim Road and also animates a group of lay Canossians known as Magdalene’s Apostles. She also helps to organise the cleaning of the Church of St Stephen.
Looking back at her Religious life, she says her fulfilment comes from prayer and being united with God.
It is important for one to remain united in God, otherwise one’s life would be unhappy, concluded Sr Marcellina.
Finding God in the broken and the hurting
Recognising God’s presence in every person, even in those who appear most unattractive, is a message that remains in Sr Jane Chong’s heart.
The Canossian nun, who was trained in Pre-school and Special Needs Education, recalled that she used to feel uncomfortable interacting with a five-year-old girl whose appearance was rather unpleasant.
“Initially, yes, I had this fear” of her, Sr Jane said. However, she felt a prompting which made her overcome her discomfort and reach out to Tina.
Sr Jane’s actions eventually led the other teachers and children in the kindergarten to interact more with the girl.
“I learnt from this little child … there’s Christ in everyone,” she said.
After Tina passed away unexpectedly, her mother thanked the kindergarten for the love showered on her child.
Sr Jane said the seed of her vocation was fostered by her late grandmother who prayed with the family daily. This helped Jane desire a closer relationship with God.
It was after her grandmother’s passing that Jane, at 21, made the difficult decision to join the Religious life.
In the 1980s, she became interested in natural medicine, beginning with reflexology. She said she was fascinated to learn that the human body had the capacity to heal itself, and had witnessed people who had benefited from natural therapy. This prompted her to pursue training in this area.
Sr Jane said she is convinced of the body, mind and spirit connection and complements counselling and spiritual direction whenever necessary with natural therapy.
She added that it is important to recognise that God is present in suffering.
Furthermore, once people recognise and claim their pain, they can achieve a “breakthrough” and “become better”.
Believing in the healing power of touch
Sr Rose Low believes in the power of touch and its ability to relieve the aches and pains.
The silver jubilarian is a practitioner of Etheric Nerve Impulse therapy (ENIT) in which acupressure is applied to the nerves. This supposedly removes blockages and stimulates the body’s bio-electrical system.
“My passion is to do therapy,” she said with a laugh, “because it is curative, and because we address the cause, not the symptoms.”
She has used the technique on elderly Canossian Sisters. She added that her therapy is not “energy healing” and has existed in Chinese palaces since ancient times.
During her three years of contemplative experience with the Canossian nuns in the Philippines, she had a chance to learn the technique from a teacher outside of the Religious community.
However, she stressed that the therapy goes beyond physical touch, but is rather an integrated approach which involves the emotional and spiritual aspects. This involves applying some listening and counselling skills to help the person identify any emotional blockages that may result in the person’s ailment.
Before entering Religious life, Sr Rose worked in a bank and was climbing the corporate ladder. The idea of becoming a Religious had stirred within her but she thought herself unworthy. Furthermore, she “loved life … love beauty … enjoyed my life and was happy where I was”.
Nevertheless, she continued to experience a deep sense of emptiness. After attending a Choice weekend, she realised that she could not escape the Religious call any longer.
To further discern her vocation, she lived with the Canossian Sisters for about a year, together with other girls who were similarly discerning their calling. Sr Rose remembers putting on make-up and heading out to work on weekday mornings and participating actively in community life on the weekends.
“I thought it was a nice gradual insertion for me because I was very worldly. If you straight away put me into the rhythm of the convent, I would not have succeeded,” she said.
She later worked for 16 years in Canossaville Children’s Home where she was a “mother” to many children. One of her joys was to see the children blossoming into “sensible and responsible” adults and starting families.
Sr Rose presently heads the Canossian community in Sallim Road, which includes the Canossian “eduplex”. This includes a Canossian primary school, kindergarten and children’s home.
“I feel when God gives you a vocation, He also gives you the grace to carry out whatever mandate that is given to you,” she said. “I think I have reached a point where I am quite detached and very happy where I am, whether in the Philippines or Italy. I’ve made good relationships, yet I’m ready to move. Up till today, the Lord has not disappointed me.” n
By Darren Boon