Sister Pauline Sewell: Serving the community for 55 years
It was a privilege to meet Sister Pauline Sewell. She is a petite lady, not more than 155cm tall and sports a neat crop haircut. She has an easy smile and walks in a comfortable pace. It was a pleasure to speak with her as she has a store of wonderful stories to share. Sister Pauline is 81 years old and amazingly is still working at her grand old age.
Her first jobs were as one of the pioneering FMDM sisters and nurses in Mount Alvernia hospital when it started in 1961. She was assisting in the Operating Theatre and shared about the tough working conditions – they were on duty and on call 24/7; there was no duty roster; no holidays; no modern equipment nor sophisticated surgical procedures. In addition, everyone did everything in the hospital; they were in charge of administration, operations, housekeeping, etc. All the Departments and wards were managed by the FMDM Sisters. There were very few lay staff during that time in history.
In addition, the Sisters helped out each other whenever and wherever help was needed, be it administration, operations, or housekeeping etc. Sister Pauline recalled how they would embroider the sheets and pillow slips for the patients use with pride and passion and sew the curtains and for the wards. And at the end of each day, they would need to count the number of cutlery and had to look for any missing fork or spoon as sometimes the patients or relatives took them home as souvenirs !!! (The cutlery was made of silver). Our favourite photo of Sister Pauline is of her in a small boat to collect blood donations from seamen.
Being both a religious sister and a trained nurse, Sister Pauline would go where the mission sent her. Over the past 55 years, she has worked in Our Lady’s Hospital and Hospital Fatimah in Ipoh Malaysia, Mount Alvernia Mercy Hospital in Bendigo Australia, Mount Alvernia Hospital and Assisi Hospice in Singapore. Her service went far and wide.
Now, Sister Pauline works at Mount Miriam Hospital in Penang as a co-ordinator in the Clinical Pastoral Care Department. Besides her pastoral work, she’s also responsible for gardening, shopping, driving and other chores for the Community at the FMDM house in Penang where she lives.
SERVING IN ASSISI HOSPICE
In 1998, Sister Theresa Ryan called on Sister Pauline Sewell to join Assisi Hospice as the matron, replacing Sister Barbara who was moving to do her Clinical Pastoral Care education.
Sister Pauline quickly moved from Australia to Singapore, and got into the workings of the hospice. A typical work day involved the matron talking directly with the patients and families, admitting the patients into Assisi’s care.
Once the initial hustle of the work settled down, Sister Pauline looked around and began to wonder why there were only adults in Day Care and no children in Assisi. She wondered what was happening to the children and shared her thoughts with the staff.
The team started to speak with children’s cancer care providers and discovered that in the children’s hospital, there was only a small room for the children to play while waiting for their treatments. They were not attending school for fear of contracting infections due to their low level of resistance. The team was convinced that they could do more for the children.
The idea of a Children’s Centre was mooted; it was to be a day rehabilitation centre for children with cancer, so that they could have a support group and could continue with their studies.
However, Sister Pauline did not receive full support and instead faced resistance from senior colleagues. She was troubled until she had a dream. In her dream, Sister Pauline saw the Assisi garden covered in snow, and children sitting up in beds surrounded with sisters in their pre-Vatican habits caring for them. Sister Pauline was reminded of the origin of FMDM in 1884 where the early sisters started by caring for children in Holly Place in Hampstead, London. She was convinced that despite the difficulties, she would persist to pursue the idea of a Children’s Centre.
Slowly, the doors opened. The team spoke with the doctors and gained their concurrence on the merits of such centre, and their support to refer children to the centre. Next the team nailed down the program which included continuing education for the children and room for family members. For continuing education, the centre needed teachers and God sent volunteers who were retired teachers. As things fell into place, one big issue remained and it was money. Sister Pauline bravely gave a presentation to the Rotarians despite her lack of experience with fundraising. God’s favour was upon her as not only did the Rotarians agree to provide financial support, they also offered architectural consultation from the professionals in the group.
The Children’s Centre was officially opened on 10 January 2001 by Mrs Goh Chok Tong.
PAEDIATRIC CARE IN NEW ASSISI
In 2017, the new Assisi Hospice will start the first dedicated Paediatric Palliative Ward to help terminally-ill children, their siblings and parents. It is the courage of our pioneering sisters that spur us to continue to innovate in our model of care for this vulnerable group in our community.