Ketapang remembers the Augustinian nuns

The history of Dutch missionaries is at the heart of a book by Mathias Hariyadi. Between 1949 and 2003, the nuns served in Kalimantan, one of West Borneo’s remotest areas. The health and educational facilities they build are a precious contribution to the local Church.

Jun 05, 2021

JAKARTA: More than 70 years after they arrived in Indonesia, the memory of the missionaries of the Order of St Augustine (Augustinian nuns) remains alive in the Diocese of Ketapang.

Present in the area from 1949 to 2003, their story is at the heart of Mathias Hariyadi and his co-author Royani Ping's new book: Jalan Berlumpur, Sungai Beriam:  OSA Membangun Ketapang (The Muddy Road, the Clear-Water Rivers: The Order of St Augustine and the Development of Ketapang).

The Diocese of Ketapang is in West Kalimantan, a province in the Indonesian part of Kalimantan Island (Borneo), and can be reached only during the rainy season, when river levels rise allowing  navigation with motor boats.

During the dry season, short paved roads dot the landscape, while muddy trails are littered with rocks and crocodiles.

If the area is still inaccessible today, imagine how it was in 1949 when the first group of Augustinian nuns arrived in Ketapang from the Netherlands, three years after three Dutch missionaries from the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (Passionists) set up the first Catholic mission.

Two of them, Fathers Raphael Kleyne and Caspar Ridder van der Schueren, died in 1952 due to the difficult conditions in the region.

One day their boat was stranded in the Pesaguhan River because of the rocky bottom, with the engine not working, the boat overturned and floated away down the river. Only the Dutch nurse who was with them managed to survive thanks to a tree trunk in which her hair had become entangled.

This was a blow to the mission. Father Raphael Kleyne led it, and Fr Van der Schueren delivered clean water by boat every afternoon to the missionary nuns.

This and other stories are described in the book, which is the product of meticulous research in the archives of the congregation of the Augustinian nuns as well as interviews with the members of the mission.

Reading the book, we discover that the first seeds of Christianity came to the region thanks to three cloth merchants from the Shantou region in mainland China.

One of them, Tan A Hak, travelled daily to remote areas in Ketapang and reported to the Apostolic Vicar of Dutch Borneo that some indigenous groups were interested in Christianity.

In 1955, the first vocational course was introduced, with the first four ethnic Dayak novices.

In 2003, having reached an advanced age, the Dutch missionaries of the Order of St. Augustine returned to their convent in Heemstede (Netherlands).

Sister Dionee Appelman, 80, was the last Sister to leave for Indonesia in 1979, and the last one to return to her country of origin.

“We were getting older and we didn’t want to bother our Indonesian Sisters to take care of us,” she told AsiaNews. “Hence, we left the mission to retire to our own country without bothering  others in Indonesia.”

Some 21 Dutch nuns were involved in the ministry in the Diocese of Ketapang over this period of time, improving healthcare and education. Even after all these years, their precious contribution continues to be maintained by the local Church.––Asia News

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