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Columban Sisters farewell Hong Kong

 

Sixty-seven years make up a substantial portion of any one lifetime, even a significant period in the brief history of Hong Kong, but less than a blink of the eye in the time frame of the divine.

However, it is not by the number of years that we measure the contribution to life and society of those who walk this earth, but the quality of commitment, breadth of imagination, ingenuity in work and, most especially, depth of love.

The Missionary Sisters of St. Columban surpass in all four. Although never numerous, they brought creative, meticulous and high quality medical care to Hong Kong, injected great ingenuity into their schools, imagination into palliative care that the city had never dreamed of, walked among and welcomed sex workers and were creative in cancer counselling, as well as prison and hospital chaplaincy services.

But life was never only about science and technical expertise, it was always about love inspired by faith in the God who saves. Their ministries aimed for holistic development, physical and spiritual, and they were at the forefront of the foundation of the Catholic Nurses Guild, the Catholic Doctors Guild and the Legion of Mary.

While life was hectic, there was time for everyone, staff and patients were welcomed as part of their Columban family. The sisters’ particular interest in each individual in their medical, educational and social service endeavours is remembered fondly and cherished.

An English nurse, who worked at Ruttonjee for 30 years, reminisced, “I enjoyed the work tremendously. It was so worthwhile and satisfying and I so enjoyed the nuns, all of who had a great sense of humour. The work was meticulous, the patients, most of whom were very ill, so ill in fact that I wondered how they managed to walk around and do their daily chores before being admitted. In the early days there was little money… medical equipment was scarce… loaned from ward to ward… Ruttonjee was a place of terrific cooperation… memories are of a very happy place.”

In his 2009 Gerald Choa Memorial Lecture, S. H. Lee reminisced on the era when his generation of doctors trained at Ruttonjee, saying, “The Hong Kong Tuberculosis Association had considerably been benefited by the dedication and devotion of the Catholic Sisters from St. Columban Mission of Ireland in providing quality care and love to the patients.”

A talented surgeon, Choa had been a great supporter of the sisters in his lifetime, providing his services and highly sought after medical advice free of charge.

But as the sisters prepare to leave, they reflect, as they did when they left their birthplace of Ruttonjee Sanatorium in 1988, “We journey with Christ, sharing his mission even to the giving of life itself. Together with him we face insecurities, including the call to let go and move on, not always sure of the way…”

The missionary life can be judged on what is bequeathed. The work the Columban Sisters began continues and their successors have imbibed their spirit, the challenge of the moment is to say farewell.

They have made their decision. Letting go of something as precious as the Hong Kong mission comes only with pain. But taking risks and living with uncertainty is their way and it is graciously blessed by God and the people of Hong Kong.

Those who know them must also say farewell to what in biblical terms may only be described as a group of valiant women. JiM


 

Love is their witness their lives their evangelisation

Columban doctor, Sister Gabriel O’Mahony (right), studying
lung X-rays with medical staff

 

Described by a retired English public servant as a great shot in the arm to social services in Hong Kong, the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban are now preparing to leave the territory after 67 years of what their congregational leader, Sister Ann Gray, describes as serving the forgotten, the marginalised and the despised.

As the turmoil of Mao Zedong’s revolutionary movement in China pushed Church personnel into deeper and deeper peril in 1947, the Columban Sisters knew that the writing was on the wall for their mission in the Hanyang. 

So when Mother Mary Vianney, the superior general at the time, visited Hong Kong, she was actively on the lookout for an opportunity to continue their commitment to the Chinese people in the British colony.

She received a surprise offer—which she knew was right up the alley of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban for Preaching the Gospel in China—a hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis (TB), which was running at epidemic proportions in the colony.

The offer seemed to be god-sent, as during the homebound years of World War II, the society had foreseen that the violence of conflict would bequeath a great demand for medical and healing services in what the sisters then knew as the Far East.

They had prepared. Sisters had been sent to study. The congregation had doctors, nurses and teachers, as well as administrators, catechists and social workers waiting in the wings to provide this care for the sick, traumatised and dispossessed.

But there was one more important consideration. The congregation was pretty broke and the invitation to come to Hong Kong to proclaim the gospel among Chinese people in great need and, at the same time earn their living, was a god-send—both to the sisters and, we were to come to understand, the people of Hong Kong.

When the first contingent of sisters arrived in 1948, they were presented with a dilapidated Old Naval Hospital in Wan Chai, which had been given to the Hong Kong Anti-Tuberculosis Association, along with a handsome endowment of $800,000 from an Indian businessman, Jehangir Hormusjee Ruttonjee, whose daughter had died of TB.

And so the Ruttonjee Sanatorium in Wan Chai was born on the spot where the Ruttonjee Public Hospital dominates the horizon today.

The sisters came from China, The Philippines and what was then known as Burma.

In January 1949, a group of five arrived from Ireland, including a doctor, Sister Aquinas Monahan, who was to be medical superintendent at Ruttonjee.

But this was not to be a Catholic hospital in the usual sense of the word. The sisters faced the prospect of working in a purely secular medical institution, where no crucifixes or other objects of devotion were to be displayed.

Their challenge was to imbue a Catholic ethos into a secular institution, which many attest they did with aplomb, through the witness of their lives, as well as expert and loving service. That is their way to evangelise.

Bishop Enrico Valtorta put it to the sisters in this way. “You must bring people to Our Lord by showing them the gospel in action, by your gentleness, kindness and sympathy, and by seeing Christ in them.”

The sisters were for the poor and the powerless, embroiled in an interfaith venture where their love was their witness and their lives their evangelisation. 

When Vatican II came in the 1960s, they could say with confidence and some pride that they had arrived at that point decades ago.


 

Now a spoken thanks

Many people ask us why the Columban Sisters are leaving Hong Kong. It is not an easy question to answer.

As people on the move, we, as missionaries, need to be aware of what is happening in the world, as well as what is going on within our own congregation, in order to respond to the needs of the wider society of the time.

In the light of this knowledge we must make decisions and do this in a spirit of prayer and discernment, a process that takes time. For some years now, the overall number of sisters in our congregation has been decreasing and the number of younger sisters has remained quite small.

In recent years, no new sisters have been assigned to Hong Kong and, as sisters aged and retired, no one came to replace them.

So we began to see that the time would come when we would have to leave, a difficult thing to do, as Hong Kong has been a special mission in the life of the congregation since the first sisters arrived in 1948 and began work at Ruttonjee Sanatorium in the following year.

The three of us now in Hong Kong have been here for approximately 40 years. We have seen great changes and development during these decades. The local Church is now vibrant and youthful, and growing all the time. The Hong Kong people too are now missionaries in the local community and overseas. New foreign missionaries are coming to Hong Kong as well.

We are aware that while we must leave this particular mission, the Spirit is inviting our younger members to embrace mission in places of perhaps greater need, such as the Union of Myanmar and Pakistan.

We don’t leave a mission lightly; neither do we hold on tightly. Having lived and worked with the people of Hong Kong for so many years, our uppermost feeling is one of sadness and loss.

We have received so much from the people here. They have shared the riches of their culture, the warmth of their welcome and the loyalty of their friendship. People ask us what will we miss most—maybe the wonderful food, the lively city, or the beauty of the culture.

The answer is always—we will miss the people we have been privileged to work alongside. We have been enriched in our varied work in the Catholic community, in spiritual outreach to our Protestant brothers and sisters, as well as in opportunities to meet with members of the Buddhist community.

We have been blessed by those on the margins of our society—the poor, the imprisoned, the demeaned, the marginalised and the ostracised. As we say goodbye, we marvel at the generous outpouring of love from former colleagues, friends and collaborators.

It is all a bit overwhelming and, at the same time, we feel great gratitude and affirmation, which gives us the strength we need to board that plane, which will take us away from the place we have come to call home and the people we have come to love so much.

As a congregation, we were founded for mission in China. When that mission ceased, we were able to continue our mission to the Chinese people in Hong Kong. In this way we could remain true to our original calling.

As a former matron of Ruttonjee Sanatorium, Sister Mary Damien Rooney, once said, “Hong Kong opened its arms to us when we had to leave China in the 1950s.” While we moved to many other places, we never lost sight of our mission to the Chinese people and from the early days we have had Chinese sisters in our congregation.

As a congregation, we are called to mission to the poor and to those who have not yet received the gospel message. Hong Kong has been a place in which this call to mission could be realised.

We leave knowing that the spirit in which we came will continue to burn brightly in this precious Pearl of the Orient.

 


 

Never to be ordinary

Sister Mary Damien Rooney at a clinic in the New Territories.
The care of mothers and their children was a major medical
challenge in the area up until the mid-1980s.
Photo: Columban Sisters Archives

 

Coming to birth through the inspiration of the widow of a former governor of Trinidad in the British West Indies, Frances Moloney, the fledgling Irish community of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban for Preaching the Gospel in China was officially blessed on 29 September 1924.

Born into English aristocracy, Maloney was a nurse by profession. She was known in religion as Sister Mary Patrick.

She was reluctant to take on religious life, but was told by the co-founder of the Columbans, Father John Blowick, “You must take initiatives… prudence yes, but too much prudence will keep you from doing anything!”

The congregation quickly spread, joining the Columban priests in Hanyang, China, in 1926; then to the United States of America in 1930; The Philippines in 1939; Burma in 1947; Korea in 1945; Hong Kong in 1948; Peru in 1962; and Chile in 1974.

A special appeal had to be launched to find the money to send the first six sisters to China, but undaunted by financial insecurity, the sisters set out with the words of Father Blowick to encourage them ringing in their ears.

“A sister who might be a good sister in Ireland could turn out to be a hopeless tragedy in China! Be real missionaries, be neither over pious or over fastidious, and don’t become like a string of sausages—where everyone looks and acts the same!” Father Blowick advised them.

Today, the Columban Sisters may be an ageing group and fewer in number than in their heyday when they ran high schools, a big hospital and were involved in dozens of other initiatives around the city, but even as they pack up to leave Hong Kong they still believe that enthusiasm for mission is what is important.

The current congregational leader, Sister Ann Gray, said that what is important is to keep doing new things and make contributions where they are really needed, explaining that from the early days the sisters were adventurous.

They sent sisters to medical school in Ireland in the days when women were a rarity and sisters an unheard of species in the field and, as Sister Gray pointed out, that paid off big in the fight against tuberculosis in Hong Kong.

“Today, we have young sisters from Korea and The Philippines and they have the chance to spend time with the old hands, so their learning curve is high. They have enabled us to go back to the Union of Myanmar and into China.”

Sister Gray said that she believes that in Hong Kong the sisters were always at the cutting edge.

“We were at Ruttonjee, in hospices, the Spastic Centre and the outreach to sex workers (Action for ReachOut), which turned 21 three years ago. In Myanmar we are with the HIV/AIDS patients,” she pointed out.

Most recently they have staffed a retreat centre offering holistic spiritual direction at Shek O.

“It does not matter where people come from, everyone has the right to know God loves them,” she said philosophically.

Sister Gray added that her mission with sex workers through Action for ReachOut taught her that respect is the key to growth.

“People must have the opportunity to find alternatives and society must create the space for them to do this,” she said.

She then reflected that is what the Columban Sisters have always worked for, to provide the space for people to grow. “I believe it is the challenge to see the possible in the seemingly impossible,” she reflected.

Sister Gray noted that she thinks that mission education within the Church is one of the most challenging of apostolates the sisters have taken on. “But we were the first to do it,” she said, “and we don’t give up.”

And it will continue through the Association of Mission Friends, one of their important legacies in Hong Kong.


 

Diamond jubilees

On 29 September 1984, the Columban Sisters celebrated the diamond jubilee of the foundation of their congregation. Sister Francis Xavier Mapleback, who was the last surviving member of the foundation group, shared the celebration in a special way.

Sister Mapleback was also at Ruttonjee and later went to the Blue Pool Road Marymount College. She died in 1988, with her bags packed ready to spend her sunset years in Ireland. 

She went quietly, fulfilling her long held wish to make Hong Kong the place of her resurrection.


 

Mission comes full circle

Columban Sisters with long time supporter, Rusy Schroff and his wife,
from left, Sister Nora Mary O’Driscoll, Sister Valerie Hetherton, Sister Nuala Raleigh,
Sister Fintan Ryan, Sister Victoire Ryan, Sister Rita Deegan
and Sister Mary Greaney.
Photo: The Hong Kong Tuberculosis Chest and Heart Diseases Association

 

Seven Columban sisters, all of whom had worked at the Ruttonjee Sanatorium, as the current general hospital in Wan Chai used to be known, travelled from Ireland to join the 60th anniversary celebration of the Hong Kong Tuberculosis Chest and Heart Diseases Association (formerly the Anti-Tuberculosis Association) during October 2008.

Sister Mary Greaney said that when the Columbans began at Ruttonjee in 1948 there was a clear mission to those suffering from tuberculosis (TB).

“They were the poor and neglected of Hong Kong at the time,” she explained. “However, now the association has broadened its vision into other aspects of public health care, but it has not lost its focus on TB, which unfortunately is making a comeback in the world today.”

The World Health Organisation put TB, which was thought to have been eradicated by the 1980s, back on the critical list in 1993, anticipating around 90 million new cases to be reported in the last decade of the last century.

This prompted a former medical officer at the sanatorium, Michael Iseman, to lament, “We knew how to cure TB, but we dropped the ball by not ensuring proper treatment.”

Iseman spoke of the breakthrough in the research done by the two Columban doctors, Sister Gabriel O’Mahony and Sister Aquinas Monahan, as well as the pioneering development of holistic care given by the sisters on the staff. “But sadly,” he said, “We squandered a great legacy.”

At the beginning of World War II, Sister O’Mahony, together with Sister Monahan, had set off for their first day as medical students at Dublin University, beginning what was destined to be an enduring partnership in the battle against TB, discrimination and indifference.

The congregation decided the  two should wear what they termed civvies to lectures and they often laughed as they described the different type of habit their superiors designed for them.

However, being out of step with fashion did not affect their grades, as one, lay back, male student was prompted to quip, “It seems the longer the skirts the higher the marks!”

After graduation, Sister O’Mahony did further studies in the United States of America (US) before being appointed to Hong Kong in 1950, where she joined Sister Monahan and the Columban Sisters at the Ruttonjee Sanatorium. 

They were a disparate group made up of the expelled from mainland China, old hands from The Philippines and Burma, as well as raw recruits from Ireland and the US, who took up the battle against the epidemic that throughout history has claimed the lives of one billion people, 150,000 of whom died in Hong Kong between 1900 and 1980.

In 1952, both sisters were invited to lecture at the University of Hong Kong and in the following years all undergraduate medical students were also taught at Ruttonjee or Queen Mary Hospital.

Later in 1957, Sister O’Mahony won a scholarship that allowed her to study for her Edinburg Membership and later did work with the World Health Organisation in Nepal, India and Africa.

Ruttonjee Hospital was described as a place where the really poor were admitted and given first class professional treatment free of charge. The sisters found peace in serving the poorest of the poor in the city, the majority of whom were refugees.

Basically it was about bringing and being good news to the poor, about binding up hearts that were broken, comforting, uplifting and freeing those oppressed by sickness and poverty.

It was also a place where the experience and skills of the sisters working in conjunction with the British Medical Research Council facilitated major research projects into the new drugs for TB appearing on the market in the 1960s.

Ruttonjee became the first unit in the world to seriously treat tuberculosis meningitis. It was recognised as a major player in the management of the disease.

But the boundaries of the hospital did not confine the sisters, who visited refugee camps when they were off duty, as well as a colony for people suffering from Hanson’s Disease at Sandy Bay.

In the very early days they opened a dispensary in the New Territories, an area mostly deprived of medical services, and the two doctors visited regularly. 

It also became a happy place of respite for the sisters on their days off, as well as the military chaplains in the area and the Jesuit scholastics.

Later a home was founded in Sandy Bay for the specialised treatment of children suffering from tuberculosis meningitis. It was the first concentrated study of the care and prevention of the disease among children and resulted in considerable success in eliminating the sickness.

Reunions among the sisters and former patients and their families continued for many years after its closure, a testament to the sisters’ determination to know all of the families by name and take an interest in their lives.

Later an asthma clinic was set up and the sisters contributed to the founding of a hospice movement.

But a cherished memory is the opportunity they had of welcoming priests and religious as they were expelled from China in the early 1950s, many of whom arrived traumatised and in poor physical condition.

The sisters who travelled from Ireland for the anniversary, all mentioned that as much as they enjoyed their lives and work in Hong Kong, an age comes when it is time to slow down.

Sister Greaney said that during her 35 years in Hong Kong, it was always the friendship of the Chinese people that really touched her. 

“I also spent time here with the Legion of Mary,” she added, “and their welcome rivalled that of the people from the TB association. Both were fantastic.”

Sister Greaney said, “At 75, I found the pace of Hong Kong too fast. I wanted more time for myself and to enjoy being my age. I never wanted to go home, but it has worked out well.”

She explained that there have always been two great passions in her life, the Legion of Mary and the Chinese people. 

“The amazing thing about my life today,” she went on, “is that in Ireland, I not only have the opportunity to work with the Legion, but also among Chinese students who are flocking into Irish universities. Our mission has come full circle and so has my life.”


 

Peeking into dark corners

As the sun gives the sky over to the moon, the street contact team from Action for ReachOut to sex workers prepares to hit the streets.

The apostolate began in 1991, when Sister Ann Gray, Maryknoll Sister Helene O’Sullivan and an American, Melanie Orchant, began wondering the area two or three nights a week. “We did not have an official organisation then,” Sister Gray said, “but we began trying to make contact.”

They haunted bustling Mong Kok, with its brightly lit streets and dark corners. They would move behind the garish neon signs into the shadows of the stairwells where women wait for their clients.

“Sometimes we got chased away,” Sister Gray reminisced “and often the atmosphere was a bit hostile, but we would try to begin some kind of conversation.” The team was always open about who they were and in their initial chats concentrated on health issues.

“One night a woman asked me, ‘Why do you smile?’” Sister Gray replied, “Because I am happy.” 

At that point the woman burst into tears and said she had just attempted to commit suicide. “We had a long chat that night,” Sister Gray recounted “and after that, bit by bit, people began to talk to us.”

In those days most of the sex workers were Hong Kong women and if they got a prison sentence some would ask the team to call their families and make up a story to explain their absence, as they were too ashamed to tell their family what they did for a living.

In 1993, a drop-in centre in Yau Ma Tei, provided by the Portland Street Land Development Corporation for a peppercorn rent of one dollar a year, was opened.

“We concentrated on skills training,” Sister Gray said, “and operated on a peer education model, training the sex workers themselves to be the teachers and leaders. We began with health concerns and then moved on to other aspects of life.”

She remembered happily that the sex workers often brought their children along and they really enjoyed it.

Scottish-born Sister Gray said her primary school teacher training was her big plus, as the real challenge was to teach people how to teach.

The Columban Sisters saw the outreach to sex workers as a continuation of their work at Ruttonjee Sanatorium. “There we nursed tuberculosis (TB) patients,” Sister Gray said, “and there was fear of TB and nobody wanted to do it. The street apostolate is the same, people are afraid of it, fear it and worry it will be a bad influence, so they do not want to do it.”

After 14 years, Action for ReachOut became independent and still operates today. 

It is Sister Gray’s dream to see the organisation run by sex workers for sex workers.


 

New challenge of schools

A welcome to guests for the celebration
of the 20th anniversary of Leung Shek Chee
College in Sau Mau Ping.
Photo: Hong Kong Diocesan Archives

 

In the 1970s, Sau Mau Ping was an overcrowded resettlement estate for Cantonese-speaking refugees from China, with a population of around 140,000 people.

It was to the middle of this density of struggling humanity that the Columban Sisters arrived in 1977 to open Leung Shek Chee College, a secondary school for girls.

The sisters already had background in education. Sister Margaret O’Brien pioneered the apostolate, teaching at the parish school in Kwun Tong, Sister Isobel Loughrey was teaching with the Maryknoll Sisters at Blue Pool Road, Sister Patricia Quigley at a Caritas school in Aberdeen and Sister Mary Duane with the Jesuits at Wah Yan College in Wan Chai.

Leung Shek Chee College opened in borrowed premises in Lam Tin with an enrollment of 260, as the construction of their own school had not been completed.

From the outset, the importance of speaking Chinese well was stressed, as well as the appreciation of Chinese culture. In time, the college developed a classy Chinese orchestra, and dance, poetry and drama played a big part in campus life.

The La Salle Brothers gave support to the project and Brother Henry Pang was part of the inaugural management committee.

By the time of the official opening of the college in March 1980, the enrollment had reached 750. 

The deputy director for education, Colvyn Haye, drew attention to the school motto, The Lord is my Strength, saying, “In education as in life, faith is important.”

He then described the interfaith ethos of Leung Shek Chee College saying, “This is a Catholic school and… no matter what the belief of any student, she has been given many gifts. Life is a gift and it can be enjoyed with gratitude to the giver.”

Father Harold Naylor sj commented, “I have visited the colourful school. Like a rainbow of hope to the girls; I have seen and heard the girls show their lively creativity and growing talent and beauty, surely this is what education is all about.”

He described its missionary dimension this way. “The students must be truly Chinese in feeling, expression and action, even though they must speak through the mask of English for their economic life. In a word, I trust that Leung Shek Chee College will be truly missionary in developing the local Chinese Church and developing truly Chinese students.”

Also in the true spirit of missionaries, whose role is to animate the local Church, students who requested baptism were referred back to their local parishes.

A strong emphasis was placed on community service and the students in forms six and seven were expected to take on leadership roles. 

The school campus also became a community centre, being used as a parish gathering place, a police look-out, public examination centre and a study centre for students up to 9.00pm each night.

Just as Leung Shek Chee College was getting under way, the Maryknoll Sisters were finding themselves over committed and the Columban Sisters were asked to take over their school in Blue Pool Road.

This was a different challenge. An Anglo-Chinese school, it already had an established campus and experienced staff, as well as living quarters, and some Maryknoll Sisters stayed during a transition period.

The school took on a mission to the Vietnamese refugees who had come to the city. It organised English classes and facilitated students to reach out during their spare time.

In 1983, its name was changed from Maryknoll Sisters School to Marymount Secondary School.

In 1980, after some to–ing and fro–ing, the Columban Sisters added the adjoining Maryknoll primary school in Tai Hang Road to their inventory. Of its 1,000 pupils, 25 per cent were Catholic, a stark contrast to beginnings in Sau Mau Ping.

In view of the projected 1997 handover of the sovereignty of Hong Kong to China, the sisters began a policy rethink and set about preparing lay leaders to take responsibility in their schools and by 1993 the Blue Pool Road School was cleared for renovations.

In 1995, Sister Anne Ryan wrote, “Transition and change have found a home here and waiting has taken on new meaning as our mission takes new shape. Hong Kong’s time as a British colony is slipping away and so is the shape of our past presence here.”

In May of the following year, their much loved pioneer school was returned to diocesan administration and at this point, the sisters who had built Ruttonjee Sanitorium and expanded their services into many other areas, prepared to say farewell or move onto other ministries.

The Columban Sisters had been in the colony for nearly 50 years and 50 of them had laboured on its soil.


 

Catholic Nurses Guild

The work of healing has a special place in the Catholic tradition. The gospel stories carry many accounts of Jesus healing the sick. 

The stories are mythical, but they reflect the strong belief of the members of the early Church in the importance of faith in the healing of both the body and the human spirit. 

The gospel narratives are peppered with phrases like “your sins are forgiven, take up your bed and walk.” Jesus does not distinguish between physical and spiritual cure.

Nurses meet people at a time of high vulnerability. Their privilege is to see a perspective of people that is normally hidden. Their challenge is to find within themselves the spiritual resources to touch those lives through their medical and pastoral care.

To support nurses in their struggle to give adequate care, Sister Mary Martin and Sister Francis de Chantal founded the Catholic Nurses Guild in Ruttonjee Sanatorium in 1953.

The Guild sets out to promote the spiritual and professional development of its members as well as care for their social and spiritual welfare.

It fosters and encourages a spirit of charity in their members’ care for the sick and develops a sense of responsibility and an educated social conscience.

Nurses from Queen Mary Hospital also joined the fledgling group at its foundation and today it boasts members from almost every hospital in Hong Kong.


 

Life in the wilderness

Sister Fintan Ryan at the
clinic in Ta Kwu Ling.
Photo: Columban Sisters Archives

 

Ta Kwu Ling snuggles up against the border of the New Territories in Hong Kong and mainland China and in 1966, when the Columban Sisters took on the responsibility of opening the Caritas Clinic in the area, it was surrounded by farming lots connected by dirt roads, with sporadic electricity and water supplies, shanty huts and a population made up of those who had fled from China.

But the people were extremely friendly and welcoming of the sisters and gladly supplied them with fresh vegetables in gratitude for their presence.

In many ways it was a cooperative effort with the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres and the La Salle Brothers in Sheung Shui, as well as two English women who ran the Home of Loving Faithfulness for children with severe mental disabilities.

The English women belonged to a radical Evangelical Church and, in the spirit of Vatican II, the sisters gladly shared prayer with them, along with Brother Felix, from La Salle, and the sisters from St. Paul’s. They happily stood duty for them too when they needed a night off.

The Caritas Clinic was on call 24/seven and the two Columban doctors from Ruttonjee ran clinics on Saturdays for those who needed more sophisticated care.

Complicated cases were referred to hospitals, but often they came in the middle of the night when there was no transport and Sister Fintan Ryan and Sister Damien Rooney surpassed their nursing skills to care for them.

It was the time too when their friendship with Gerald Choa, a retired doctor from the newly developed Prince of Wales Hospital in Shatin, deepened, as he offered his services on a regular basis to the clinic.

The biggest hurdle was the maternity clinic. Although complicated cases were to be referred, many mothers did not come for antenatal care and, when they did turn up, it was too late for any referral.

Sister Margaret Tierney starred in these circumstances.

The centre later opened a kindergarten and was always known as a happy place of hospitality, prayer and friendship.

It finally closed in 1986 and the sisters retreated back to their  new home in Shatin.