Sr Marcellina, Beloved of God and of St Magdalene of Canossa. Photo: Canossaville Children and Community Services

A missionary life spent sewing and sowing for the Lord

Michelle Tan

Born in Italy 90 years ago, Sr Marcellina Fumagalli was inspired to become a missionary at age six after her mother told her the story of St Francis of Assisi.

She arrived in Singapore on Christmas Eve, 1954, as a Canossian Daughter of Charity. She found the first few years of her mission challenging, missing her family, unused to the heat and humidity, and striving to learn English. She was first sent to Kluang, Malaysia where she baptised newborns and converts, then to Jinjang where, as a skilled dressmaker, she taught lepers how to sew.

Thereafter, she was transferred back to St Anthony’s Convent in Singapore where she ran the Sewing Centre, training orphans and girls to sew uniforms for schools and commercial clients so that they could earn a livelihood. She also taught vocational skills and other subjects to girls who had to leave school at the now-closed Canossian Vocational Centre (CVC). At both these Centres, Sr Marcellina ensured the girls’ education was holistic, praying with them and spiritually forming them in the faith.

Sr Marie de Roza, whose bedroom was next to Sr Marcellina’s in their convent, shared, “During her illness, I would bring her daily communion. Though she was much in pain, she would give me a special smile and say to me, ‘Arrivederci’ which means ‘see you again’ in Italian. One evening, when I said ‘Arrivederci’ to her, she did not greet me in return, even though she was alert and conscious. The next day, she passed away. She was simple, humble, prayerful and enterprising, with so much love and enthusiasm to serve God’s and St Magdalene of Canossa’s beloved poor in Singapore.”

She passed away on Feb 1, 2021. A farewell note written at her wake is a fitting testament to Sr Marcellina’s life: “The CVC girls are full of love and gratitude to you for giving them a second chance at education. They still remember you with love and fondness. May you rest in peace now with the Lord in heaven, your ultimate goal.”