BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FRANCISCAN SISTERS OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
The actual date of the Founding Day of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC) is 16th June 1936. Come 16th June, Religious Sisters of FSIC will gather at the Pace Bene Retreat Centre, Kg Purak, Papar to celebrate the 75th Founding Anniversary Thanksgiving Mass.
In the Diocese of Sandakan the same event will be celebrated on 25th June 2011 during the Sunset Eucharistic Celebration.
We wish the FSIC a 'Blessed and Happy 75th Founding Anniversary!'
KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA
Right Reverend Monsignor August Wachter, a Mill Hill Missionary of the Society of St. Joseph founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in 1936.
Rt. Rev. Msgr August Wachter
(1st Prefect Apostolic of North Borneo)
Born to Johann Josef Wachter and Susanna Brutscher on the 8th December, 1878, August Wachter was the fifth of ten children. As a young child, he told his maternal aunt Wilhelmine Brutscher who financed his education that he not only wanted to be a foreign missionary priest but also to be a martyr.
On the completion of his education and Priestly formation, he was ordained on the 6th December, 1903 in Brixen, North Italy. The Charity of Christ urged him to march forward bravely. On the 28th August,1905, he left home for Borneo Mission arriving first in Kuching in September to study Malay on Mount Singai. After five months, his superior saw the need in North Borneo (Sabah) a poorer and more difficult mission. Father Wachter, a spirit filled and a man of prayer, being young, talented and energetic was chosen to take up this new appointment in Penampang, a mission among the KadazanDusun. His immediate focus was to take up education and evangelization seriously.
Twenty-two years later, when Sarawak and British North Borneo became separate Prefectures, Fr. August Wachter was appointed as the first Prefect Apostolic of North Borneo on the 26th July, 1927. During his tenure, he followed the policy of expansion in depth. He himself would travel widely to those far away mission stations for days. Bringing the Gospel to those who did not know Christ was his goal wherever he went.
In 1933, Msgr. Wachter returned to England for the Society's General Chapter and later to Rome where he met His Holiness Pope Pius XI who personally encouraged and even granted his approval in establishing the indigenous Congregation in his own Prefecture of North Borneo. Consequently, many were called but few were chosen.
FIRST FORMATOR (CO-FOUNDRESS)
Mother Rose Charnley
However, with the loving guidance of Mother Rose Charnley, a Franciscan Missionary of Saint Joseph (FMSJ), the Co-foundress, the first four novices in the persons of Sister Immaculata (Cecilia Ho), Sister Aloysius (Stephanie Malaim), Sister Francis (Theresa Thien) and Sister Consolata (Marie Thien) made their first commitment on the 20th June, 1941 in St. Mary’s Convent, Sandakan.
THE FOUR PILLARS
Sr Immaculata Ho, Sr Aloysius Malaim, Msgr August Wachter, Sr Francis Thien and Sr Consolata Thien
The four young Sisters spent much time in catechising women and children, taking care of boarders, the preparing of the dying for baptism and even took care of lepers in Berhala Island. In-spite of being four, they carried out the missionary work normally until the landing of the Japanese on the 19th January 1942. For the next three years, the invaders were in full control.
Finally, the saddest moment came when Msgr. Wachter and the last missionaries of German nationals were arrested from Penampang and brought to Papar Train Station. There, they were forced to trudge till Sapong, Tenom. According to the reports of the Weekly Bulletin of the Parish Council of Sacred Heart of Jesus (Bludenz), dated 26.01.1946, Australian Military authorities confirmed the deaths of the few missionaries who were German Nationals. The local natives told them all except one were shot and killed by the Japanese Military. The first four sisters survived but the war prevented many girls from joining them for ten long years. However, the Four Pillars continued to witness Christ, recalling the Founder's words;
(St. Francis of Assisi embraced the Cross of Christ)
"Don’t be afraid, my Sisters. Trust in God just like your holy father St. Francis… Prayer and sacrifice… this is our divine strength..... Borneo is always a difficult mission, humanly speaking, a fight against material and spiritual obstacles. This is the lot of every worker on the mission. But God's blessings will not be absent and success will come…Remember, poor is your beginning and poor you will always remain, for you are the future missionaries of Borneo."
Truly inspired by the Apostolic and missionary spirit of the founder, Monsignor August Wachter, MHM who "preferred to die for his flock rather than to abandon them" (Constitution Art. 82) the present younger members of the Congregation travel as far as Paitan and Pensiangan as often as possible to help the needy through formal and informal education.
Founded primarily though not exclusively for the Local Church, the Sisters carry out their mission to all in need through Catechetics, Education, Homes and Hostels and Pastoral Care.
Today, there are more than one hundred and twenty members including those in the initial formation spread out in 34 small communities throughout Sabah and one each in Kuala Lumpur and Johor.
Each one of us are striving to be sensitive to all those in need and in special way, we heed the cry of the poor, especially those under our care.
While we love and care for those materially poor, we also open our hearts to those who are spiritually sick, whose lives are lonely, whose faith is weak and wavering, who are uninstructed, who are sick physically, mentally or from old age, children without parents and always respecting their dignity as persons, children of God and loved by Him. Our primary apostolate is to be witness of our consecrated life.
By: Sr. Appollonia Gumpu, fsic