Meet Sr Mary Cecily McMahon – Diamond Jubilarian
Cecily, a Diamond jubilarian and Woman of Many Parts, reflects on her 60 years as a Missionary Sister of St Columban
“As I reflect on my Missionary Call, I thank and praise the Lord for all the graces and blessings I have received from Him and how I have matured in His Love.
The seed of my Vocation was sewn in the family and as we lived near Cahiracon, the Columban Sisters were known to us for years… In the early days the Sisters did house visitation in the parish and my Mom often spoke of Sr. M. Malachy McPolin who hailed from Hilltown, Co Down.
The Columban Sisters met with local students once a month and shared on how the Sisters’ Ministries were expanding in their various Mission Areas
I entered with the Sisters on October 3, 1951 in the Motherhouse in Cahiracon. After my First Profession in April 1954 I did my Nurses Training in St. Vincent’s Hospital Dublin. Mission is ‘to be sent’ so on completion of my training I was assigned to Mokpo, Korea. All I knew about Korea was that the Columban Sisters first went there in 1955 and their Ministry was Medical Work.
Four of us left Dublin on January 25, 1959, two Sisters to Hong and two to Korea. On our way we spent three days in Rome. We travelled on the “SS Victoria” from Naples to Hong Kong. This journey took a month. There were many Missionaries on board, Priests, Sisters and lay people going to various countries.
It was a great journey for we stopped at various ports on the way – Port Said, Aden, Karachi, Bombay and Singapore. One advantage of the long journey was that it gave me an insight into the poverty of Karachi and what I would face; also, I was gradually getting acclimatized to the flavour of Eastern Cultures on the way.
Arriving in Hong Kong we spent a week with our Columban Sisters who ran the Ruttonjee Hospital in the city. Then Sr M Lucy Stewart and I took a ship to Taiwan, Yokohama (Japan) and Pusan (South Korea) – five-day’s journey. Sr. M Enda Staunton met us in Pusan and we spent a night with the Maryknoll Sisters there. Next morning at 6.am we set out for the last stage of our journey to Mokpo. We travelled by ambulance! It was March 15th. The roads were very poor. The countryside looked very drab and bare and small thatched houses everywhere. But what a welcome awaited us from our Sisters who had established the mission there! It certainly was good to be at the end of the journey.
After a few days rest and unpacking etc., I got to know my way around. This was post war period so everyone was very poor. I have very vivid memories of listening to people… no one spoke English except our Sisters. So very soon I began language classes with a Korean Teacher and for practice helped out in the wards. Coping with the language was difficult, especially the different forms, high and low. One really felt tongue tied…but the staff was very helpful to this poor foreign Sister. Even the patients using gestures and signs would help me understand. It was a difficult time but one learned to cope and later I got the opportunity of formal study.
At that time there was very little medicine available in Korea so our Sisters in US through benefactors packed barrells of medicine and samples which had to be sorted on arrival. How we enjoyed finding a packet of candy in the barrells! Our Sisters and Benefactors gave us great support always.
My experience of the Korean people was that they were always very kind, hardworking and had many traditional values. The families were closely knit. One always had to be respectful of the people and their culture.
Mokpo was a demanding but very satisfying Ministry. Then in May 1962 a new Clinic was opened in Sam Chok, a town on the east coast of South Korea so I was assigned there. This was a big change from the Hospital but by degrees I got to love it. This area was very mountainous and the scenery was beautiful. The patients came from far and near. I had a good Staff and Catechists who met with all the patients and shared the Good News with them; we also did House Visitation. The houses were small and compact and had heated floors.
The Sign of Peace during the Diamond Jubilee Mass in St Columban’s Home, Chuncheon City, South Korea – 26 April 2014
My respect and love for the people grew as I saw how they struggled with so little and yet were always very welcoming and kind. In September 1966, I got the opportunity of doing formal language study for three Semesters. It was a great opportunity to study with various missionaries and it gave me more confidence even though over the years I had picked up some Dialects.
South Korea is noted for its very cold winters and very hot summers; each season has its own beauty and the people have great love for nature and creation. Blessed with a very mountainous country, they love mountain climbing, picnics and sports.
‘Lord you are the Way, the Truth and the Life’. As Columban Sisters, we have a variety of Ministries. I had my first vacation to Ireland in late 1968 and on my return to Korea the following year a different sort of assignment awaited me: I was appointed Regional Superior. This meant changing residence to Seoul for a ministry very different from my previous active Nursing Ministry. Lots of decisions to be made! With trust and a deep faith in the Lord, I accepted the challenge. A Central House had to be built where our Sisters on arrival had the opportunity to study language and also time to relax. The house opened on 14 December, 1971 and over the years has shown hospitality to many. In 1975 I went for a Sabbatical and had a Home assignment in St Columban’s, Navan, caring for sick and elderly Columban priests.
Reassigned to Korea a few years later, I knew uprooting once again – all part of letting go, all part of being a Missionary. In 1985, after a refresher in language I was once again assigned to the hospital in Mokpo, this time as Supervisor. These were demanding times as the Hospital was a Training Hospital for Interns and Nurses. Also the Hospital was well established and there were many improved facilities in Mokpo. So time had come to hand it over. The handover the letting go took place on 10 February, 1990.
In the meantime there were Korean girls interested in joining us and embracing life of Columban Missionary Sisters and so a Novitiate was built in Seoul. Down in Mokpo we had moved to a new Convent and I continued to do House Visitation. Then another change: I was asked to take on Vocation /Promotion Ministry. This meant a return to Seoul and involved meeting with interested Koreans who felt Missionary life might be for them. This Ministry was difficult but I encouraged many on their journey: some joined us but others went elsewhere. My motto…“Jesus, not my will but thine be done”… chosen at my Final Profession, was truly lived out then in a different way.
While still doing Vocation/Promotion Ministry, I went as a Volunteer to St. Joseph’s Clinic in a poor area in Seoul. Founded for the marginalized, alcoholics and the poor this clinic was the inspiration of a layman; it had a doctor and a dedicated staff of ten volunteers of different nationalities, including Sisters Enda Staunton and me. Many, many patients came through the doors; no one was turned away. Care for the poor, understanding their situation and not judging them but rather encouraging and supporting them gently helped to restore their sense of self-worth.
What a blessing for me to work with these and also to interact with the Staff, people of different beliefs and nationalities. For example, working with a Hindu Doctor, I learned so much through her dedication, empathy and kindness to each person. As I lived in the Seoul Community, I had the opportunity of living with our Korean Columban Sisters. They brought, hope, joy and various gifts to the Community.
In May 2004 another change of Ministry. I was assigned to St. Columban’s Home in Chuncheon City, a Home catering for the needs of the Elderly, Alzheimer’s/Stroke and Hospice Residents…a challenging Ministry. Each morning the Staff and Mobile Residents gather for Morning Prayer followed by a five minute exercise period. Each day reminds one of the mystery of health and life and what a privilege to care for these Residents. How the Residents and their families appreciate the care given them daily. Each month we have a Birthday party for the Residents and how they enjoy the traditional singing and dancing performed by the Volunteers.
Over the years we are fortunate to have one of our Korean Professed Sisters join us for Community experience before assignment overseas. I have always found that these Sisters enriched the Community, always eager to learn more about our Charism and our Columban History. In a Home like this…the mystery of life and death is brought home to one often: those being called to their reward and how peacefully they go to the Lord. In the Home we have a variety of Religions but all pray together. Some request instruction and are baptized.
I am ever grateful for my Missionary call, the experience I received, the variety of Ministries, variety of people who inspired and journeyed with me and for the Trust the Lord has bestowed on me.
My Missionary Call over the years within a variety of ministries is summed up in Ecclesiastes 3: 15:
“I thank you Lord for all that has been and for what is to come”
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