Guiding light to generations of girls

The Star, December 18, 2007

WITH her genial smile, simplicity and down-to-earth nature, one easily warms up to and gets comfortable with Datin Paduka Sister Enda Ryan. Her words carry depth in meaning and her advice, wisdom.

This is why her students at Assunta Secondary School – of which she was founder and headmistress for 31 years (from 1958 to 1989) – regarded her with so much respect and love.

Sister Enda was unlike the stereotyped nurturing nuns of yesteryear who believed in not sparing the rod; she won over her wards by way of gentleness and kindness while observing discipline at the school.

Memories are made of these: Sister Enda going through newspaper clippings of her days at Assunta Secondary School.

“One spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar and I had hoped through gentleness and kindness and in using positive energy, I would win my students over instead of having to clamp down on them,” said the wise and cheerful nun.

Her years of service and contribution to education at Assunta has not gone unnoticed. She was recently awarded the Darjah Kebesaran Dato’ Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah (DSIS), which carries the title “Datin Paduka”, in conjunction with Sultan of Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah’s 62nd birthday.

The Irish nun of the Order of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), who arrived from Naples on a boat in 1955 after enduring three weeks of turbulence and seasickness to serve God and do service to his people in this part of the world, is still Sister Enda despite her new title.

When she received instructions from the FMM’s headquarters in Rome that she was to serve in Malaya, Sister Enda was thrilled, imagining the country to be very primitive and expecting to live a very rough life.

“I left Naples on Dec 31, 1954 when the people there were throwing things out of the window.

“It was a custom for them to throw old stuff out of the window at the end of the year and when I arrived in Singapore, it was Chinese New Year and there red fire crackers going off and it was quite colourful.

“When I arrived in Petaling Jaya, it was the Feast Day of St Francis.

“I was a little disappointed to find out that Petaling Jaya was far more developed than I had expected.

“In my younger days, I was at my most idealistic and I wanted to face tougher situations in life but tough situations came in different ways, like setting up the secondary school and sourcing for funds,” said Sister Enda, who has a brother who is a priest in Ireland.

Humility and love for her job as a disciple of God keeps Sister Enda focused on the various activities in her life as she nears her 79th birthday this Dec 30.

Winning them over with kindness: Sister Enda was an encouraging teacher to her students at Assunta Secondary School.

She produces the Encounter – a newsletter of the FMM, which is published quarterly and sent to Sisters all over the world who had served in Malaysia.

Sister Enda also sits on the Assunta Hospital’s Board of Directors and is chairman the Board of Governors of the Assunta Secondary School.

She is an exco member of the Malaysian Christian School Council (MCSC) and Malaysian Catholic Education Council (MCEC) and chairperson of Assunta Children’s Society – a foster care programme.

At the Assunta Convent, Sister Enda is the superior and has matters of the home to deal with and there is never a dull moment for this chirpy woman with boundless energy.

Born Eileen Philomena Ryan in a small village called Galbally in County Limerick, Ireland, Sister Enda has had to deal with many happy, sad, difficult and triumphant moments through the years and this year was no different.

Just a few months ago, her sister, a nun who lived in New Zealand, passed away and then in October, she discovered she had breast cancer.

“My mother died of breast cancer and thanks to the doctors at Assunta, the lump was discovered early. They have been treating me well and the prognosis is good,” said the ever-positive nun.

After becoming a nun, Sister Enda attended the University of Galway and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Ethics and also attained the Higher Diploma in Education to enable her to become a teacher.

In 2002, she was recognised with an honorary Masters for her contribution to education in Malaysia by the same university.

The name “Enda” came across her path several times before it her own and she would forgo her baptism name.

“The first nun I met was a friend of my mother’s who was called Sister Enda. I was about six years old then.

“And then my teacher who taught me Irish was also called Enda.

“Those days when one became a nun, we were required to leave our old life and adopt a new life upon taking our vows.

“The name we adopted had to belong to a Saint and when I heard “Enda” was on the list of names for the nuns, I had hoped it would be mine and I was eventually named Enda,” said the nun, who is the second of seven siblings and was affectionately called Mena at home.

These days, Sister Enda admits that she tires easily due to her illness but when time permits, she watches the news as she is a news addict and enjoys discussion programmes.

Of course, joining the other Sisters at the home for prayers is part of her day-to-day routine and in her quiet time, she finds time to thank God for His many blessings and continued guidance.

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