Columban Sister Patricia Byrne from County Wicklow in Ireland has been on mission in Hong Hong for 28 years. During her time there she has worked as a teacher in Leung Shek Chee College and as a pastoral worker in the parish of Star of the Sea in Chaiwan. She is at present engaged in the ministry of Spiritual Direction in a holistic centre, a place of prayer and retreat in Skek O, Hong Kong.
Patricia is from Co. Wicklow in Ireland. One of three sisters, she grew up in the pleasant seaside town of Greystones. There she was educated by the Holy Faith Sisters at St. Brigid’s Primary School and St. David’s Secondary School. She recalls that when she was about to leave school, she felt an attraction to serve God as a religious sister. She worked for two years, but the desire to answer the call to follow Jesus seemed to grow stronger. However she was unsure which Congregation would be suitable for her. ‘I felt a strong call to be a missionary,’ she says, ‘especially to work among the poor of Asia or Latin America. Having looked at various congregations, what attracted me to the Columbans was the warmth of the sisters I met, as well as a down-to-earth kind of enthusiasm to serve God and God’s people.’
She joined the Columban Sisters in 1966. Following her Novitiate formation she studied for a BA and Higher Diploma in Education in Maynooth College in Ireland. Patricia was very happy to be assigned to Hong Kong, where the Sisters were beginning a new secondary school. But first she had to learn the Chinese language. ‘Those first years in Hong Kong,’ she recalls, ‘were a time of amazement at being in such a different and extraordinary culture, a time to look up in wonder at the towering buildings all over the city, and a time of struggle to come to grips with the mysteries of the Chinese language. Everywhere there were crowds, the streets seemed to be full of people day and night. Things never seemed to quieten down.’
For seven years, Patricia taught at Leung Shek Chee College, a secondary school for girls situated in the large, housing estate of Sau Mau Ping. ‘While I loved working with young people’, she says, ‘,I felt the need to move more deeply into the culture and to experience to some extent what life was like for the working people around me. This led to moving with two other sisters into a small apartment, and taking part in parish work. Life was simple, and the people were wonderful, welcoming us into their homes, when we called to visit, or for meetings of the small Christian communities. The homes of our parishioners mostly consisted of a single room, and we gathered for our meeting there. Often, while we sat and talked, sharing the gospel or drinking tea together, one of the family might be sleeping (or trying to) on the upper bunk of the bed.
During her years in Hong Kong Patricia has been able to visit the mentally and physically ill as a hospital chaplain, and to get to know some prisoners serving life sentences. These have no friends or family to visit, so they appreciate having a friend on the ‘outside.’
‘The best thing about being a missionary,’ Sister Patricia says, ‘is that you can experience the love of God in all sorts of extraordinary places. The most important thing, as I see it, is not what you do but how you are with people – how you relate to others and to God. In Hong Kong, as in many places, life has become a rat race for people. They work long hours, have little time to relax, and little time to spend with their families. Somehow we all need to get in touch with what life is all about, the meaning of our existence. Now in my work as a spiritual director I am privileged to be with people as they explore the spiritual dimension of their lives, and come into deeper relationship with their God.’
To read Sister Patricia’s Reflection click here.