Sr Rosarii: The first step in our quest for customers was to set up a small shop in Hallim, right on our premises and assign one of our employees to manage it. Here we displayed samples of our products and we were soon surprised at how popular our materials became. Tourists, especially, frequent visitors to Hallim, bought our garments without demur at our prices. Members of the US Peace Corps visited us and made many purchases. Perhaps these latter customers were responsible for the great surprise we experienced one day when the hum of a helicopter overhead attracted our attention. We were even more surprised when the helicopter landed in a nearby field and its occupants headed towards our shop. They were American naval servicemen working on a ship out at sea and they told us they had come to make some purchases. That they did, but they weren’t finished yet.
WebEd: What do you mean?
Sr Rosarii: They told us of their companions at work on the ship and asked if some of us would go to measure these men for garments which they might require. Of course we agreed! We would go with them the next day. So it happened that once again the helicopter landed near us and having equipped us with life jackets, took us on board to where their ship lay anchored. Servicemen were awaiting us on deck and after we had taken their measurements and orders they treated us to a delicious lunch and brought us back to our base, having first given us an aerial tour of parts of the island. A month later they were back to collect our work and pay us. We took this lovely experience to be a good omen for our sales and we began to look beyond Hallim for customers.
Over in Seoul in the mid-sixties, contractors were completing one of the first very high-rise hotels in the city. It was to be called the Chosun Hotel, and we learned that the building would include many boutiques for customers who came to stay or to shop. Would it be too ambitious for us to try to acquire a space for our products in this prestigious place? We had been blessed, so far in our mission to the Hallim people; perhaps a new step in the direction of Seoul would also be blessed.
WebEd: The journey, the quest gets more and more intriguing!
Sr Rosarii: Fr. McGlinchey who understood our hopes for expansion visited the Chosun and quite unexpectedly met the manager of the hotel. He found out that there was still one vacant space for a high-class shop still remaining in the premises. Fr. McGlinchey booked the shop space for us without hesitation and soon we were sending our products by air to the Chosun Hotel Arcade in the capital city. We employed a manager and two assistants to run this new venture and before long we learned about the unexpected demand there was for our products. This ensured that there was plenty of work for those we employed in Hallim, and as we progressed in our weaving, knitting and crochet areas we continued to perfect our work and to add new products for sale. Our shop in Seoul increased its customers beyond all expectations.
From Seoul we turned our attention to Cheju City where we found a space for our goods in Korean Airlines Arcade. In this situation we drew the attention of hundreds of travellers and tourists and our sales increased from month to month. Hallim Handweavers had become a recognised centre for first-class goods. On our side we had sufficient funds with which to pay good salaries to our staff and good prices to our knitters and crochet workers. But our premises and equipment were becoming old and in some ways no longer fit to accommodate the volume of work which we were undertaking. It was time to look for replacements, but moving out of the Quonset huts would bring its own pangs of nostalgia for the days and years we spent there.
WebEd: Like moving out a much loved yet old house…
Sr Rosarii: Indeed! So in 1989 we spoke to Fr. McGlinchey about the need for a new building. He listened with great understanding and promised to take steps to replace the Quonsets. Soon after that meeting I went home for a holiday after which, in 1990, I returned to find a beautiful new two-storey concrete building standing in front of the largest of the Quonsets. The space offered by the new building would be a godsend for all of us. Now we could have all our activities under one roof together with a canteen and other modern amenities. We began moving almost at once, putting the looms on the second floor of the building and using the ground floor for offices, supplies and finished products, together with a display area where our products could be seen. It would be a joy to work in this bright airy building.
WebEd: So many things were fitting nicely into place!
Sr Rosarii: Well, sadly, long before the new building was up my two Sister companions in ministry had been called to other missions on the mainland. Sister Elizabeth left in 1967 for a new assignment in Mokpo while Sister Brid was called to Seoul in 1971. All three of us had given of our best to beginning and bringing the weaving industry forward. We had seen our staff grow in competency and loyalty to us and to one another. They could take it as a compliment that they were to be replacements in the industry for two of its founding members. I would be remaining in Jeju for some time yet, but not for too long.
WebEd: And what was the next ‘twist in the tale’ as Jeffery Archer would woo his readers with?
Sr Rosarii: I continued my usual ministry in the new facility and saw the industry grow and our co-workers become more competent in their different undertakings. After eight years a basic principle of missionary life began to assert itself in my thoughts and reflections.
It is the policy of all missionaries that, when a local Church in any area of their mission has the means of providing for its own needs, the missionaries transfer to other areas where their ministries are required. In my case the truth was that the people who had been in employment in Hallim, Cheju City and Seoul had become sufficiently competent to carry on the industry without my presence, and although I knew that it would cost me much, both emotionally and practically, to move away from Hallim I knew that this was the correct move to make.
WebEd: You certainly were as true to your missionary call at that crucial time as you were when first assigned to Mokpo and then later to Hallim!
Sr Rosarii: I prayed that I was so! In 1998 I informed Fr. McGlinchey that I would be withdrawing from Hallim and that there were no Sisters available to replace me, and that neither was there need for anyone. Fr. McGlinchey met with two leading members of the handweaving industry and myself to discuss the possibility of the staff continuing the industry. He thought that perhaps a few of the latter would take over the work in the new building, but in this he was disappointed. None of the employees wished to continue what we, Sisters Brid, Elizabeth and I had begun.
WebEd: That was difficult to hear, was it not?
Sr Rosarii: There was little more to be said; nowhere else to go. In the end it was decided to sell off all the stocks, grant generous separation pay to the employees and give the building for the use of the parish.
And so Sister Rosarii continues: “One of the most difficult things a missionary must do before moving away from any mission is to say good-bye to the people amongst and with whom she or he has spent a number of years. So it was with Hallim and me. For thirty six years I had watched the people of the neighbourhood and far beyond develop a prosperous way of life through their work in the weaving industry. Together with my companion Sisters I had thanked God to see both women and men develop skills which would enrich their way of life and that of their families. I had seen children make progress in education thanks to the earning of their parents both on the site of the weaving and through the products created at home. I had been enriched by the friendship and loyalty of those with whom I had spent my energies, trying my best always to give witness to the values of the Gospel and gaining always from the cultural values inherent in the Korean way of life. I hold in my heart happy memories of relaxation days with the staff when we went off to some special place and enjoyed time together as we sang, danced and told stories. Hallim Handweavers was not all about work!
WebEd: Beautifully put, Rosarii. Thank you for your story and now let the final word come from you…
Sr Rosarii: As I left Hallim I entrusted the fruits of my thirty six years amongst its people to the generous blessing and care of God. May He guide them with his wisdom and keep them enfolded in his love!
For Part I of ‘Sister Rosarii’s Hallim Mission Story – Click here
and for Part II of “Sister Rosarii’s Hallim Story – click here