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Home » News » Local » Priest’s dream to see Chinese religious sisters open a nursing home in Brisbane came true 25 years ago

Priest’s dream to see Chinese religious sisters open a nursing home in Brisbane came true 25 years ago

St Paul de Chartres Residential Aged Care

Faith-filled: St Paul de Chartres Residential Aged Care resident Christina Harney with the nursing home founders Fr Albert Chan, Sr Nancy Wong, Sr Lucie Ko and Sr Teresa Lau. Photo: Emilie Ng

THREE Chinese religious sisters who came to Australia to build their first nursing home say it was God’s will for their community to care for the elderly.

St Paul de Chartres Residential Aged Care in Boronia Heights opened in 1990 to just seven residents, and was operated by the three sisters from Hong Kong.

The man responsible for their move to Queensland was Missionary of the Sacred Heart Father Albert Chan, who started the Chinese Catholic Community in Brisbane.

“I visited Chinese elderly and I realised they had problems with the language, with food,” Fr Chan said.

“It was then that I asked the sisters to come here because they speak Cantonese.”

Fr Chan wrote a letter to Sr Lucie Ko, who was St Paul de Chartres provincial superior in Hong Kong where hospital work and nursing is their main charism, and asked the sisters to start an aged-care facility in Brisbane.

In 1989, St Paul de Chartres Sisters Teresa Lau, Nancy Wong and Lucie Ko moved from Hong Kong to build their first nursing home in Brisbane.

“We arrived in 1989 in December, and then just before Christmas we got the approval from the Federal Government,” Sr Lau said.

“We said it was wonderful to have a Christmas gift that year.”

After several knockbacks the sisters finally looked at a plot of land in Browns Plains.

Praying for divine intervention, Sr Ko left her Rosary beads on the plot as they were leaving, however their offer was rejected.

An archdiocesan employee suggested the sisters investigate a property of four land plots at 2ha (five acres) each, occupied by two homeowners who were downsizing.

The sisters bought the block of land in October 1990, and one of the owners is now a resident at St Paul de Chartres Residential Aged Care.

With help from former Wishart parishioner Mark Townend, who worked for the Logan City Council at the time the sisters were building, the community got the green light to build its first nursing home in Australia.

It is now a bustling, vibrant and diverse community, surrounded by lush Australian fauna and frequently visited by a mob of 10 kangaroos.

“In twenty-six weeks we built this place, and Fr Chan of course had been the driving force in many ways,” Sr Lau said.

“From day one he has been here saying Mass for us, up to now for twenty-five years, every Saturday non-stop.

“He is a pillar.

“God has been good to us.”

On opening day, the sisters welcomed the group of seven enthusiastic residents.

There are now 98 residents in the hostel, which provides low and high care for the aged, and nearly 100 units for independent living.

Despite having no prior experience in aged care, the sisters and a small band of employees took care of running the nursing home.

The sisters could be found washing clothes in the laundry, cooking breakfast in the early hours of the day, or cleaning all the rooms and adjoining facilities.

To this day they are still involved in the every-day operations of the facility, with a growing number of young sisters and novices lending a hand in caring for the residents.

Resident Christina Harney, who moved to St Paul de Chartres Residential Aged Care in 1997, still remembers Sr Wong filling the washing machines in the laundry.

She said it was the witness of the sisters and their spiritual care for residents through daily Mass and regular opportunities for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick that drew her and her husband John Harney, who died in 2000, to the facility.

“That’s why we were here, because of the sisters and the Church,” Mrs Harney said.

“It was John’s dream to have daily Mass; he was a daily Mass-goer.”

Sr Lau said the sisters’ focus was on the spiritual care of residents.

Residents can go to daily Mass in the on-site chapel or watch the Mass through a televised link in their rooms.

“Especially when people come to retire here, they’ve got more time for God,” Sr Lau said.

“One of the strengths of this place is the chapel and the spiritual side of it.

“The residents, even now you can see, some of them maybe have been away from the Church; when they were young they were busy with their family, busy with the work.

“Now they come back to the Church (and this) is very good.”

Fr Chan said he never imagined his dream of seeing Chinese sisters caring for the elderly would become such a success.

“Just look at this place,” he said.

“It’s just unimaginable really.”

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