Called to God's Work
Our story of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban traditionally begins with the words, "It was because two people shared a vision and answered a similar call that the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban came to be." Those two people were Fr. John Blowick and Frances Moloney. The latter was one of the many women who found their hearts stirred by the appeal Fr. John Blowick was making in December 1917, around the time of the founding of the Maynooth Mission to China (Columban Fathers). Speaking of the urgent need for women collaborators in the new missionary venture in China, he envisioned, "certain auxiliary forces which may be profitably developed in the missions. They belong to three professions – teaching, nursing and medical. They are, as I hope to show, of the greatest possible advantage both in making converts and in retaining them during the first years of Christian life. To have a complete Irish mission, a body of teaching religious is a necessity, teaching nuns and brothers …. Besides the teaching body, there is another auxiliary of the first importance for our missions. It is the medical one. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance or the value of medical missions … "
The Profession of Vows of the first group of Columban Sisters on September 29, 1924, then saw the fulfilment and realization of these hopes of Fr. John Blowick. When the Congregation was founded at that time in the early 1920's, this first group to begin their Columban missionary life consisted of seven young women – six Irish and one Australian. Today, we are still small in number, but we now represent nine different cultures and nationalities, a fact that adds vibrancy and color to our approach to mission today.
Like the Columban Fathers, our first foundation was made in China in 1926 where Columban Fr. Michael O'Dwyer was to say of the first group of Columban Sister missionaries – "These women were characterized by a spirit of adventure. There was no knowing what was coming. They faced the total unknown. But they had great faith and were always good-humoured because they saw the effort for what it was – a country plagued by bandits, Red revolutionaries, floods, cholera, leprosy, Japanese bombing attacks."
Over the years, we have done our best to preserve this spirit and to continue to have great faith and to be good humored as the ensuing years brought expansion to other countries: the United States in 1930, the Philippines in 1939, Burma in 1947, Hong Kong in 1949, Korea in 1955, Peru in 1962, Chile in 1974 and Pakistan in 1990.
These were years of great expansion for our Congregation, but they were not without challenge and suffering, especially when we were faced with expulsion from China in 1951 and from Burma, now Myanmar, in 1966. Both times, we had no choice but to leave behind people with whom we had lived and worked and to whom we had become very close. Fortunately, in both places, we had the opportunity to return on mission to China in 1986 and to Burma, or Myanmar as it is now known, in 2003.
It is now over ninety years since our Sisters set out on their first mission to China. The settings of mission today may be different but the needs of the poor and the marginalized continue to call us forth so that Columban Sisters today can be seen working in many and varied ways. Today Sisters build selfconfidence in the children who live in Pasay City Cemetery, Manila, the Philippines, where the families scavenge for a living, and working amongst the Subaanen tribal people in the remote village of Midsalip in the Island of Mindanao in the south of the Philippines where the main object is the relief of poverty, protection of the environment, as well as the provision of education and health care. In Peru the Sisters go on foot carrying supplies to more isolated areas where the elderly are completely abandoned and alone, and offering children good academic support and the opportunity to learn in a safe environment, not to mention nutritious meals which lay a good foundation on which to build their future. Columban Sisters educate future leaders for Myanmar in order to find a way to break the cycle of poverty in which the people are immersed in addition to befriending, accompanying and providing intensive nutritional support and shelter for those critically ill with HIV. In Pakistan, Sisters initiate income generating projects in the Christian community for women with children who have been abandoned by families and have no source of income, or who are suffering because their husband is on drugs or unemployed or due to the death of a young husband. In addition they assist women with pre and postnatal care as well as other health issues affecting mothers and children. These are just a few examples of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban on mission today.
None of this would be possible without the support of our very generous benefactors who ensure that we have the means to offer the services needed to improve the quality of life of so many people. In addition, we can rely on the powerful support of their prayers and the prayers of our sick and elderly Sisters who continue in this way to be actively involved in mission.
Fr. John Blowick's missionary spirit was based upon the understanding that "it is God's work you are called to do …. of yourselves you can do nothing." This was the spirit that he strove to instil in the hearts of the first women who responded to the needs of China. It is also the spirit that continues to impel the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban today. Touched and set on fire by God's love which is the source of our Columban charism, we continue to be called and sent in a spirit of compassion and solidarity to our fast changing world which can be filled with so much pain and suffering.
Columban Sr. Ann Gray provided this update about the Columban Sisters.