CNG representatives with CICIAMS President Geraldine McSweeney from Ireland at the 20th World Congress in Sarawak 2018.

CNG celebrates their Golden Jubilee

Fifty years of Comfort, Compassion and tender loving Care without prescription have flown by for us at the Catholic Nurses Guild of Singapore (CNG).

Although we were born in 1970, we were first conceived in Kedah, Malaysia in 1947 by Father Albert Fortier, a French MEP priest, whose duties included the pastoral care of the sick in hospital. While conversing with young nurses in the course of his visits, he discovered how lonely some of them were, posted to hospitals far away from their home towns. So, he started a Catholic nurses’ support group and faith community, and in August 1947, with the blessing of Bishop Michael Olçomendy, the first branch of the Catholic Nurses’ Guild was formed in Alor Star with five members.

In 1948, Fr Fortier was transferred to Kuala Lumpur where he met more nurses from other Malayan states. A second CNG branch was soon formed in Kuala Lumpur with the local nurses’ training school providing more members. As membership grew, a Federal Committee was formed to contact all Catholic nurses, and soon, CNG branches were established throughout Malaya, including Singapore.

By the time Fr Fortier was transferred to Singapore in 1949, there were four CNG branches in active operation at Mandalay Road Hospital, the Rural Health Department, Naval Base Hospital and General Hospital. The first local CNG Executive Committee was commissioned in 1949 by Bishop Olçomendy with Fr Fortier as its spiritual director.

Following Singapore’s independence in 1965, on May 4, 1969, CNG Malaya was officially dissolved and CNG Malaysia and CNG Singapore became two distinct Guilds, each looking after the Catholic nurses in their own countries. Members of our first Executive Council were elected in 1970.

CNG Singapore has not looked back since then. Today, we are proud to be an association of 250 committed and caring nurses who live out our vocation according to Christian moral principles and Catholic social teaching. We not only strive to maintain the highest technical and medical competence but are dedicated to fostering and promoting the integral human development of their members, not only professionally but also socially and spiritually, in solidarity with one another and for the common good of our patients and society.

As Archbishop William Goh wrote in his 2013 Nurses Day Message to us, “Healing is an integral process which includes the healing of heart, mind and body… as a famous medical quote goes, ‘to cure sometimes, to relieve often, and to comfort always.’”

Local contribution

We are a member organisation of Caritas Singapore, the social mission arm of the Archdiocese, and before the Covid-19 pandemic, we actively participated in and supported the local Church in many activities to help the sick, handicapped, elderly and children with special needs including:

  • Collaborating with the Archdiocesan Commission of Pastoral Care for Migrant and Itinerant Workers (ACMI) to provide training on basic care-giving knowledge to foreign domestic workers: training courses are held twice a year with 10 monthly sessions over six months each;
  • Befriending patients with HIV/AIDS under the Catholic Aids Relief Effort (CARE) by interacting with them over lunch and providing health care education to them twice a month;
  • Creating awareness of the Natural Family Planning programme (NFP) and promoting shared responsibilities for family planning;
  • Providing medical and First Aid coverage for church events such as annual processions of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Novena Church and parish feast day fun fairs, parish Masses for the sick, and Archdiocesan events such as the JOY SG50 Thanksgiving Mass (2015) and the Lourdes Experience (2019), both held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium;
  • Conducting free medical clinics and pastoral care workshops for lay people;
  • Organising annual retreats and year-end socials together for local and foreign nurses;
  • Participating in pastoral and community outreach programmes in neighbouring countries, including mission trips to Batam and Tanjong Balai in Indonesia; and
  • helping with overseas humanitarian aid efforts as a member of Caritas Humanitarian Aid and Relief Initiatives, Singapore (CHARIS).

International presence

We are a member of the International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants (CICIAMS) which collaborates with the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, the Pontifical Council of the Family and the Pontifical Council of the Laity in the Vatican. Organised into secretariats for Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, it holds an international conference every four years, hosted by a member country, to discuss Catholic/Christian and medical ethics, and share ideas and experiences of Catholics nurses in a changing world. Singapore hosted the Asian regional conference in 2010.

Theresa Cheong, who was our President from 2003 to 2013, was also President of CICIAMS Asian Secretariat from 2014 to 2018 and represented CICIAMS at both its international conferences and at the United Nations. She shares:

“Member countries present papers, research and reports on human rights, effects of climate change, sustainable development in relation to children and youth, health, food security, shelter, poverty eradication, gender equality and education. These reports are consolidated so as to benefit the world through the work of e.g. the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The perspectives of different countries were eye-opening for me, especially on peace and security. It reminds me that we should not take the peace and security in Singapore for granted. I learnt so much meeting and talking to people from all over the world who were not necessarily from healthcare.”

We have also raised funds for nurses’ guilds in poorer countries who could not otherwise afford to pay CICIAMS membership fees.

Celebrating CNG

Although we have had to postpone our 50th anniversary celebrations in 2020 to later this year because of Covid-19, a small celebration complying with Phase 2 safety measures was held on Nov 2 at Bethany East with Fr Johnson Fernandez.

Fr Johnson has been our spiritual director since 1973. He says, “Nursing is more than a profession – for a Catholic nurse, it’s pure dedication. During this Covid-19 pandemic, the nurses have given us an example of heroism in their willingness to risk their lives for others. We salute their courage and self-sacrifice driven by their love of Christ.”

In his message to mark International Nurses Day in May 2020, Pope Francis told nurses: “You are an image of the Church as a ‘field hospital’ that continues to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ, who drew near to and healed people with all kinds of sickness and who stooped down to wash the feet of his disciples. Thank you for your service to humanity!” Please continue to keep us in your prayers!

Contributed by the Catholic Nurses Guild, Singapore