Franciscan nuns still $1.2m short for new convent

SINGAPORE - The Franciscan Sisters, who dedicated decades to serving the needy and vulnerable, are short of $1.2 million for their new home - a two-storey convent in 49, Holland Road.

The nuns, most of whom are in their 70s, are hoping that Saturday's charity dinner, held as part of their order's 60th anniversary, will help raise enough to pay what is left of the building's $4.5 million construction cost.

So far, they have sold 78 of 100 tables. Individual tickets cost $300, $500 and $1,000, while tables are priced at $3,000, $5,000 and $10,000 each.

"Usually we are raising for ministries and our works, never for ourselves," said Sister Marjorie Almodiel, 75, chairman of the fund-raising committee. "But most of us are ageing and we need a place to live that is safe and comfortable. It does not need to be elaborate."

About two years ago, a $4.5 million fund-raising effort was launched to rebuild the Maris Stella Convent - a crumbling 100-year-old colonial bungalow where nuns of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) have lived since 1953.

The old convent, which stood on a site of approximately 1,700 sq m owned by the order, had a leaky roof and its walls and beams were infested with termites. It was demolished in April last year, after architects and engineers said it was no longer safe to live in.

In its place stands a new building which has a parlour, library, prayer room, recreation room and 20 bedrooms. Construction work started last August.

About 20 nuns, most of whom were temporarily rehoused in Shalom House, another two-storey building on the grounds, are expected to move into their new elderly-friendly home by October once construction wraps up. It has a lift, an infirmary, grab bars and non-slip floors.

The convent is the headquarters of the Singapore-Malaysia chapter of the FMM, which is based in Rome. At its peak in the 1960s, the order here had 60 Sisters of 21 nationalities.

The Holland Road grounds, about four times the size of the convent, hold separate buildings, including a chapel and the Maris Stella Kindergarten.

The nuns are credited with starting the kindergarten, one of the first Catholic ones here. They also set up free mobile medical clinics in 1957 for the needy in rural parts of Singapore.

Since then, they have established a vocational institute for women, a secondary school - Hai Sing Catholic, the Apex Day Rehabilitation Centre for the Elderly, a development programme for migrant workers on their days off and the Madonna Soup Kitchen, among other initiatives.

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