110 Years of Service in the Name of the Faith

October 15 was a special day for the Comboni Missionary Sisters in London: Sister Chiarina Calcagno celebrated her golden jubilee – 50 years in the profession – and Sister Anne Gillen celebrated 60 years. Between the two of them, that makes for a proud 110 years of religious service. The occasion proved to be a memorable one for both Sisters and their invited guests and friends, with a reception following Mass on the day.

Sister Chiarina was born on 26 November 1938 in Cogoleto, Genoa. She made her first profession on 29 September 1965 in Italy. After some initial training in Italy, she then travelled to London to learn English and follow a Montessori course. Following this, she was delighted to finally be able to go to Africa – the dream of her missionary vocation.

Her first mission was in Tartar, in Kenya. While there, she taught in a Primary Boarding School which catered for hundreds of children. Some of them started school late, which meant that Sister Chiarina was teaching a class of about 65 pupils of ages ranging from 7 to 17 (some of the boys already sported moustaches!). Although there were few material resources, the pupils were enthusiastic and co-operative. Her second mission took place in Marsabit – this too in a remote area. It was similar to her experience in Pokot, except that the classroom facilities were better and more teaching resources were available.

In 1992 Chiarina came back to London, to assist with Mission Appeals and to help in the London mission’s kindergarten. After five years in the capital, she was glad to be able to return to her beloved Kenya in 1997; this time to Tinganga near Nairobi, running the kindergarten there. More travelling then took her back to Pokot, this time in Amakuriat, an area bordering with Uganda. She spent eight years there, in charge of the boarding arrangements for the girls attending the local Primary School.

From her experience in Africa, Chiarina said that she learnt patience, a welcoming attitude, respect, and accepting our everyday troubles from God’s hands. It was in 2009 that she was called back to London to be part of the missionary team. She has been in London ever since; at first in our small community in Tottenham, and now based in Chiswick. In the capital, she is in charge of the community’s finances and helps out at ‘The Passage’ shelter for homeless people in Westminster and at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Wapping. She thanks the Lord for all the people she has met in her life; for their collaboration and respect.

Sister Anne Philippa Gillen was born on 8th September 1923 in Hamilton, Scotland. She made her first profession on 29 September 1935 in Chiswick when she was 32. After a year, Sister Anne left for her first mission in Uganda. She was assigned to a boarding school in Gulu, where she stayed for 25 years. She is remembered in Uganda for her mildness, attention to duty, reliability, and friendliness – at all times and to all people. The boarding school in Uganda taught hundreds of secondary school students, all girls. Sister Anne was teaching Christian religion alongside being kept busy helping in the school office. She had a great love of the students, who were aged between 15 and 20 and often carried on their education to Advanced Level studies and further.

In 1981, Sister Gillen was called back to the UK and stationed in Llandrindod Wells, Wales. She also spent some time in Glasgow; but for the most part she has been part of the Chiswick community – a much loved member who makes everyone laugh with her comments and turns of phrase.

The double celebration on 15 October was a joy for all Sisters present, and especially for the well-wishers and friends who came to take part in this special event.

By Sister Pat Holloway

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