The Association of Lay Canossians is a part of the Canossian Institute of the Daughters of Charity in Singapore. The Canossian Daughters of Charity have numerous communities in various parts of the island and they run schools/institutions like St Anthony’s Canossian Primary and Secondary Schools, Canossaville Children’s Home, School for the Hearing Impaired and St Joseph Home for the Aged/Hospice.
The Association of Lay Canossians is an organization that groups together all the Lay people who have been inspired by the spirit and work of the Canossian Sisters and who want to live a deeper understanding of the Gospel by following the footsteps of St Magdalene of Canossa – foundress of the Canossian Daughters of Charity.
The Association of Lay in Singapore had its roots in a group of six ladies who were animated by Sr Natalia Tasca, an Italian nun, way back in 1965. They called themselves the Canossian Auxillary Workers. As the name implies, they were a group basically lending a helping hand to the sisters in their various ministries, and at the same time were being formed by the Canossian Sisters in the spirit of St Magdalene.
In 1974, Sr Margaret Syn, a local sister, took over the group and renamed it The Canossian Co-Workers. She brought with her, new initiatives and energy and soon the group grew to 120 members at one stage. In 1976 Mandarin-speaking members and the first batch of 6 Malaysians were enrolled in Malacca. In 1980, 4 men were admitted into the hitherto-all-female group – a first in the Canossian world perhaps. It was at this time too that the first group of 5 lady members under the guidance of Sr Natalia Tasca, decided to consecrate themselves by taking the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They became what we now call Consecrated Lay Canossians, a sort of plain-clothes sisters who work and live in the secular world but who are no less dedicated in living the charism of St Magdalene.
1984 can be said to be the heyday of the Canossian Co-workers. As a zealous and closely-knit group, the Canossian Co-workers found it within their strength to mount a 4-day International Seminar which attracted 88 participants from USA, Italy, Australia, Japan, India, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Malaysians. This was an important milestone in the history of the Association of Lay Canossians in that the seminar was a stepping stone for the lay people in the participating countries to either form themselves into a group or to formalize their structure. It also provided the impetus and direction for many Lay Canossian groups in other countries.
In 1987, the name Canossian Co-Workers was changed to Canossian Collaborators to better reflect the role and mission of its members. All this while, the changes in name were merely cosmetic as the spirit or what we like to call, the ‘charism’ of the members remained steadfast as ever.
From the 1980s, the laity all over the world seemed to have awaken from its slumber and flourished with many initiatives. The First International Congress for Lay Canossians was organized by the Canossian Institute at Rome in 1987 and we were represented by Louise Lee and Brenda Teong accompanied by Sr Rosalia Yeo. In 1990, an International Commission of Lay Canossians was convened at Rome to draw up the General Statutes for Lay Canossians. We were represented by Joseph Tan who went alone. The Second International Congress for Lay Canossians in 1994 at Asiago was attended by Bridget Williams, Anne Siew, Christina Lee and accompanied by Sr Natalina Biffi and Sr Magdalen Ee.
The New Era
Following these overseas conferences and meetings, important developments took place in our Association. For a start, the General Statutes which were drawn up in 1990 gave Lay Canossians of the world a common guideline for living the Canossian charism. A by-product of the General Statutes was the promulgation of our National Statutes which lay down the guidelines for living the Canossian charism in the secular world in the Singapore context. For the first time, Lay Canossians in Singapore have a common, proper set of guidelines on how to live their Canossian charism and what is expected of them.
A by-product of the Second International Congress in 1994 was the publication of the Formation Plan – a document which specifies how a Lay Canossian should be formed. A Lay Canossian today is one who has been properly formed in the charism of St Magdalene and willingly enrolled in the Association according to the set guidelines and not one who merely joins because it is fun to do so or because somebody persuaded him/her to sign on the dotted line. Today our Formation Team, which is made up of six Lay Canossians and a Sister Animator, trains new recruits in a one-year Initial Formation Programme and provides On-going Formation for members by giving spiritual inputs through talks and sharing.
A New Identity
In 1996, the name Canossian Collaborators was changed to The Association of Lay Canossians. Someone joked that the former name had ‘communist’ connotations and was therefore undesirable, but seriously, the change was to reflect the coming of age of the Lay Canossians in Singapore. The Laity and the importance of the role of the lay people in the life of the Church were beginning to be recognized. The Lay Canossians look upon themselves as no longer merely collaborators or helpers of the Canossian Sisters, but equal partners working side by side. The Lay Canossian today recognizes that he or she is a co-heir of the charism of St Magdalene, no more or less than the sisters, and equal in dignity – the only difference being the milieu in which they work.
Lay Canossians today are involved in myriad fields of apostolate – hospitals, schools, prison ministry, RCIA, lectors, under-privileged children, etc. However, a Lay Canossian is not identified by the work he or she does. His/Her identity comes from bearing within him/her the image of Christ – a life lived with the ‘greatest love’ as exemplified by Jesus on the Cross. His/Her mission is ‘to make Christ known and loved.’ He/She seeks not his/her own glory and the motto ‘For God Alone’ is his/her aim. He/She counts ‘humility’ and ‘charity’ amongst his/her greatest virtues and his/her model in life is Mary, our Mother at the foot of the Cross. St Magdalene of Canossa is, of course, our great foundress and teacher, whose charism of the ‘Great Love’ we carry in our hearts and radiate to others.
Today the membership of the Association of Lay Canossians stands at 54 and there’s room for more. To be a Lay Canossian is a calling, a gift from God. If you do feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit to join us, we will welcome you with open arms into the family of the ‘Greatest Love’.