Tawau : Holy Trinity Parish celebrated the golden jubilee of Sr. Aquinas Voon's religious profession on 30th April 2011 with a thanksgiving sunset mass celebrated by the rector Msgr. Nicholas Ong.
At the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration, Msgr. Ong welcomed FSIC Superior General, Sr Grace Deosing fsic as well as all the FSIC religious who had come from Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Labuan and Lahad Datu to join Sr Aquinas of her golden jubilee.
Also present was Sr. Bridget Lo from Kudat who was also celebrating her golden jubilee, as well as Sr. Aquinas' relatives and friends from Kota Kinabalu.
A dinner fellowship was prepared by the Catholic Women's Apostolate and the various pastoral communities and ministries for all present at the parish hall after the mass.
On behalf of the parishioners, parish pastoral council chairman Mario Domingo, thanked Sr. Aquinas fsic for her spiritual guidance to the parish communities since her arrival at Tawau nearly 4 years ago.
In her speech, Sr Grace Deosing fsic thanked Holy Trinity parish for organizing the celebration.
"Our congregation has done only a little bit at Holy Trinity Church," she humbly said " but the scale of the celebration shows disproportionately your care, love and thoughtfulness for us."
Msgr. Nicholas Ong felt inspired by Sr. Aquinas' jubilee.
"I have been a priest for 32 years and thought that is a long time" he said. "Sr. Aquinas and Sr. Bridget have been in their vocation 50 years, yet are still very much active in their ministries."
Born into a strong Catholic family in Sandakan 74 years ago, Sr. Aquinas followed her late father John Voon to Jesselton at age 4 when her father was transferred there by the British colonial government.
Her early primary education was in Kung Ming Primary School (founded by the late father of Archbishop John Lee Mr. Thomas Lee) and St Francis Primary (alma mater of her late mother Magdalen Chong), followed by her secondary education at St. Anne Labuan and St. Teresa Kuching.
Reflecting on her calling for the religious life, she remembered running errands for her mother to the Carmelite sisters, who at times asked if joining them would be an option.
It was at St .Anne that she seriously started thinking about the religious life and confided to the White sisters who rendered her their tremendous support, encouragement and guidance.
Before finishing form 5 at St. Teresa, she decided to respond to the call and asked for her father's permission to join the Carmelites, attracted by their contemplative way of life, but ended up joining the Blue sisters due to her father's reservation.
She entered Loreto Convent on 6th January 1959 taking her first profession on 15th August 1961.
She completed her form 5 and later graduated from Gaya College as a trained teacher in 1964 before making her final profession on 15th August 1966.
Her first posting was to the Bundu mission (birth place of Bishop Cornelius Piong , Keningau Diocese, where he was then the school clerk) at Kuala Penyu with 3 other religious where she taught at St. Peter's Secondary, then at St. Peter's Primary School. The 4 years she recalled was tough as they need to travel by small boat from Menumbok to get there.
Her later attachments saw her posted as the school principal to St. Mary Sandakan, Stella Maris Tanjung Aru and St. Anne Labuan. After which, she opted for early retirement from teaching.
The religious never retired, she merely changed her focus.
Elected a Vicaress of the congregation in 1981, she was later elected Superior General for 2 terms from 1989 to 1999.
The Franciscan congregation was then reassessing its role and function. Realizing that a quiet place for prayer and discernment was what they needed, she embarked on a mission to build a hermitage. After some visits to similar centers in the Philippines, and with the help of some close and family friends, together with the local communities, La Foresta House of prayer slowly became a reality on a 10-acre hilly site in Kiulu area, comprising a community house and 7 small prayer houses.
Initially intended as a retreat center for the religious sisters in their final stage of their professional commitment, it soon became a popular personal retreat place for both the clergy and laity as well.
Now back to the role of a 'ordinary simple nun', she has been at St. Clare's Convent for the last 4 years, but all the years of toil in the Lord's vineyard has taken its toll.
With painful deformed knees, she goes around providing spiritual guidance and support to Legion of Mary groups as well as visiting the sick. She also has guided some prayer groups in contemplative prayer---lectio divina, a process in developing divine scriptural reading.
After learning of Sr. Aquinas' golden jubilee, Holy Trinity decided on the celebration of her anniversary after Easter Sunday.
|Sr Marysia fsic singing the psalm|
The Eucharist was very lively supported by a BEC choir group with the psalm beautifully sung by Sr. Marysia fsic
The fellowship that followed was sumptuous with presentations from the various pastoral communities.