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Sister Enda touches hearts Print E-mail


ImageSister Enda Ryan was born on Dec 30, 1928 in Galbally in Limerick county, Ireland. At 79, she is still as enthusiastic and energized as she was at 26 when she first set foot in Malaya on January 29, 1955. I have the pleasure of meeting her at the La Salle Foundation Launch Dinner in December, 2001 when I was the Chairman of the Launch Committee. At other times, I only knew her from a distance when I attended my daughters' school functions. Both my daughters were Assuntarians!

ImageSister Enda's Franciscan spirit of continuing service and making a difference in people's life led her, in 1954 to offer herself when Michael Hogan, the Attorney-General of pre-independence Malaya went to Rome to see if the nuns from the Institute of the Franciscan Order of Mary could help to set up a girl's school in Petaling Jaya.

On arrival, she taught in the primary school and at the same time, tirelessly worked on the plans to set up the Assunta Secondary School which finally went up in 1958. The School was named after an Italian nun, Maria Assunta Pallota who was beatified on 7 November, 1954 by Pope Pius XII, a ceremony attended by Sister Enda.

In the early days, the nuns would kiss the ground every morning on rising and greet the day with a biblical expression in Latin. But one day, instead of greeting the morning with Ecce Ancilia Domini (Behold the handmaid of the Lord) to emphasize humility, Sister Enda let out a piercing scream.

"I almost kissed a snake that was slithering on the floor," she recalls with a hearty laugh.
This is no surprise as Petaling Jaya at that time was quite remote and undeveloped

It is interesting to note that Sister Enda wrote the School Song, inspired by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman's speech about the new and unified Malaya. In recognition of her contributions, she was offered the Malaysian citizenship in October, 1966. More recently, she was honoured by HRH the Sultan of Selangor on the occasion of his 62nd birthday on 11 December, 2007. He bestowed on her the Darjah Kebesaran Datuk (DSIS) which carries the title of 'Datin Paduka".

Though Irish in essence, she is now thoroughly Malaysian as many of the headmasters and headmistresses of other schools used to call her Meenachi or Minah binti Ryan, names spun from her middle name, Philomena.

What is Sister Enda's recipe for success?

"Nurture the seed of peace and harmony with the water of appreciation and understanding of cultures, customs and religions," she revealed in an interview with the BERNAMA News agency.  That, in a nutshell, sums up her recipe for success.

The founder of Assunta primary and secondary schools in Petaling Jaya said that she had been planting such `seeds' in the hearts and minds of her students.

"At Assunta, I've always taught my girls more about the heart, rather than the head. To feel love, compassion, understanding and appreciation of each other and our differences. We are all God's children," she said.

"Franciscan sisters and brothers have always promoted peace and understanding of other religions as it was taught by our founder, Saint Francis of Assisi.

"When I first arrived here in January 1955, I was pleasantly surprised to see the understanding and appreciation that all ethnic groups had for each other...it was more than what I had experienced in Ireland, my country of birth.

"And, it truly gladdens my heart that the government has never prohibited the practice of any religion and allows everyone to worship as they see fit," she said.

In line with the teachings of her order, Sister Enda, believes in peaceful solutions to any problem or conflict. During the interview, she expressed sadness over the illegal rallies in the country.

She felt that those who were involved in such illegal gatherings should only hit the streets after all avenues of discussion had been exhausted -- not as the primary means of getting their voices heard.

"Perhaps the government should have allowed them to walk. But then again, I don't know what might have happened if the authorities did not stop these people...I don't want a May 13 to repeat itself, as I was there when it happened."

Sister Enda counts Mercy Malaysia founder Dr Jemilah Mahmud as one of her students.

"It gladdens my heart to see that the school spirit is very much alive in her. This is how it should be for all Malaysians," she said.

Assunta Family News
Azril Annuar- BERNAMA
Star Publications (M) Berhad

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