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Legend of Assunta, Sr Enda Ryan (1928-2024)

This indefatigable educator contributed so much to the development of girls' education in the country

Sr Enda Ryan's funeral mass at St Francis Xavier's Church on 11 April 2024 - BENEDICT LOPEZ/ALIRAN

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The church in Petaling Jaya was packed to capacity yesterday.

People from all walks of life – friends, former students, teachers and family members – thronged the church to pay their final respects to a legendary educator, Sr Enda Ryan, 96, founder of the Assunta national primary and secondary schools.

The funeral mass at St Francis Xavier’s Church began at 10.30am with a hymn in the background. The song When Irish Eyes Are Smiling wafted in the air – a fond reference to Sr Enda’s roots.

After the hour-long service ended, a hearse bearing Sr Enda’s coffin cruised around the Assunta Secondary School – a last tour of the place where she had touched so many lives.

Many had also turned up to bid farewell to her at the wake on 9-10 April at St Ignatius’ Church.

Born Eileen Philomena Ryan on 30 December 1928 in Galbally, County Limerick in Ireland, she joined the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary religious order in 1947.

As was then the custom upon embracing religious vows, she was given a new name – Sr Enda. She graduated from the National University of Ireland in 1954, with a BA and higher diploma in education.

That same year, she arrived in Malaya, upon a request by Michael Hogan, the then Chief Justice of Malaya, to set up schools to cater for girls whose education had been disrupted by the “Emergency”. The girls’ families had been forced to move to “new villages” to cut them off from the communists in the surrounding jungles.

Without delay, Sr Enda helped to set up the Assunta Primary School. Meanwhile, she covered the primary syllabus for the older girls to enable them to sit for the secondary school entry exams in late 1957.

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January 1958 saw the start of the Assunta Secondary School, with Sr Enda as its first head. She composed the school anthem, which Assunta students sing to this day.

Under her inspiring leadership, the first school clubs were established: the Leo Club, the Interact Club, the Assunta Military Band, the Girl Guides and the Assunta Welfare Organisation (later renamed Sister Enda Welfare Organisation).

Sr Enda became a Malaysian citizen on 10 October 1966 and took the oath of loyalty, like any other citizen.

During her 31 years of dedicated service, Sr Enda received a string of awards. These included an excellent service award from the Ministry of Education in 1985 and awards from the sultan of Selangor in 1986 and 1987.

In recognition of her tremendous efforts, she was named Tokoh Guru (outstanding teacher) in Selangor in 1990.

Sr Enda retired in June 1989, but this tireless nun continued to take a keen interest in the affairs of the school. She graced school occasions like Teachers’ Day, prize-giving day, the Assunta Spirit Week and the annual sports day.

For her invaluable services to the nation, Sr Enda was conferred the Datin Paduka title by the Selangor sultan in 2007

Many of Sr Enda’s former students of various ethnicities were moved to tears at her passing. And why not? Here was a nun that not many educators could match in terms of her noble contributions.

This indefatigable educator contributed so much to the development of girls’ education in the country. Her sheer commitment shone through.

Leaving her native Ireland at a young age to travel across the other side of the world to Malaya was a vocation in itself, a calling from God.

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Educators come and educators go, but the likes of Sr Enda are a rarity in the country. Her name will be etched in the memory of many of her students for a long time.

As we exited the church after the service, we were given a bookmark as a souvenir with meaningful words from Sr Enda:

“At Assunta, I’ve always taught my girls more about the heart, rather than the head, to feel love, compassion, understanding and appreciation of each other and our differences. We are all God’s children.”


Sr Enda fought the great fight, completed the race, kept the faith and is now in eternal peace in the abode of the Lord.

Rest in peace, legend of Assunta.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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Benedict Lopez
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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