Canossian Sisters

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Canossian Sisters of Hong Kong & Macau Province in 1997
SAM 3891.JPG
Provincial Superior of H.K. & Macau Rev. Sr. Cynthia Chan
Vice Provincial Sr. Marie Socorro Remedios
Year of Establishment 1860
Religion Catholic
Founder Canossian Daughters of Charity
Location 34- 36 Caine Road, Hong Kong
Number of Sister Present 99
Type Charity and Education Group

The “Canossian Missions” (HK & Macau Province) [嘉諾撒仁愛女修會-港澳省區] is composed of a group of women who voluntarily devote themselves to be Religious Sisters and aim to follow the footsteps of their Foundress, St. Magdalene of Canossa, to serve the public, especially the poor. The Institute in Hong Kong was established in 1860 by the first 6 Italian Canossian Missionary Sisters - Sr. Cupis Lucia, Sr. Compagnotti Claudia, Sr. Stella Maria, Sr. Tronconi Rachele, Sr. Giuseppina Testera and Sr. Giovanna Scotti who came from Italy. Hong Kong is the first place where the Canossian Daughters of Charity started their Mission outside of Italy, where the Institute was first established by St. Magdalene. The Province of Hong Kong, Macau and also China, initially, first started to launch orphanages for abandoned babies, elderly caring homes and schools for girls, since most girls were deprived of their right to education at that time.


The first foreign Sister to join the Canossian Institute in Hong Kong soon after their arrival in 1860 was Aloysia Emily Bowring, the daughter of the fourth out-going Governor of Hong Kong - Sir John Bowring KCB. Sister Emily thus became the first Principal of the Italian Convent School (today called Sacred Heart Canossian School and College), the first school that was founded by the Canossians in Hong Kong.

Contents

Becoming a Canossian Sister[1][2]

To become a Canossian Sister, one has to first feel the call from God and to discern clearly her motivations, whether one acts on mere emotional impulse or really possesses the true heart to dedicate herself to the Lord and to the poor. In order to complete the final profession and become a real Sister, one has to undergo a long process of formation and verification that begins with the “Come and See” experience. How many years this period may last depends on her spiritual growth and dedication. For each stage, one has to write an official letter to the Superiors to apply for admission.


The first stage of “Come and See” or “Aspirancy” is like an ad experimentum. It is a cooling-off period for the lady to think carefully about her decision and plan for her steps. At the same time, her Sister mentor assigned will be observing her fulfillment of spiritual pursuit and dedication. Her motivation to be a nun will also be assessed. At this stage, there is no commitment between the lady and the Institute; she can leave anytime if she feels that she does not belong there. If she passes this experimentum, the lady will enter the Postulancy. For this stage, she will be given some formal formation while working in some ministry, according to her ability. It is a trail period which usually lasts for 1 year or more, varying from one person to another, according to the need of the individual. The lady will have a taste of how the life of a Sister is. She will stay in the convent with all other Sisters and live a Canossian Sister’s life style to some extent. She will remain in lay dress and have a religious medal around her neck as a symbol of her initiation into religious life.
After the completion of the Postulancy, the lady then proceeds to the Novitiate which generally lasts for 2 years. The lady is now officially recognized as a Novice. If she goes through this period successfully, to the satisfaction of both parties, she applies and is allowed to make her First Profession, with the 3 Vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience. She is now known as a Junior Sister.
During the Juniorate, the Junior Sister renews her Vows annually for at least 5 to 7 times. If all goes well, she then asks to be admitted to the Final Profession. This marks her identity as a real and permanent Canossian Sister, with full membership in the Canossian Family.

Background[1]

At present, there are altogether 99 Sisters in the Canossian Missions (HK & Macau Province). Among these 99 Sisters, 6 of them are Junior Sisters who have not yet completed their formation and have not yet made their final profession.

Age

The oldest Sister in the Province of Hong Kong - Macau is 99 years old, and over half of all the Sisters are 60 years of age and above. The Province does not have very young Sisters in their teens, as they used to have in the past. The new generation of ladies who join, do so in their mid or late 20’s, and even in their 30’s.

Nationalities

The Province is mainly composed of Chinese and Italian Sisters, but there are also just a few Sisters of other nationalities like: Portuguese, Filipino and Indonesian.

Communication Languages

The official languages used at International Canossian meetings are: English and Italian, while there will normally be translations also in Spanish, Portuguese and French. About half of the Provinces of the Institute in the various parts of the world has adopted English as their medium of communication, while the other half has adopted Italian. They also use their local languages on a daily basis.

Non-Sister Members

The Sisters are helped in their daily operations by some paid janitor staff, especially in the Canossian Missions Headquarters. They are responsible for housework, like cooking, cleaning, laundry, reception, clerical work, and the care of some sick and elderly Sisters. There is one male handyman who does much of the heavy work and sometimes acts as a driver for the Sisters, especially the elderly ones. He also helps to run a variety of errands when needed.


Appearance

Habit

The official uniform of the Sisters is called the “Religious Habit”. The design and texture of the Habit place emphasis on simplicity and convenience. There are no fanciful patterns or special designs on the habit, and the regulations governing how the Sisters should dress are rather clear. A variation to the official habit is allowed. For example, Sisters in Africa will have a grey veil instead of the black one which is generally used in Hong Kong, Italy, and some other Provinces. The white veil is used where the climate is hot. The “greyness” of the habit also varies, as it is difficult to get the same grey material every time from the textile companies. Like common people, most Sisters will wash their habits with the washing machine.

History of the Habit[3]

The first Religious Habit used by the Canossian Sisters was the common outfit of the Italian middle-class women at that time. The Habit was divided into two parts – a black shawl over a long brown dress. There was also a long black veil worn, when going out of the convent, over a cap which had rolls on the top of it. This set of Religious Habit had been used from 1817 to 1956. This habit also has its counterpart in white for the hot summers.


In 1961, the veil was changed. The cap was simplified. There are no rolls on the top and the tail of the veil is joined at the back.


In 1968, the habit was changed to a one-piece long-sleeved grey dress, with a belt and white collar. Above the belt, there are pleats in the front of the chest and at the back. The tail of the veil has been shortened, and there is a white brim along the top. The cap was softened.


Since 1978, the color of the habit was changed to grey, with a short white stand-up collar and the white veil brim was narrowed. Besides the official grey habit, Sisters of the Canossian Missions in Hong Kong are allowed to wear a two-piece habit with short white sleeved blouse and light grey skirt, with one pleat at the front. All Canossian Sisters are allowed to wear also the white habit and white veil with the same design as the grey one in hot countries.


In 2002, The General Council approved 2 alternative dresses for the Hong Kong Province; one is similar to the official habit, with long sleeves but without pleats, while the other is a white blouse with short or long sleeves and a grey skirt.

Production[1]

The habit is not manufactured in large factories or bought from a tailor’s shop. The Canossian Missions has paid a lady tailor to make habits for them when some of them are too old or worn-out. The tailor will be responsible to buy the textile materials in bulk since it is cheaper and will take the body measurements of the Sisters and make the habits. Some Sisters who know tailoring, will also make their own habits.

Number of Habit

There is no restriction on the number of habits a Sister can have. It depends on her preferences and needs, taking always into consideration her vow of Poverty. Some Sisters may sweat more, so they will have more sets of clothing. Some may use the same two sets for the whole summer or winter.

Seasonal Changes

Due to weather changes, Sisters can wear white in summer for better heat releases or they can choose to wear short sleeves. While grey habit will be dressed in times of colder weather. Grey or black coat will be added in case of very cold days. After all, it depends on the choice of the sister.

The front side of the metal tag of Canossian Sisters. The picture on the metal is "The Lady of Sorrows"

Accessory

Canossian Sisters have to wear a metal chain and medal which is the symbol and identification of Canossian Sisters. On the front side of the medal is the picture of "Our Lady of Sorrows" – the Virgin Mary who is the Patroness of the Canossian Daughters of Charity. At the back of the metal, are the words written in Italian “Figlia della Carità Canossiana” which means “Canossian Daughter of Charity”. The medal is also a reminder to the Sisters of how they should live as Religious, and always follow the footsteps of their Patroness.

Hair Style

There is no restriction on the hair style of Sisters, as most of the time their hair is covered by the veil. Some of them will keep it short for the sake of convenience and health, while some may keep it a bit longer. The reason why some of them like their hair a bit longer is because they have to travel to the Mainland China more frequently. When they do so, they will dress in lay dress, and longer hair will be more convenient for them to go around.

Meal[1]

The preparation of meals is taken care of by a Sister with the help of a few ladies employed for the purpose. They will cook for the Sisters and the elderly Sisters in the Infirmary inside the Headquarters, and also for other Sisters or visitors who stop in for visits or meetings. Canossian Sisters do not have a special diet and are free to eat anything. For health reasons, the Province tries to cook healthy food for everyone, as advised by nutritionists. Every day, they will all eat together in the dining room and talk to each other like a common lay family.

On some special occasions, during the Lenten period, Catholics sometimes have only one full meal in a day and also abstain from eating meat. Sisters will eat together silently, as it is also a spiritual penitential act for them. Sometimes, past students, Lay Canossians or friends may hold some events and will invite the Sisters to eat out in restaurants.

Accommodation[1]

The place where Sisters live and sleep is called a "convent". A convent is a place that requires silence and mutual respect, and the Chapel is a place for meditation and personal or communitarian prayer. Not all Sisters live in the convent inside the Headquarters. Some stay in the convents above the school buildings or the Canossian hospital, or in the retreat house. There are 11 convents in the Province of Hong Kong – Macau. The greatest number of Sisters live inside the Caine Road Headquarters. The house-work of the convent will be performed by some Sisters and the janitor staff. The Sisters who live together in a convent form "a community", like a family. Different groups of Sisters in different places will form different "communities" where Sisters will spend their daily lives under the care of a Superior.

Some Sisters may have to share room with other while some can have a room for herself, depending on the needs and preferences of each Sister. Some Sisters who are sick may need to have a room for herself so that she can take good rest. Some may want to sleep with others will share bedroom. Moreover, it depends on the time a Sister moves in. If there is single room available, she may sleep alone, if not, she may share a bedroom. The structure of a convent is more like a dormitory with bed, working table, chair, wardrobe or other furniture a Sister may want to have.

Transportation[1]

The Institute has cars which are mainly used to drive Sisters who are sick to hospitals for consultations, check-ups or for other needs. Sometimes, it will be used as a carrier to travel to the markets for buying food for the large population living in the convent and the elderly home, or to some meetings. The car will also be used when more Sisters are travelling together, which often makes it cheaper. Most of the time, Sisters will travel by public means, like the common people.

Daily Job

The daily job of each Sister may vary, depending on which ministry she is carrying out. Primarily, there are five main areas of work:[1] of work:

Sister talking to primary students[4]

Working in schools as principals, teachers or pastoral Sisters

Education is one of the major works of the Province of Hong Kong. There are at present 20 schools in Hong Kong and Macau, which are established by the Canossian Missions. Sisters may work as teachers, principals or pastoral Sisters in them. Since the establishment of the Canossian Missions in Hong Kong, Sisters have put much of their effort in nurturing young girls. The following is the list of schools founded by the Canossian Missions, mainly for girls, with the exception of a number of Primary Schools that are co-educational:

  • Sacred Heart Canossian College of Commerce
  • Sacred Heart Canossian College
  • Sacred Heart Canossian School (Private Section)
  • Sacred Heart Canossian School (Subsidized Section)
  • Sacred Heart Canossian Kindergarten (Private)
  • St. Francis Canossian College
  • St. Francis Canossian School
  • St. Mary's Canossian College
  • St. Mary's Canossian School
  • Holy Family Canossian College
  • Holy Family Canossian School
  • Holy Family Canossian School (Kowloon Tong)
  • Pui Tak Canossian College
  • Pui Tak Canossian Primary School
  • Canossa College
  • Canossa School
  • Holy Angels Canossian School
  • Canossa Primary School (Chuk Un)
  • Canossa Primary School (San Po Kong)
  • Sacred Heart Canossian School and College – Macau
  • Canossa Pui Ching (Kindergarten, Primary and Secondary) - Macau

Evangelization and Providing assistance in Parishes

Sisters may have to assist the Priests during the Mass, take care of the Mass attendees who might be physically disabled or elderly who have difficulty in walking; they may give instructions for the Sacraments or attend to the Sunday School children, or even visit the families or the sick in their homes.

Assistance to the sick, nursing and providing counseling services in hospitals or old folks homes

Sisters will go to hospitals for evangelization and to provide counseling services to the sick. They comfort them and pray for them. If they are in danger of death, they see that a priest is called in, if they are Catholics. A few Sisters who are registered nurses will also take up the duty of nursing and attending to medical procedures. Some also do administration work in the hospital. Canossa Hospital (Carita) was founded by the Canossian Daughters of Charity in 1929. The management of Canossa Hospital was passed on to Caritas-Hong Kong since June 1991. The name of the Hospital was subsequently changed to Canossa Hospital (Caritas).

Operating the Canossian Retreat House

The Honeyville Retreat House is launched and run by the Canossian Sisters at 57 Mount Davis Road, Hong Kong. It can accommodate 70 people for overnight retreats, seminars or a few days of silence, and is open to the public. There is a charge per day for staying in the retreat house. Besides providing accommodation and meals, the Sisters are also available for spiritual accompaniment, if so desired.

Formation of Lay Staff and Youth

The Lay Canossians (Hong Kong) form an association for lay people who live the Canossian charism as a vocation. Apart from having monthly meetings, the Association also holds "The Lay Canossian Day", Formation programmes, the Annual Pilgrimage, Formation Talks and the Annual Retreat, all of which aim to strengthen the communion and enhance the spirituality of the members. The Lay Canossians join hands with the Canossian Sisters in serving the society in evangelization, pastoral care and education. The members of the Association are spiritually formed and guided by some Sisters to live the Canossian spirituality in their daily life. The lay staff of our schools and hospitals are also given regular formation programmes to help them live and work according to the Canossian spirit. Special attention too is given to our Canossian youth, both Catholics and non Catholics, with special activities and encounters organized together with them.

Those Sisters who are too elderly or sick and cannot work in the active ministries, will stay in the convent to help out in some of the lighter housework, or they just support the different apostolic works with their precious prayers and sufferings.

General Time Schedule for Sisters[1]

Sister Caring for the sick patient[4]
Time Activity
0530
Personal Meditation
0600
(Official Assembly Time)
Morning Prayer
0630 Mass celebrated by Father
0700 Breakfast
0730
Full Day or Part-time
Daily Duties
1200 Lunch
1300 Afternoon Work
1630-1700 Return to Convent
1800 Meditation and Evening Prayer
1900 Supper
1930 Community Recreation
2100 Free Time/ Night Prayer
Game Time[4]

Community Moments

The Community may sometimes hold some activities or games for Sisters to relax and foster their bonding. During the community moments, Sisters will gather around to have sharing on spiritual pursuits or pray for recent natural disasters or tragedies, or just chat and see the news of the day. Once a week, they have a community formative meeting or a consultation session. Once a week, they also have night prayer together. On normal nights, they will chat with one another, watch television, read newpapers or do some knitting or hand-work. It depends on the preferences of different communities and Sisters on how they would like to use their time.

Free Time

It is a free time that every Sister can plan for their own usage. For some Sisters, they may use it to do their own house-work, some may have to handle school work or personal stuff. If not, the Sister may choose to rest a bit more, or whatever she may need to do. There is no fixed bed-time for Sisters, although all are encouraged to get sufficient sleep in order to be better able to carry out their responsibilities the following day.

Special Activity[1]

There are no activities that Sisters are forbidden to do. Sisters can go swimming, school picnics with students, meals at restaurants with past students, hiking… but always with moderation and a sense of responsibility for their work and the witness they give to others. Obviously, Sisters never go to discos or night clubs, because that is not the life style they have chosen for themselves, nor chosen to spend their time.
Some may question whether Sisters can go swimming or not. Actually, Sisters are free to plan their own schedule of activities. The Institute recommends Sisters to take good care of their health by doing some exercise and taking sufficient rest. Sisters are free to choose what kind of exercises they want to do. In the old days, they used to have special swimming suits which were very modest and “old-fashioned”. Now they wear the ordinary one piece swim-suit. Since most Sisters are getting older nowadays, less of them will go swimming, but they will try to keep as fit as possible for as long as they can, within the convent walls or in the garden or playground.

Whole Province Gathering

Approximately once a month, the Sisters will have a gathering for the whole Province. They will have a province assembly time which is to get some in-put, do some sharing and/or pray together. Apart from the assembly time, the Province will use the time for settling "family matters", discussing convent or local affairs, and sharing one another’s “wisdom” and ideas. When such big functions or gatherings end late, the Sisters will also have dinner together before going their different ways.

Annual Retreat

Every month the Sisters will make a day of recollection to pray and do some spiritual reflection on their lives. Once a year, they also have 7 days of retreat together in the Retreat House. During these 7 days, they observe silence and will have prayers, sharing sessions, Masses and spiritual exercises together, usually guided by a visiting priest or Sister. Most of the time, Sisters will be alone to meditate and refresh their spirits and bodies. The annual retreat aims to allow Sisters to pursue a higher level of spirituality and strengthen their dedication to the Lord in their vocation. Sisters might also formulate their action plan for better services to the public.

Invitation to Fathers

Sometimes, the Province will invite Fathers to celebrate Masses for them or give talks to Sisters to deepen their spiritual lives and increase their knowledge of religious studies.

Interest Classes

Every year, the Province will organize some workshops or seminars for Sisters in order to keep themselves updated with the modern technological world, healthy living or religious formation.
The Province had also held some interest classes in the past for Sisters, like Mandarin, cooking and sewing classes. Before the year 1997, Mandarin classes for Sisters were also held, since they realized that there was a need for Sisters to know Mandarin after the Handover. But they are not holding any interest classes now, since the schools and the society are offering many other opportunities today for those Sisters who may be interested to learn something useful. A few Sisters are even having Tai-chi, Ku Fung and Chinese Medicine classes outside the convent, and are teaching these to others.

Healthcare

Since quite a number of Sisters are getting older and might have difficulty in walking, the Province will occasionally invite doctors and nutritionists to come to their convents to have health check-ups and talks on a healthy living style for the Sisters.

Monetary Assistance[1]

The Province receives some small monetary subsidies from the government for the elderly Sisters. The expenses of Sisters is principally financed by the income of Sisters working in government-aided schools as teachers or principals and the income of Sisters working as nurses in hospitals. Sisters also get money from the retreat house operation which is open to the public and the Aged Home in Macau, which imposes charges on those who can pay. Sisters may sometimes receive assistance from donations to the Institute, or a few shops nearby sending them food that remains intact at the end of the day. However, in the near future, fewer and fewer Sisters will be receiving any form of salaries for their work in the educational or medical fields, and then some financial restraints will certainly be felt.

Political Involvement[1]

Sisters' political involvement is up to their personal choice. They are free to take any political stance and can express their opinion regarding political issues. During elections, they are also encouraged to cast their votes in a conscientious way as good citizens. However, generally, Sisters do not really have so much time to spend, or the interest to get involved in politics, and they tend to take a more neutral stance in this regard. Rarely will they go to protests or demonstrations. Some Sisters who are more interested in these matters will look more into it, but will seldom get very much involved in any radical actions. In 1989, many Sisters turned out for the demonstration to protest against the Tiananmen Square incident. Since then, they did not go to demonstrations together as a group, but rather as individuals if they wanted to. However, the Institute does not forbid anyone from doing so if they strongly wish to.

Community Service to the Neighborhood

During the summer holidays, a few Sisters launch an annual summer activities camp for the children who come from relatively poor families in the neighbourhood and from some of the Canossian schools. In this way, the summer holidays of these children can be occupied meaningfully and put to good use. Also, the Sisters will organize visits to the elderly or sick. But very often, Canossian schools, teachers and students will be the ones who organize services for the community instead of the Province itself, and Sisters will participate in them.

Grave-yard

A Sister in the Cemetery[4]

Since as far back as 1842, the Hong Kong Government has been leasing the St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery in Happy Valley to the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong for one Hong Kong dollar a year as a nominal fee. Inside this cemetery, there is a part for the Canossian Sisters. Some other parts are for other Congregations and lay Catholics. Sisters who have passed away are buried here or in Macau.
However, owing to insufficient space for the storage of bones, after a few years, some bones have to be exhumed and placed into the underground chamber. The Province is currently projecting to build a new chamber and also some niches for preserving the ashes of Sisters. The problem of graveyard shortage is getting more serious with the passing of time.

Related Organizations

The branch of the Institute of the Canossian Daughters of Charity which is in Hong Kong is also registered here under the name of the “Canossian Missions”. Canossian Daughters of Charity itself was founded by an Italian Sister - St. Magdalene of Canossa - in 1808 in Verona, Italy. The groups of Sisters spread out in the various continents and countries are divided into “Provinces”, of which Hong Kong – Macau is one of these. Since the Institute is one big family and is international, Sisters may be asked to go for exchange of service to Italy or other places, according to the needs and the requests made by the Superior General who resides in the Head Office in Rome.

Side View of the Retreat House [5]
Sisters and Staff of the Hospital in 1935 [6]
The Honeyville Retreat Houseis launched and run by the Canossian Sisters. The retreat house locates in 57 Mount Davis Road, Hong Kong. It can accommodate 70 people[7]for overnight retreat and is open to the public. There is a charge for staying in the retreat house per day.

Canossa Hospital (Carita) was founded by the Canossian Daughters of Charity in 1929[6]. The management of Canossa Hospital was passed on to Caritas-Hong Kong since June 1991. The name of the Hospital was subsequently changed to Canossa Hospital (Caritas).
Lay Canossians (Hong Kong) is a Canossian association for lay people. Apart from having monthly meetings, the assocaiatoin will also hold "The Lay Canossian Day", the Annual Pilgrimage, Formation Talks and the Annual Retreat which unifiy the communion and enhance the spirituality of the members[1]. Lay Canossians (Hong Kong) will joint hands with the Canossian Sisters in serving the society in evangelization, pastoral care and education.


References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Author interview with Sister Marie
  2. Canossian Missions Official Website [1]
  3. Author visit to the Canossian Heritage
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Photos from the Canossia Missions Official Website
  5. Photos from Alice's Dream Blog (2009). 嘉諾撒靜修院 (Honeyville Canossian Retreat House)[2]
  6. 6.0 6.1 Photo from Canossa Hospital Official Website [3]
  7. Honeyville Retreat House - Hong Kong Official Website [4]

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