Smiling Sister Mary

A Lifetime Dedicated to Disabled Children

2019 / October

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Bruce Humes

“Not all of us can do great things,” said Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “But we can do small things with great love.”

Sister Mary O Losa Anuna of the Philippines has been in Taiwan for nearly 30 years, looking after countless children with severe physical and mental disabilities—feeding them, changing their clothes, bathing and massaging them. She cares for them like a mother, treating these children who are unable to look after themselves as living treasures, and bringing warmth into their lives. She uses her love to achieve “small” things that are nonetheless life-changing. 


“I beseech Thee, O Lord, to look after them with vigil­ance that they might rest well and be healthy, safe and content.” Each night, Sister Mary prays at the bedsides of these disabled youngsters, one by one. She chats with them and kisses them on their foreheads, a heartwarming rite she has carried out without interruption for decades.   

Innate compassion

When Sister Mary was a middle-school student, her maternal grandmother’s uncle was hospitalized. Since he had no relatives at his side, Sister Mary’s mother sent her to help look after him.

“There were many poverty-stricken people in the hospital who had come from afar,” recounts Sister Mary, “and so they had no relatives at their bedside.” She felt pained to see these patients unaccompanied, and since she was young and petite, everyone treated her like a younger sister, often calling upon her to pour water, fetch things and so forth. “I enjoyed being together with these uncles and aunties, and I told myself that one day I might dedicate myself to the Lord’s service and care for them.” Although this idea occurred to her at the time, after her great-­granduncle was discharged from hos­pital she gradually forgot about it. But now, as she recalls that period, she wonders if wasn’t then that God planted a seed in her young mind.

On graduating from college, she found work in a hos­pital thanks to her specialization in pharmaceutical studies. When she encountered patients who had no relatives to look after them, she bought fruit or bread and visited them; for those who lacked money to pay for medicine, she simply paid for it herself. Even though most of them subsequently failed to pay her back, she continued to make such sacrifices. It got to the point that shortly after payday she would be flat broke, and would have to ask her mother for money to pay for her commute. Materially she was hardly well off, but spiritually she was in­compar­ably content. Ultimately, it was the accumulation of these experi­ences that led her to join the Carmelite Missionaries.

Papa, rest assured, I’m very happy

To join the order, one must take a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. One must rise early, follow many rules and do many chores, such as taking turns to do the ­washing for the group. Her parents worried that their daughter, with her bubbly disposition, wouldn’t be able to adapt. They weren’t outright opposed to her membership, but neither could they ignore the concerns any parent would have about their offspring. 

Once her father came to visit, and it happened to be on a day when Sister Mary was responsible for buying the group’s food. Watching his petite daughter carry a heavy basket of vegetables, sympathetic tears streamed down his cheeks. “Just look at you. If you weren’t in here, you’d still be sleeping now. Don’t you want to come home with your father?” says Sister Mary, playfully mimicking his tone.

Sister Mary told her father firmly that even though her new life appeared very demanding, her choice had made her happy, and she refused his kind offer. A few years later, she was assigned to be stationed in Taiwan, and she returned home first to say her goodbyes. Her parents gave their blessing and prayed for her. Even today, the scene of her family standing and watching her leave holds a special place in her heart.

Off to Taiwan to mother others

In 1988, the Swiss Jesuit priest Franz Burkhardt, who by then had been in Taiwan for more than 20 years, was preparing for the construction of the Sacred Heart Home in Dong­shi, ­Chiayi County. Burkhardt turned for help to the Carmelite Missionaries Philippines, with whom he had a longstanding relationship, in the hopes that they might send sisters to serve in Taiwan. It was this turn of fate that brought Sister Mary to the island.

Once the Sacred Heart Home was completed, Sister Mary came to ­Chiayi in 1990 to take care of children with severe physical and mental disabilities. Nearly three dec­ades later, she is still there.

Most of the children accommodated in the home were unable to speak, and their limbs were deformed. Thus they depended entirely on others for their daily care.

She mothered the children, feeding them milk or solid food, changing diapers, speaking softly to them, coaxing them to sleep. Being short, she often had to stand on a stool to turn them in their cribs or change their clothes. Yet even if her whole body was sore, no complaint passed her lips. 

The art of unceasing love

In its early days, Sacred Heart Home was short of staff. For children with particularly serious handicaps, when Sister Mary was off duty she would move them to her dormitory so she could look after them more closely. Being with them round the clock it was easy to tell whether a child was in discomfort, she recalls, or to get a sense that his or her life was nearing its end. At times she even dreamt of a looming crisis, as if she and the child shared an almost telepathic mother‡child bond.

A mother caring for her own child looks forward to the child growing up, and finds a sense of achievement in each step of progress that it makes, which is ample reward for her sacrifice. But when caring for a severely disabled child, Sister Mary always focuses on meeting the child’s needs at that given moment. She prays that the child’s condition does not deteriorate; keeping them safe and sound is what matters most. Although they cannot speak, she can intuit what they wish to convey via the expressions of their eyes and faces. Sometimes a child cries continuously. She tries every way imaginable to lessen their pain, but when she is unsuccessful, there are times when she too sheds tears out of sympathy. 

To be able to take children to hospital in response to nighttime emergencies, Sister Mary—who is only 145 centi­meters tall—learned to drive. Although she worried that her feet might not reach the brake pedal, or that she could not see the road ahead, she toughed it out and drove the stick-shift van. In the early days of the home, there were no street lights on the road to the hospital, and she had to cope with motorcycles or bicycles that appeared out of nowhere. She had to overcome her own fear, all the while continuing to console her disoriented young passenger.

Sometimes she wondered: Did she really love them? Especially when she herself was not feeling well and hoped nothing would occur to rob her of a good night’s sleep. But when the alarm bell rang, she would jump out of bed immediately, her mind focused entirely on the child in question and her own discomfort forgotten. “I have grown up with the children,” she says, smiling. “They make you ­realize you can learn to be more patient than you ever imagined, and to give your love unceasingly.”    

Father Burkhardt and the Sister

As the children at the institution grew up, the demand to accommodate new arrivals rose too. Father Burkhardt, who passed away in 2002, had hoped to establish a lifelong home for severely disabled residents. To honor his last wish, Sister Mary undertook to carry on in his stead, and took part in fundraising for Min­dao Home in ­Chiayi’s Puzi City, where she transferred in 2009.   

Whenever Sister Mary is feeding one of the children, she always acts playfully to try to cheer them up. A perpetual smile remains on her lips, and wherever she goes she is like a ray of sunshine for them. Several otherwise expressionless children flash a smile when she appears, and even if they can’t form words, they “ooh” and “aah” coyly as if trying to attract their mother’s attention and engage her in daily banter.   

We might assume that such an institution is laden with a heavy, painful ambience. But Mindao Home staff always greet their residents affectionately. Photos they’ve taken of the children are visible everywhere. Employees bring their own children to spend time with their disabled counterparts at Mindao, and becoming familiar with them over time, they don’t see them as odd; they even help feed them and run errands for them. These visitors are just primary school pupils, but they are still the best little helpers.

When staff take meals with those adults and children who are somewhat less disabled, they chat and exchange details of their daily lives, like one big family. Sister Mary has realized Father Burckhardt’s wish to prepare a tranquil residence where severely handicapped people can live out their lives.   

Mindao Home’s operations are currently on a stable footing. The ­Chiayi Diocese is now preparing for the establishment of Ana Home for Elderly Care, which will endow Sister Mary with a new task: to make the transition to providing care for the elderly. Her attitude is characteristically optimistic. “I grew up together with these children. From now on, I’ll grow old with the seniors in Ana Home.” This heart of hers, which loves others as deeply as herself, has remained constant over the decades.                                 

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生涯を障害者とともに ——


文・陳群芳 写真・莊坤儒 翻訳・山口 雪菜


フィリピン出身のシスター‧メアリー(満詠萱/Mary O Losa Anuna)は生涯にわたってこの言葉を実践してきた。台湾へ来て30年近く、重度の障害を持つ子供たちの食事、着替え、入浴、マッサージなどの世話を、まさに母親のように愛情を込めて続けてきたのである。日常生活の動作が困難な子供たちを宝物とし、自らの青春と笑顔をもって寄り添うことで、彼らの人生に温もりをもたらしてきた。シスター‧メアリーは最も偉大な小さなことを成し遂げたのである。


























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