Bringing the Love of God to the Aged Sick: Sr. Mary Tan, St. Joseph’s Home

About a year into my nursing training at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), the “Call” came for me to consider a vocation in the Convent. That was when I decided to leave the hospital to join the Canossian Daughters of Charity.

While doing my novitiate in Hong Kong, my novice mistress noticed that I was inclined to nursing, and she asked if I was keen to pursue that. “Can I?” I asked her. After I completed my three-year novice training and took my first vow, I was sent to England to study nursing.

 

My Vocation

In 1967, I returned to Singapore after taking my final vows in Italy. It was around that time that the Catholic Welfare Services started planning for a mobile clinic, and I was approached to assist since I was a registered nurse. The mobile clinic-on-wheels was a special van, donated by the Catholic Welfare Services, to travel to different parts of Singapore to dispense medicine to villagers.

In 1968, our mobile clinic started travelling to a few key locations around the island to serve various communities – Tuas to serve the Chinese, Jalan Kayu for the Indians, and Changi Village for the Malays.

A volunteer doctor, as well as a few Sisters who were State-Registered Nurses were attached to us, and helped to dispense the medication. In 1969, I was transferred to Kulai in Malaysia to start the mobile clinic there under the Canossian Sisters.

In the mid-1970s, there was no need for the mobile clinics to reach out to the sick and needy as more Polyclinics were built around Singapore. The government’s focus also shifted to the building of Homes for the Aged.

By that time, I was back in Singapore, ready for the next challenge.

 

Pastoral Care in An Aged Home

Before St Joseph’s Home began at Gek Poh Road in 9 Dec 1978 with 3 Sisters, we had to visit various homes and understand how they were run. I was one of the pioneers then, learning how to manage a Home for the Aged.

Since starting the Home, Pastoral Care (PC) has become an integral part of the Sisters’ ministry. In the beginning, Sr. Geraldine Tan, our Executive Director gathered a group of staff, a regular volunteer and myself to go through the Pastoral Training Course for 3 months before a team was effectively formed.

Forty-two years since the start of St Joseph’s Home, I am still serving in the Pastoral Care team.

As a PC member, we may be called at any time to be with residents who are very ill. We sit by their bedside to keep them company and pray with for them, regardless of their religion.  Sometimes, we are also alerted to changes in moods of a resident and will have to be available to support them.

 

Back to my roots

Looking back to the days when I was a student at St Anthony’s Convent, I remember when we were taught about the Passion of Christ, I had always wondered how Jesus could withstand that amount of pain and torture. This led me to ask for permission to attend Catechism classes, following which I was baptised.

I was attracted to Christianity because of Jesus’ passion and agony- He who has loved us so much had to go through all the suffering to save us. This is real love!

After my baptism, I was full of fervour. Each day before school began, I would gather a few of my Primary School peers and together, we would go to the chapel to say the Rosary. I even bought rosaries for them.

Decades later, little did I know such small acts would reap rewards. A lady whom I got acquainted with, told me that she was one of the girls whom I brought to the chapel to pray. She saw me as the “Dai Kah Jie” (big sister in Cantonese) who showed her the way to her faith and conversion. This lady is now an active Lay Canossian!

 

A Vision, beyond Mission

During the early years of St. Joseph’s Home, we only had a handful of people working with us. Thus, we had to do all the chores ourselves – from bathing the residents, cleaning the premises, washing toilets to a lot of other manual work.

One of the staff told me that she was touched by the way the Sisters were so hands-on, doing whatever that was needed to be done, and there was no division regardless of the positions we held. We showed them how things were done by doing it ourselves.

This parallels what our foundress, St Magdalene of Canossa, always wanted us to uphold, which is to “do (work) with the heart.”

 As I continue my daily duties, I want to bring the love of the Lord to the residents, and to extend my concern and care to those whom I meet. Making time and having a listening ear for these residents is important, so I will tell them that I will come back to visit if I have urgent errands to run and I will keep to my promise when I am done with my work.  It is not always a smooth-sailing journey, but I firmly believe that:

“Being a Canossian, I have Jesus Crucified and
Our Lady of Sorrows to turn to in my ups and downs.”

 

Progressing as a Catholic200SG community, my prayer for all:

“That the Church will be vibrant in spreading the love of Jesus to all peoples, and in living our lives to bring others to Him for a personable encounter.”

 

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