The Portuguese and Irish join up to fete an Irish nun who has brought so much to the underprivileged in Thailand
The embassies of Portugal and Ireland in Thailand joined up late last month to pay tribute to a very special lady – Sr Louise Horgan, the powerhouse behind the Fatima Centre in Bangkok.
A native of County Cork, Sr Louise has spent the last 52 years in the Thai capital with the Good Shepard Sisters helping underprivileged women and children from the slums enjoy a better life. The Fatima Centre has a close connection to Portugal through Our Lady of Fatima, the Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary based on the famed Marian apparitions reported in 1917 by three shepherd children at the Cova da Iria, in Fatima, Portugal.
Arriving at the Centre a little earlier than my appointment time, I am greeted with a welcoming song from the children who live at the Centre and warm hug from Sr Louise.
“There have been so many changes in the city since I first arrived here back in 1965,” she tells me. “There was no traffic and no tall buildings. But the Thai people were as friendly as ever. Life was a lot slower and people were definitely poorer. I have witnessed a real transformation of Bangkok in 52 years. I feel very much part of that change”.
Sr Louise left Ireland in 1954 for France where she joined the Good Shepard Sisters. She was sent to work in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and spent six years there going back to Ireland in between to train as a nurse. She left Sri Lanka for Thailand with 3 colleagues in 1965 and set up in Sathorn at St Louis, Soi 2.
“We did not have much money,” Sr Louise recalls. “Two of us had ten Pounds Sterling each and the third had fifteen Pounds”!
Sr Louise and her colleagues were very clear about their objectives from the beginning.
“We wanted to help poor vulnerable women and girls from all backgrounds. And we wanted to give them opportunities to learn skills and become self-sufficient or as self-sufficient as possible. “The needs were great and we soon outgrew our house. We needed a new location from which to work”.
And so the Good Shepard Sisters initiated a fundraising effort to get a new house. They went from door to door and from company to company. They were given 5 rai of land from Fatima Church in Din Daeng. It was a vegetable plantation.
“We decided to build our own house” says Sr Louise. “But we also built a mother and baby home and we stared a new school”.
More Sisters came from abroad, including Sr Mary Hayden who died a few months ago at the age of 97.
The Good Shepherds expanded in the 1970s to Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Nong Khai and Pattaya. “We were joined in all of these places by our Thai Good Shepard Sisters as well. And what a great job they did”.
Today the Good Shepard Sisters are a thriving community continuing their social work with the vulnerable, especially women and children. They also cooperate with the Thai authorities on anti-trafficking and with refugees.
“The only criteria we have when asked for help is poverty and underprivilege. The pathways to breaking out from the cycle of under privilege is education, motivation and self-help,” she says.