Heart and Soul: Passing of a legend – Sister Enda Ryan, FMM

A young Sister Enda. Photo: Make Me An Instrument: The Singing Sister

Heart & Soul
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On the morning of April 11, 2024, I attended the funeral service of Sister Enda Ryan at St Francis Xavier’s Church, Petaling Jaya.

The church was packed to capacity. People from all walks of life – friends, former students and family members – thronged the church to pay their final respects and bid an emotional goodbye to the late Sr Enda, 95, who founded both SMK Assunta and SM Assunta in Petaling Jaya.

Prior to the funeral, the wake was held on April 9 and 10 at St Ignatius Church where many turned up to pay their last respects to the late nun.

The funeral mass began at 10:30am on Thursday (April 11). A familiar song, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, was played during the service as a tribute to Sr Enda’s Irish roots.

The service ended at 11.30am, followed by a ceremony where a hearse carrying Sr Enda’s coffin was paraded around SMK Assunta.

At Sister Enda’s funeral in St Francis Xavier’s church, Petaling Jaya, last Thursday. Photo: Ben LopezAt Sister Enda’s funeral in St Francis Xavier’s church, Petaling Jaya, last Thursday. Photo: Ben Lopez

This Irish nun touched many lives throughout her life of service. She was born Eileen Philomena Ryan on Dec 30, 1928, in Galbally, County Limerick in Eire (Ireland). She joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in 1947 and, as was then the custom when taking religious vows, was given the new name Sister Enda. She graduated from the National University of Ireland in 1954, with a BA and a Higher Diploma in Education.

In 1954, she arrived in then-Malaya following a request by Sir Michael Hogan (the then Chief Justice of Malaya) to set up schools to cater for girls whose education had been disrupted during The Emergency. Their families had been forced to live confined to the New Villages to prevent them helping the Communists in the surrounding jungle.

Sr Enda left her native Ireland while in her 20s to travel to the other side of the world, and promptly established the Assunta Primary Girls School. Simultaneously, she covered the primary school syllabus for the older girls to enable them to sit for the entry exam for secondary school in late 1957.

January 1958 saw the start of Assunta Secondary Girls School, and Sr Enda became its first headmistress.

She composed the school song which Assunta students sing till today.

Among the first school clubs to be formed under her supervision were the Leo Club, Interact Club, Girl Guides and Assunta Welfare Organisation (later renamed Sister Enda Welfare Organization or Sewo).

Sr Enda became a Malaysian citizen on Oct 10, 1966, and took the oath of loyalty like any other citizen.

A biography of Sr Enda is published by the Assunta Alumni.A biography of Sr Enda is published by the Assunta Alumni.

During her 31 years of dedicated service, Sr Enda received numerous awards, including the Excellent Service Award from the Education Ministry (1985), the Pingat Jasa Cemerlang (1986), the Pingat Jasa Kebaktian (PJK) from DYMM the Sultan of Selangor (1987), and the Anugerah Tokoh Guru Selangor (1990).

Sr Enda retired in June 1989, but this tireless nun continued to take a keen interest in the affairs of the school. She still graced school occasions like Teachers’ Day, Prize Giving Day, Assunta Spirit Week and the annual Sports Day.

For her invaluable service to the country, Sr Enda was conferred the Darjah Kebesaran Dato’ Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah (DSIS) by the Sultan of Selangor, which carried the title Datin Paduka, in December 2007. (Source: Assunta Alumni)

At the wake and funeral, many former students of all races were moved to tears. I can empathise with them. Here was a nun that not many educators could match in terms of noble contributions.

This indefatigable Irish nun gave her all towards girls’ education. It was a vocation, a calling from God Almighty.

Educators come and educators go, but the likes of Sr Enda are a rarity in the country. Her name will be etched in the memory of many of her students for a long time.

As we exited the church after the service, we were each given a bookmark as a souvenir. It had these meaningful words:

“At Assunta, I’ve always taught my girls more about the heart, rather than the head, to feel love, compassion, understanding and appreciation of each other and our differences. We are all God’s children.”

Sr Enda had fought the good fight, completed the race and kept the faith. Rest in eternal peace, Legend of Assunta.

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