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Catholic nun given ROC citizenship for her selfless contributions

2019-07-14  English News
Photo courtesy of CNA
Photo courtesy of CNA
Taipei, July 13 (CNA) Catholic nun Maria Godelieva Claeys from Belgium, who has devoted the majority of her life to taking care of premature newborns in Taiwan, officially became a Republic of China (Taiwan) citizen Saturday.

"This [Taiwan] is my home," the 83-year-old sister said after receiving her ROC identification card from officials of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and Taipei Department of Civil Affairs in recognition of her selfless contributions.

Sister Claeys of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (I.C.M.) has served in Taiwan for over half a century since 1963, when she helped look after premature newborns at the then-St. Joseph Hospital in Taipei's Wanhua District.

The hospital was established by a group of I.C.M. sisters from Belgium in the early 1960s, providing medical care and medication for disadvantaged mothers and children, and was once known as the hospital that admitted the highest number of premature newborns in Taiwan.

Back then, the hospital only had two floors, but it was the tallest building in the neighborhood, Claeys recalled, saying that care for premature infants in Taiwan at the time was relatively underdeveloped, and the cost of treatment was rather expensive.

Many parents could not afford to go to bigger hospitals, she said, and it was that reason that prompted her to help set up a premature newborn center there.
Back in the day, incubators were considered a luxury medical device, and St. Joseph's Hospital had no means to purchase them and could only borrow them from other hospitals, she said.

Claeys said it was not until 1964 that the hospital managed to acquire one incubator of its own, followed by another 12 five years later.

But because there were not enough incubators to keep up with the numbers of newborns to look after, three to four babies would often have to be squeezed into one, she said.

The Belgian sister also recalled having to put up with the many quirks of traditional local beliefs.

Claeys remembers once being approached at the hospital by parents who were crying and sobbing while holding their infant son who had been born not long before at Claeys' hospital.

The new mother and her husband told Claeys they were forced by their parents to put the baby up for adoption because he was born with a tooth, once considered a bad omen by many older Taiwanese.

Due to overcrowding and the lack of space, St. Joseph's Hospital was relocated to New Taipei in 1981 and later renamed Cardinal Tien Hospital.