Ambassador’s Message – The Columban Sisters in Korea
11 March 2010
As we celebrate our National Day, it is appropriate we recall the contribution of the Irish to Korea. Our Embassy website has information on much of this and if anyone can add to it please contact us.
I asked Sister Teresa of the Columban Sister’s here for a brief account of their work in Korea and she kindly provided the summary below. For those of us new to this country, it is hard to make the imaginative leap back to what it must have been like in the 1955, just two years after the war’s end and the awful destruction which had been visited on the peninsula as the war front chewed its way back and forth.
As with the Columban Fathers who had come before them, they brought compassion and assistance to a people in real need. And when the time came, they conveyed ownership of their achievements to the people of Korea. Today, they continue their work with those in need of help and support.
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The Columban Sisters in Korea
The story of the Columban Sisters in Korea began on 23 June 1954 when Columban Father Harold Henry, Pro-Prefect of the Prefecture of Gwangju, Cholla Province, wrote to the then Superior General of the Columban Sisters, Mother Mary Vianney Shackleton, requesting Sisters to open a hospital in Mokpo, 400km south west of Seoul. At that time there was great need for medical facilities in Mokpo, a port city, with a population, at that time, of 150,000 people, many of whom were still suffering from the after-effects of Korean War 1950-1953. It catered to 288 inhabited islands off the coast.
On 17 January 1955 four pioneer Sisters arrived in Mokpo. Their first task was to study the Korean language. Every afternoon they sorted medicine and clothing for the sick poor and prepared for the opening of the outpatient clinic. From their walks around the neighbourhood they became aware of the urgent needs of the sick poor and they were anxious to do something to alleviate their suffering. They used a small Korean house as a temporary clinic until the new clinic was opened on 5 July 1955.
Meantime, the number of patients attending the clinic began to grow and it became obvious that a hospital was urgently needed to cater for inpatient care. On 20 January 1957, St. Columban’s Hospital was opened. As the number of patients continued to grow the need for nursing staff also grew. It became apparent that the only way to provide nursing staff was to train their own staff. The Sisters decided to build a new hospital and refurbish the existing buildings and land to the Columban Sisters’ nursing school corporation. The nursing school was started on 3 March 1967 and a new 150-bed hospital began to receive patients on 25 March 1968.
The Sisters also inaugurated training programmes for X-Ray and laboratory technicians which remained in operation until the need was met locally. In the late 70’s state approved maternity training was introduced and in 1979 an intern programme was launched for medical students. By 1980 the nursing school was upgraded to a Junior Nursing College and had an annual intake of 80 students.
Other services which complemented the work in the hospital included: the implementation of a full-time home care service, the teaching of Natural Family Planning methods, the employment of a full time Catechist and a social worker.
From 1955 the Columban Sisters were touched not only by the needs of the sick poor but also by the sweeping changes that became part of living in Korea with the onset of a developing democracy in the late 1980’s. As a result of economic prosperity medical facilities expanded and medical personnel increased. As missionaries and in line with our charism we were drawn to look at how the ministry in the hospital had developed over a period of 30 years.
We felt truly blessed and privileged to have witnessed to the changes that had taken place, the people who had touched our lives and the people we had touched. The whole new reality led us to look at our mission in the hospital and nursing college. After much discernment and dialogue the time seemed opportune to pass on the responsibility to the local Church. The negotiations and preparations to hand-over the entire mission as a free gift to the Archdiocese of Gwangju were completed on the 10 February 1990.
As Columban Sisters we had already found ways to care for life in new and creative, inclusive and relational ways. This meant walking in solidarity with the poor by being sensitive to justice and peace issues, recognizing the equality and dignity of women and care of the earth. Our ways of being in mission were/are also shaped by various dialogues – with culture, religions, with the poor those suffering from exploitation including people with: Hansen’s disease, literacy needs, Learning Difficulties and HIV Aids, as well as Migrant Workers, Women who are Trafficked for the Sex Industry, people who are terminally ill, the elderly as well as the sick poor.
Another aspect of our mission today is that while we are small in number we witness to the call of mission in the Church. This is evident in the fact that Columban missionaries are numbered among Korean missionaries throughout the world, in the fledgling mission sending Church.
St. Columban’s Clinic, Chuncheon was established in November 1955
Myongdo Services for People with Learning Difficulties and St. Mary’s Home for single mothers and abused women were established in Mokpo in the late 1980’s.
St. Columban’s Home Geodu-ri, Cuncheon City was established on the 25 March
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