Saintly Sister Aquinas

Saintly Sister Aquinas (1919-1985)

These days, many Hong Kong people worry about catching bird flu. Eighty years ago, people worried about contracting tuberculosis. But if they coughed up blood, they could be treated and possibly cured at the Ruttonjee Sanatorium, where, upon admission, they would almost certainly have had the pleasure of meeting the Mother Teresa of Hong Kong: Sister Aquinas. Loving and kind, meek and unassuming, she spent her life helping people recover from this deadly disease.

5Sister Aquinas had a humble beginning. Born into a devout Roman Catholic family in Ireland, she was one of nine children. She did well at school and studied medicine at university, where she developed an interest in the Far East. She hoped to do missionary work in China but the country was at war so she came to Hong Kong instead.

Easily recognisable by her nun’s habit and wimple, Sister Aquinas taught medicine at the University of Hong Kong to hundreds, possibly thousands of students over a thirty year period. Luckily for Jehangir Ruttonjee, a very generous Indian businessman who’d recently donated lots of his hard-earned cash to build the Ruttonjee Sanatorium, Sister Aquinas also worked for him.

Not only did Sister Aquinas become world famous for her research and treatment of tuberculosis, but also for her rehabilitation of drug addicts. Caring and concerned, Sister Aquinas provided shelter and treatment for women who wanted to kick their drug habit at a special treatment centre. In 1985, she was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. Shortly afterwards, however, she fell gravely ill. A few days before her death, in her beloved Ruttonjee Sanatorium, a Hong Kong government official visited her and asked if there was anything he could do for her. “Look after all those drug addicts,” she replied.

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