I shared the story of St Mary Euphrasia (SME) and heard how the tunnel was built many times over when induction was organized for new staff. My knowledge of SME was that she was a saint, a woman of strength and one who had much compassion and vision for girls and women.
SME came alive for me when Sr Anne Josephine shared how SME’s happy times at the beach in her early days became a much saddened childhood after she was sent to a boarding and how she endured the pain of separation from her mother and siblings. I began to understand the depth of her compassion for girls and women and how her early years’ experiences shaped her values and belief about helping others and subsequently starting a ministry for them.
My admiration for SME grew as more stories of her life were told. She was just like anyone of us who suffered the pain of betrayal as a leader and the challenges of working with the church and bishops. Despite all the challenges, SME was steadfast in her mission to serve young girls and women and the building of the tunnel in 4 months was a testimony of her determination and belief. Apart from carrying the financial burden of building the tunnel, she laboured and persevered to ensure that the tunnel was constructed in the shortest time so that the orphans could be taken care of.
It was not just amazing perseverance and creative problem solving but absolute faith in God and a deep-seated compassion that were reflected in her action. That left a deep impression in my heart. She also experienced the friendship, support of and collaboration with Count de Neuville and Madame d’Andigne.
As I walked through the tunnel, I kept thinking how SME built it in 4 months given the technology of her times. I admired her courage, vision and faith.
In the last tunnel walk, I was shepherded along the way from one end of the tunnel to the other. It was an overwhelming and emotional experience as the music, “Be still and know that I am God” was played. My tears flowed freely when I thought of the darkest and difficult moments of my life and wondering how challenging it must have been for SME too. Had she ever thought of giving up? What kept her going? It must have been her faith in God and her mission mindedness.
I felt it was God carrying me and reminding me that no matter how long and dark the journey ahead would be, God would be by my side and there would be light at the end of the tunnel. I was deeply moved and I sat in front of the stature of SME praying for perseverance, wisdom and strength. I continue to pray that I would be a compassionate companion to the children and women that walk through all our services in the Good Shepherd Mission, Singapore and the ethos of St Mary Euphrasia that “One person is of more value than the world” is and will be reflected in my companionship with them.
I am grateful to have experienced the special and inspiring moments in Motherhouse and to remember where the Good Shepherd Mission started. It is in remembering our history that the mission becomes more meaningful and a shared understanding of the history would bring us to shared future in the Mission.
I was recently asked to find something that symbolises my role in the Good Shepherd mission.
After some reflection, the idea of being a ‘connector’ came to me. As I surveyed the surroundings, I spotted a clothes peg. Right away, I identified it as a symbol of my role in the mission. You may ask, “Why a clothes peg?” Just as a clothes peg is used to keep clothes from being blown away, my role in keeping the accounts for PKGS (Sabah) helps to keep good intentions and projects from being blown away too! It would be a great pity if this happened due to poor financial management, inaccurate book-keeping, and lack of accountability.
I am able to connect accounting and financial management to mission work when the funds are responsibly accounted for. Because most of our funds come from donors and benefactors, we have a huge responsibility to account for every cent we receive. When we are able to put figures to mission work, it makes the work of my colleagues, whose duty it is to obtain funding for ministries, a lot easier!
With proper and professional accounts-keeping and reporting, our ministry will be perceived as professional in our work. Consequently, this gives greater confidence and will attract bigger corporate benefactors, which means better funding for our projects. In turn, we can reach out to more people in need.
Just as a car without petrol is useless, good intentions and ideas without funds will be fruitless! They will remain just good intentions! Although I may not be in the forefront to carry out direct mission work, I feel that my role in keeping proper accounts is, nevertheless, just as needed and important. I am one of the pieces in the big jigsaw puzzle of the Good Shepherd mission. I have come to realise that it is not by chance that I am part of the Good Shepherd family. It is God who has chosen and called me by name. He knows the mission needed a clothes peg as well!
May the name of the Lord be praised!
It was the last week of Geraldine’s life. The prison officer asked me to be present when she told her mother that her last day would be on Friday
Her mother was a dear simple woman who had pleaded with me to appeal to the President to save her from the death sentence for murder. I did her this precious favour. It was turned down.
I did this out of sheer respect and love for this heartbroken mother. We entered the interview room together, the Officer in attendance. It was a privileged open visit, Mother and daughter hugged sobbing, bathed in tears. I gently placed my hand on Geraldine’s shoulder.
She turned and looked into my eyes and remembered her promise – to be strong so that her mother would be strong too. It was so touching. She gently sat her mother down, brushed her tears away. With her hands she held her mother’s face and wiped the tears away with profound respect. Calmly she looked at her mother and said,
“Remember Mum, you promised not to cry. You will let me go back to God. I am at peace and you must also be at peace.”
The awesome presence of the Divine was overwhelming. The mother smiled and bravely nodded “God needs you more than I do. He takes care of you.” The mother was Buddhist, the daughter Catholic.
Their respect for each other’s faith was clearly visible. They both accepted that life and death are in the hands of the One Eternal God.
When Geraldine was escorted back to her cell, I embraced her mum and we silently walked out.
I left the prisons that day and wept.
My prayer: O Lord abolish the death penalty. Give us respect for human life. Help us to value the dignity of each person.”
“One person is more precious than the whole world.”
St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier