Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels in Macao
From the earliest days of the arrival of Europeans in Macao in the sixteenth century, the territory has been an important centre of activity for religious missions. In fact, the Portuguese maritime expansion goes hand in hand with the story of the dissemination of Christianity in Africa and Asia. The first Jesuits benefited from the profitable dealings of the Portuguese merchants who exchanged silk from China with silver from Japan. While in China, conversions were never won over easily, Macao has always represented a kind of spiritual oasis, particularly for Canadian sisters.
The story of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels in Macao extends over three quarters of a century. These women worked closely with the Portuguese authorities and the Chinese population in different fields such as education and social services and showed an incredible spirit of sacrifice. Founded in 1922 by Florina Gervais (1888-1979), a Québécoise from the Sherbrooke area, from the very beginning the congregation decided that its goal would be missionary work among Chinese girls.
Shortly after establishing in a few Chinese cities, including Hong Kong, Bishop José da Costa Nunes allowed them to open a novitiate in Macao, on Rua da Penha, on the condition that they would be responsible for the Santa Rosa de Lima College on Rua da Praia Grande. The experience was short-lived, from 1928 to 1932, as they were transferred to China, but the school's reputation was already firmly established.
Soon after the first Japanese attacks on China, in July of 1937, and the capture of Canton in October of 1938, several missionaries returned to Macao to await the end of the hostilities. The founder of the congregation, Florina Gervais found herself unable to get to Hong Kong and so she decided to make the best of her extended stay in the enclave, which was swelled by refugees.
The hardships endured during the war and the presence of casinos encouraged prostitution, an on-going problem that the sisters fought. The sisters established the Casa da Regeneração in 1936 with a building donated by Bishop da Costa Nunes to help young women who wanted to change "professions", providing them with medical care, training, and the possibility of starting a new life, including marriage. By 1955, more than 20 young women had managed to abandon prostitution, by no means a small success.
The sisters of Sherbrooke were also head of a school for children of underprivileged families on Ilha Verde. Doctor Jose Pedro Lobo , a well-known local businessman, offered them a building that housed the six teachers (of which 5 were sisters) and more than 200 pupils. The sisters also ran a dispensary, under the supervision of Doctor Nye, another distinguished Macaense. The less fortunate flocked to the dispensary where treatment was available free of charge. Patients sometimes converted to Catholicism and a certain number of very sick children were baptised by the staff.
Since 1941, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels have carried on their work in Notre-Dame de Fatima in the Taishan sector of the city. One thousand five hundred young girls in uniforms receive schooling in buildings that have been recently expanded.
While education is still the major concern of the congregation and the numerous layperson teachers, the sisters have always helped anyone seeking them out. For example, the name of Sister Liliane Cayer is a true legend, given the hundred or so abandoned babies she found homes for in Canada over a span of about 15 years from the mid-70s until 1991.
The Macao government bestowed a rare honour on one of the Canadian sisters in November 1996. A few days before she returned to Québec after almost half a century of dedicated work in China and Macao, Sister Bernadette Choquette officially received the Medal of Philanthropic Merit from Governor Rocha Vieira during an unprecedented ceremony. This honour is not only hers but recognizes the work of all her fellow members of the order.
[Courtesy of http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/asia/hongkong/perpa/canada-macao-en.asp]