THE HELPERS IN CHINA
On 4th of August 1867, in Paris, our Foundress Mary of Providence received a visit from the Jesuit Bishop Languillat, the Vicar Apostolic for the Kiang Nang Province in China. After celebrating Mass for the Helper community, he revealed to the Foundress he had come to “look for helpers among the Helpers”. This was his Mass intention.
He was actually looking for European religious to assure the formation of a new community of “Chinese virgins” and to take charge of a boarding school and orphanage in Shanghai. After a short time of discernment, the decision was taken. Two months later, between October and November 1867, 6 Helpers left France to reach the other side of the world. A further group of 4 sisters reached China in January 1869.
These 10 Helpers were among the first religious to join the Jesuits in the formidable Chinese Empire. In Shanghai, the Helpers gave the new foundation the name “Sen-Mou-Yeu”, meaning Garden of the Virgin. It
was a large estate including a farm, located near the Jesuits’ residence. It was to become a large centre of apostolic life, followed by several other communities, including one in Northern China, today known as Sienhsien region.
They were looking after the formation of two Chinese religious Congregations known as “Presentandines” and
“Our Lady of Purgatory” (which still exist even today). They run orphanages, schools, centres for vocational
training, dispensaries and a shelter for the deaf and dumb children. Sisters were also having an intense
apostolic life among the people and visiting families. From the beginning, Chinese women were admitted to
formation as Helpers and their numbers grew quickly.
Between 1949 and 1953 the missionaries were forced to leave the Country. They left behind in China nearly a
hundred Chinese Helpers with no possibility of further communications.
Today just one Helper is still leaving in Mainland China, in an Old Age Home.
Since many years srs. Agathe, Clara, Martha and Teresa live and work to keep alive the Charism of Mary of
Providence in the midst of Chinese culture, in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Along with them, many other departed sisters, spent their entire lives on the boundaries of Mailand China, in
fidelity to their vocation.
In Hong Kong and Taiwan, the Charism of Mary of Providence found a large welcome, mostly among Lay
people. The “Friends of Hope” are the largest Lay Association in the Archdiocese of Hong Kong, with around
4.000 members: they embody the spirituality of our Congregation in their secular life, according to their
possibilities, with a special accent on the Communion of the saints and the solidarity which unites the living
and the dead. The sisters accompany them in their spiritual journey.
History of Helper Sisters in India
The first Helper sisters from Austria, US and Japan arrived in India, in 1992 in Bangalore.
Open to serve the needs of the people in all manner of good, they lived as a small international community in an institution for physically and visually challenged children. It was the time of learning, acclimatising and inculturating in the Indian context.
After spending a few years in Bangalore the sisters moved to north India, Kolkata – West Bengal, and with the help of Late Archbishop Henry D’Souza and Vicar General Fr. Francis Gomes, the sisters found a flat in Barasat in 1995 and began a study house under the leadership of Sr. Regina Mair and sr. Hemma Muschick for a small group of village girls.
As the need was urgent the sisters built the first Helpers house to gather to more of such girls in Simultala, Barasat. Soon some young women were attracted “to help in all manner of good” and to the Helpers way of life.
The Helper novitiate house was set up in 1999. Barasat Helpers’ house is still serving as a Study house but also as Formation House for those girls who want to test their Helper vocation .
Over the years, the Helpers opened 2 more communities in West Bengal: one in Kolkata mainly for temporary professed sisters who are studying or engaged in some training, and another in Bolpur Asansol Diocese. The need to promote the education and empowerment of Santal girls urged Helpers to respond to the request of the Bishop of Asansol to open a Study House over there for girls attending Class XI and XII in Bengali medium. Helpers are also engaged in pastoral work in Bolpur parish and also help out in the “St. Mary’s Mother and Child Hospital” run by “Shining Eyes” NGO.
Helper story in India is still at its inception. In fidelity to the spirit of their Foundress, they look to the future with hope, not having other security than the generosity and Providence of God!