The beautiful Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1941 heralded a new era for the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Singapore. 47 years after the Sisters first stepped onto the shores of Singapore, the blessing and official opening of Canossa at Sallim Road was indeed a special moment in time. The doors at Sallim Road opened to the poorest children, the orphaned and those who needed an education. Soon, the Sisters were looking after the neediest of the children, just as our Foundress St Magdalene of Canossa had desired.
1941 continued to be a special year for the Canossians. On 7 December that year, Mother Foundress was beatified in Rome by Pope Pius XII. But while the Sisters in Singapore were celebrating the night of the beatification, unbeknownst to them, tragedy would soon strike. Shortly after midnight, the first bombs fell on the island, signalling the start of World War II in Singapore. Canossa became even more critical to the children in their care as it became the only home they had – their safe haven. Canossa’s history became inextricably entwined with Singapore’s.
The stories of the courage and heroism of Canossa’s pioneer Sisters who walked the children in their care from Singapore all the way to Bahau, Malaysia, at the height of the war have remained engraved in our hearts and minds. Enduring hardships beyond our comprehension, they gave their lives to protecting every child in their care in the malaria-infested jungle. The Sisters, when reaching Bahau, realised that there was no shelter provided and that the land had poor soil which could not sustain agricultural crops. Yet, they never lost hope.
They used their ingenuity to build a safe place and scavenge for food to feed the many children in their care. While in Bahau, other children who came with their parents were also left in the Sisters’ care. The Sisters never turned a single child away despite their own poverty and struggles. Sadly, while every single child in their care survived, Sr Maria Piazza lost her life to malaria. Many months later, when it was safer, the Sisters and children returned to Singapore. They settled back into the Home at Sallim Road, with both boys and girls attending school side-by-side at Canossa. The Sisters also settled into routine at Canossa, raising generations of children to come.
As we celebrate 80 years this year, 2021 is not without its challenges. While we are not in a physical war, we are in a time of trial and difficulty of an unprecedented kind. There is no template to follow nor history for us to learn from. Because of the pandemic, life has had to change from the familiar to the unnatural and uncomfortable.
Yet, it is because of the plight of the world and here in Singapore that we have been able to chart a whole new path for us in response to the situation. Not unlike the first Sisters who came by boat from Macau to Singapore with only faith in God and stars as their GPS, we too are in a time where we need to respond to God’s call with the fullness of faith and trust as Canossaville evolves to serve those in need in the best possible ways. While Canossaville may no longer exist as a home, we have become even more relevant as the work has evolved beyond children and now extends to a much wider base of families and communities. Here at the same spot where our predecessors stood, God has taken us by His hand and showed us the path forward.
Canossaville is not just a social service agency. We are here as educators to Form Hearts, Transform Lives, and Empower Communities. We team up with the schools within our Village and together, form the hearts of the young through the services we provide. Canossaville Student Care, Canossaville Preschool, the Canossian Child Development Unit, and the Canossian Family Care Services provide a continuum of services for the families and the young.
In this past 12 months, Canossa Catholic has put up 12 installations as a countdown to our 80th Anniversary. The series of 12 mini stories record God’s fidelity and His unwavering love through the 80 year journey. The transformation we have gone through in these past years shows God’s spirit guiding us to where He wants us to go. In our 80th year, the story we are now writing is a new one, a new beginning. And the journey, while it may sometimes be fraught with challenges, will be a meaningful and precious one if we place all our trust in God and emulate the strength, resolute and unwavering faith in God shown by our pioneer Sisters.
We know the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases (Lamentations 3:22). God sends us the good leaders with their gifts and expertise, the Sisters accompany us with their prayers, the school heads collaborate and help us stay relevant to the ever-changing needs of the young today, and our staff are committed to loving and raising Magdalene’s children. We continue to place all our faith, hope and love in Him as we continue to live in His Way, His Truth, and His Life.
We are grateful for the Management Committee members who devote their time and energy to helping us be the best we can be. We are blessed with corporate partners, sponsors, and donors who extend their resources so that we can be the hands, feet, and heart in society to reach out to those in need. We are indebted to all who are here on this journey writing our story together with us – the children, the families, and all our staff here at the Village. We are one Canossian Family, called to be Canossians not by chance, but by the grace of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Happy Birthday, dear Canossa. May your works of love and mercy be blest forevermore.