04/09/2024, 18.20
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Malaysia mourns Sr Enda Ryan: a life dedicated to women's education

by Joseph Masilamany

The Franciscan Missionary Sister of Mary, originally from Ireland but a Malaysian citizen since 1966, was 95 years old. Nicknamed 'the singing nun', she left behind her care for students of all religions and ethnicities. "No one ever felt out of place," says Jemilah Mahmood. The testimonies of those who knew her speak of a passionate teaching. She founded the Assumption schools and the Ave Maria Welfare clinic.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Kuala Lumpur is mourning the death of Sr. Enda Ryan, Franciscan Missionary of Mary (FMM) who passed away on Sunday at the age of 95. She is originally from Ireland and since 1966 she had become a citizen of Malaysia, a country in which she has provided tireless service for women's education for decades, she is leaving a great void among people, of every ethnicity and religion, who ' they got to know each other.

Sr. Enda leaves the Assunta primary and secondary schools she founded, as well as the Ave Maria Welfare clinic, which later became a hospital. But above all she remains the example of her faith, as well as her commitment and care for unity among students, regardless of their beliefs or ethnic origins.

There are numerous testimonies released in these hours by those who knew her passionate ministry: proof of what was sown in 31 years of mission by the educator, religious and director, born Eileen Philomena Ryan, on 30 December 1928 in Galbally, in the county of Limerick in Ireland.

She joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (an institute founded by Helene de Chappotin) in 1947 and arrived in the then Malaya in 1954, following the request of Sir Michael Hogan - the then President of the Court of Justice of Malaysia - to establish schools for girls whose education had been interrupted during the communist insurgency in the country. Sr. Enda Ryan had just received her Bachelor of Arts and Higher Diploma in Education.

“The maternal love that shone through her always touched everyone. Her grit, her enthusiasm and her zeal for life inspired us to live our lives to the fullest,” she writes on the alumni portal of Assumption School Vimalathevi Perumal, a former student.

“All of us, her students, owe this unique, great icon immeasurable gratitude for having trained us to be good and responsible citizens of this nation,” she added. Another student, Regina Morris, told AsiaNews that Sr. Enda was nicknamed “the singing nun” because she never hid her love for singing.

“Make me an instrument. The singing sister” is the title of her 2013 biography edited by Nesamalar Chitravelu. The missionary composed the school hymn; whose lyrics embody her values. Despite her Irish origins, she sang Malay folk songs, such as “Rasa Sayang,” with the same gusto as “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

“She was tireless in her mission to spread truth and charity, which is the school motto imprinted in our hearts (Ad Veritatem Per Caritatem, ed.) – added Morris -. She was a teacher, a principal and a mother to all of us."

Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, former president of Mercy Malaysia, an international NGO that provides medical assistance during disasters, also spoke about Sister Enda to the local media Free Malaysia Today. “No one ever felt out of place and all the students got along well, despite their different ethnic and religious backgrounds,” she said. By telling how she met her with the Irish missionary she contributed to forming the person she is now her.

“She has definitely shaped me into who I am today, building my confidence and self-esteem in public speaking and developing my interest in charity work,” she added. One aspect, the acquisition of greater confidence, also underlined by Jemilah, another former student. “Each student was able to practice their beliefs in a safe environment. This is how a school should be, where ethics, kindness and respect are paramount.”

One of the qualities that has been recognized the most is her care and attention towards the students, without ever having heard of anyone being "non-Christian". “He often reminded us that we were all the same in pursuing education and becoming independent,” said Asimah Amaluddin, who is now an English language teacher at her former Assumption Secondary School.

She remembers Sr. Enda as a kind person and loving to all people, who made no distinctions. Assunta's former principal, Teresa Chan, said the missionary inspired her to become an even better version of herself, pushing her “to be more compassionate, empathetic; a servant leader.”

Already during the long life of her sr. Enda Ryan had received many awards for her commitment to the field of education. These include the Ministry of Education's Excellent Service Award (1985), the Distinguished Service Award (1986), the Sultan of Selangor's Meritorious Service Award (1987) and the Teacher of The Year Award Selangor (1990). She was also awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities from Taylor's University in 2022.

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