In March 1949, Sister Mary Angela McBrien, Sister Camillus Walsh and Sister Baptista Hennessy , known fondly as the “China Pioneers”, arrived in Singapore at the invitation of Bishop Olçomendy of Malacca to care for patients suffering from tuberculosis. The sisters took over the tuberculosis wards, later known as the Mandalay Road Hospital.
From September 1949, the Sisters responded to work in what was known initially as ‘The Leper Camp’ in Woodbridge, later renamed Trafalgar Home.
One of the Mission’s brightest moments came in 1951 when the first Asian novices joined, young women from Singapore and Malaysia. The numbers continued to grow, despite Mandalay Road Hospital and Trafalgar Home being incorporated back to into Government hospitals in 1962 and 1963 respectively.
Compelled by the needs they saw, the Sisters planned to build Singapore’s first Catholic hospital. Their years of Government salaries were used to seed the hospital building fund.
Land on Thomson Hill was bought in October 1956 and by 4th March 1961, Dato Lee Kong Chian, a great supporter of the hospital, declared Mount Alvernia Hospital open.
In the 1970s, the Sisters took on the administration and staffing of the Villa Francis Home for the Aged in Mandai built by the Singapore Council of Social Services. This also led to the formation of the Villa Francis Community.
On 12th April 1993, Assisi Home and Hospice was officially opened to provide in-patient care. Later, a home care service and a daycare centre were added.
The FMDM Singapore and Malaysian chapter came of age when Sisters Tarcisius Leong and Agnes Tan were elected as Delegates to the Congregation’s 1965 General Chapter. More joys were given in 1974 when the first of the Asian Sisters was appointed to the service of Superiorship with Sister Antonine Noordin elected for the Mount Alvernia community.
By 1979, the Order decided that the initial FMDM formation should be undertaken in Singapore rather than overseas. Sister Thomasina Sewell was appointed the first Directress of Novices.
On 8th September 1984, the FMDM Singaporean and Malaysian Houses were formally established as a Region within their international congregation. Sister Agnes Tan was appointed the first Singaporean Regional Superior. In 1985, the Sisters achieved yet another first when Sister Bernadette Yeo was appointed to be the first full-time Clinical Pastoral Care Sister for Mount Alvernia Hospital.
Today, Sisters remain active in the hospital in Pastoral Care and as board members. Others are active in the community in areas such as spiritual direction and as RCIA catechists. The Mission continues to strive to serve the vulnerable, to be nurturing and to be life giving.
This article has been provided by and published with the kind permission of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood Sisters. Read more about their mission and good works at their website at http://www.fmdmsgmy.org/.