This is the one thousand four hundredth anniversary of the death of our patron St. Columban, the Year of Consecrated Life and the Golden Jubilee of us five sisters.
Go back to Galilee:
‘Galilee is the place where the disciples were called – where everything began.
For each of us, too, there is a Galilee at the origin of our journey with Jesus; we need to go back there to see Jesus Risen and to become witnesses of his resurrection. The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. A joy which is new, a joy which is shared,( Pope Francis)
In 1962 on Oct 3, we experienced some of that joy when we 5 sisters came TO Magheramore – Mary Greaney from Galway, Mary Radcliffe, form Epson England, Maureen Grant from Downpatrick, Rita Moore from Roscommon, Maura Lyden from Connemara.
Eight days after entering, on the 11th of Oct. the second Vatican Council began.
This was a wonderful time to prepare for mission.
On June 22nd 1963, our Founder John Blowick came to celebrate his Golden Jubilee here with us. We novices sat on the floor in the front parlour and he told us what his dream was for us Columban Sisters and said these are the values that should characterize us sisters of St. Columban:
– Charity which Christ made the sign of Christianity,
– Obedience to do his will,
– Spirit of Prayer – love to be with him.
– Get to know Mary and love her.
After some years of study and preparation, we like St. Paul in the first reading we were on our way to Asia
Mary Greaney assigned to Hong Kong, Mary Radcliffe to the Philippines, Maureen to Hong Kong and Rita and I to Korea. We experienced the tropical heat, the crowds of people, and the strangeness of our new home. We had yet to learn to speak and listen in a new way. We received a great welcome from the people because, although we were new, we were not strangers because our Sisters had been there many years before us and their footprints were very visible.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Pope St. John XXIII called the II Vatican Council. He called the people to return to God, to reconciliation and to serve the suffering world. He spoke of history as the teacher of life and said” we must not make the mistakes of the past.” 2 documents from the Council which were very important for us Missionaries were the documents on the Laity and In Our Age. Here was a new emphasis and understanding of Mission with increased emphasis on the role of the Laity and the invitation to enter dialogue with other faiths and religions.
Asia today has millions of committed Christians who live the Gospel and pray to Jesus as their Saviour. Many of these Christians descended from martyrs who laid down their lives for Christ and would willingly lay down their lives for Christ today.
“You are here to care for the sick; you preach the gospel by your witness and excellence” (Bishop of Hong Kong).
During the 1950’s and 60’s and onwards tuberculosis was the number 1 killer in Hong Kong due to the refugees from mainland China who were escaping into Hong Kong from the Cultural Revolution. The Columban Sisters provide the professional staff that managed the Ruttonjee Sanatorium for the care of the people suffering from TB. Every ward sister was involved in the research into new methods of treatment of the disease. With all other ward sisters, Sr. Mary Greaney was involved in this work. Mary was the last Columban Sister – matron to leave the hospital when the Columban Sisters withdrew. For her dedicated and long years of service, she was awarded the Gold Cross of Lorraine. She devoted her free time to the Legion of Mary meetings in Hong Kong. She was a personal friend and correspondent of Frank Duff – founder of the Legion of Mary. She then returned home to train in hospice care and was one of the founding members of that service in Hong Kong. Her love of the Chinese people is now expressed in her ministry to the Chinese diaspora in Dublin.
Mary Radcliffe said her first impressions of the Philippines were the heat and the lovely smiles of the people in spite of the poverty that she witnessed.
She was assigned to teach in a Montessori School in Manila for one year. Then she transferred to the Columban College in Lingayen where she joyfully taught grade 5 and 6 with over 60 students in each class. Marshall Law was declared by President Marcos in Sept. 1974. A huge turning point in Mary’s life was going into class the next day and discovering that half of the grade 6 boys had been lifted by the military. Their elder brothers and sisters were already rounded up. Eventually the younger ones were freed.
On returning from her holiday in England, Mary chose to be involved with the Human Rights Office – started by the Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. This Office set up task forces for the disappeared, for the children whose parents were in prison, for medical action groups and for the relatives.
Mary continued with the work of Justice and Peace and Care for the Environment in the Philippines until 2002.
To this day, Mary is an advocate of Liberation Theology. As she herself says” once embarked on this journey, there is no going back.”
Maureen Grant’s first assignment was to teach in Hong Kong. The role of the scholar is no. 1 to the Chinese people. The teacher above all is respected and honoured. Maureen brought all her creativity to teaching and released and nourished the gifts of others as she taught many students in Hong Kong.
In 1973, the Congregation was asked to send Sisters to Chile to accompany the oppressed people and to live among them in the parishes. Maureen left Hong Kong and responded to that call.
Maureen’s motto is – “He must increase and I must decrease”. Consequently, she was ever ready to respond to the Congregational needs and found herself back in the Home Mission. Recognizing her giftedness for leadership Maureen became our first Regional Leader in the Home Mission and continued later as a member of the Congregational Leadership Team visiting all our mission countries.
After this she returned to Hong Kong on her way to China and to Guangzhou University. There among the youth and the adults Maureen found eager hearts to learn from her. She helped people to become independent, fully alive and contributing to the shaping of society which historically has proven to be very effective as seen from the recent events in Hong Kong and China. Recently it was with great joy and gratitude that we were told by 3 young Chinese priests that they were happy to return to Beijing to continue the Columban Mission.
Asia is the birth place of Christianity .It is said that it is enough just to whisper the name of Christ into the soul of the Asian people where it immediately resonates with their own spirit.
Rita and I were blessed to be sent to Korea and remembered the advice of Fr. Cyril Haley – to go with open hearts and minds. We learnt much from the people about their culture, religion and traditions.
Unique in the history of the church, the Korean people brought Christianity to themselves. They discovered the good news in China and the Christian message was spread throughout the country by the travelling potter who travelled from village to village. As he spun the potter’s wheel, he taught the faith. This met with opposition as did the teaching of Jesus Himself.
On June 25th 1950 the Korean War began and the 38th parallel was crossed. To this day, the country is divided North and South against the wishes of its own people. Life in Korea was hard, for the countless war refugees it became all but intolerable. We have yet to hear the tragic story of the people in North Korea. We can only imagine their lot and pray.
In response to the request to care for the patients with Hansen’s disease formerly known as leprosy in the Damien Hospital is Central Korea, Rita spent 12 years caring for all the needs of the people who became her very much loved friends. The personal touch to their broken bodies was healing. Rita to this day cares for the sick and the dying – she is only a few days home from Korea. Her gift of welcoming people into the circle of God’s love is so necessary in today’s world where so many are excluded.
We lived our religious life respecting the beliefs and the cultures of the people dependent on them as partners in mission.
It has being my blessing in these past 50 years to share the lives and hear the stories of people of faith and none. I appreciate the richness of the Eastern religions and the wonderful contribution they make to our understanding of who Christ is.
An experience that remains with me till this day was the question asked by one of the nursing staff after a night fearing invasion from North Korea by Kim II Sung. A nurse asked “Sister will you leave us? Will you go home?” I assured that we would stay. But our promise to her was the promise of Jesus – “I will be with you always”.
This is a little of our story.
But it is also your story.
From our families we took the values that came down to us in the DNA of our ancestors to Asia and beyond. You have helped us by your care, love and generosity. We could always come home to a welcome. Your prayers have supported us. Thank you. We remember our parents with love and gratitude. Only God knows what a sacrifice they made for us to follow this call to mission.
As we sat on the floor in the front parlour in 1962, Fr. John Blowick said he was so happy to celebrate his Golden Jubilee with us. He told us “that no matter what happens in the church, Jesus is there”. And he prayed this prayer” May the prayer of Our Lord Jesus Christ be granted to us all”.
“That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in Thee; that they may also be one in us; that the world may believe that thou has sent me”.(John 18v21) JB.