Whatever and whoever we may condemn in the Catholic Church, many nuns have dedicated their lives to the wellbeing of children, mothers, families, and neighborhoods. The Ursuline order in Malta has been providing shelter for “unwanted” children for over 119 years. The Sliema Creche has been an integral part of the neighborhood and that mission for over 70 years. Out of the two “homes”, one in Gwardamangia and one in Sliema., the latter I am most familiar with. Nestled in a corner of Dingli Street adjacent to St. Patrick’s Church, Salesian Hall and Theater, these women were angels to children who needed them the most.
The news of the closure of the Ursuline Creche in Sliema hit home. In the 60’s, I was part of a girl’s organization called “helpers” of the Creche. We helped several days a week with the babies and toddlers the nuns were bringing up. We loved it. We were inundated with a sense of “good” and charity at an early age. We were part of a special group of people who saw the love of a group of women dedicated to making children’s lives better up close and personal.
The creche depended on private donations. So, we held annual concerts and entertainment at the Salesian Hall around the corner to raise money for the home. Names like Johnny Navarro, a local famous comedian, made appearances and brought with him his comedy routine and colleagues to perform and raise the roof in laughter and much needed funding. All pro bono. I participated in these concerts and entertainment. Still have wonderful memories of being on stage with Johnny Navarro.
In an interview with Times of Malta, Sister Magdalene Cauchi recounted how in the late 50’s early 60’s, nuns were sent to the UK to train and learn about modern childcare. They were pioneers. The concept was to develop an environment as close to a home as possible with age specific group space and resources. Sister Cauchi recalls stories of babies left on their doorsteps at all hours of the day and night, some under odd circumstances, but the nuns were not concerned where they came from only that they had to be taken care of. I personally recall those times, when on various occasions new babies appeared in the nursery overnight.
These formidable women judged no one. They knew that problems existed especially among young girls, who often found themselves pregnant facing hostility within and outside their families and neighborhoods and left with no other choice but to give their babies up. With smiles and love, the nuns asked no questions but took in every child as if their own and as a blessing.
My happiest times as a young girl were spent there. The nuns taught us basic child care. They were big on cleanliness and safety. Only a few of us were allowed to feed the babies and change their nappies. But we were also happy to assist with the daily chores of cleaning the nurseries or just entertaining the children. We also took the babies out in prams for walks and fresh air. I never witnessed any stress among these brave women, only unconditional love.
The EU in its wisdom and lack of consideration to individual countries and their needs, have established policies to de-institutionalize children under three. They should be with a family they argue. Well go figure. In the meantime, what does one do with unwanted babies or abused children? I don’t think the EU has gone that far in thinking that through yet. The nuns have been taking care of both problems for decades. Without asking any questions or demanding payment, they raised children of poor families who could not afford another child. They raised children of prostitutes who had neither the resource nor wanted a child in the environment and situation they found themselves in. In recent years, addiction, abuse, and mental health were the main reasons children were placed in their protection. To comply with the EU, the last three kids have been transferred to the home in Gwardamangia. I guess there was still no “happy family” for these three tikes.
The EU is oblivious to its policies’ consequences because it exists within a bubble of bureaucracy and political ineptness compensated by opinion miles away from the source. A tunnel vision body of policy makers without a clue. If it sounds good, it must be good. This one shoe fits all thinking is outright inane. In today’s world of so much mental illness and inadequate assistance to single mothers and domestic abusive families, one would think that any governing entity would be happy to have an organization that not only assists but is good at it. Assuming that children under three are going to find a happy home right away is absurd. But then the EU is absurd on so many levels it is hard not to just nod and accept this policy as another self serving attempt at “over reach” into a country’s individuality and specific needs.
Going forward, the Ursuline Creche in Sliema will turn into a Day Care Center. The nuns are happy to continue caring and loving children. Their love of children draws from their love of family. The nuns lived like a big family. As a young “helper” I was part of that family. I wore an apron and shared in the joy of taking care of those that couldn’t take care of themselves. These women never asked for anything in return. They gave to those in their care unconditional love and attention. They didn’t pick or choose who to take in, their door was open literally at all hours. Donations came from private organizations and companies. They made do with what they had.
They are the unsung heroes who quietly changed lives for the better. They went beyond taking in children, they also helped poor families by providing resources like prams, cots, and other baby accruements Never ask or asked for anything in return. The EU didn’t have to tell them to do good, they did it because they were and still are exceptional women. They are courageous and dedicated to their mission.
Many of the Sisters I knew as a child have long since been gone to a better place. Their legacy was taken over by those who came after them. They were the pioneers of women’s rights because they understood the plight of women and instead of shunning and judging, they embraced and helped. My memories of those years helping the Ursuline sisters raise babies and toddlers are edged in my heart and mind. They taught most of us the joy of caring and of motherhood as most of us went down that road later in life.
““We cried. We consoled each other. But, with a past like ours, when you think about how many babies and families benefitted from our services, it is not something to cry about, it is something to celebrate,” Sister Magdalene Cauchi May 23, 2022
Watch: End of an era… Ursuline crèche in Sliema closes its doors (timesofmalta.com)