Sr Kim Hoa Ha poses proudly beside the statue of Our Lady in the front yard of her new home in Bonner, a four-bedroom house built for the Sisters of Mary Queen of Peace from Banmethuot diocese in Vietnam.
The statue came from Sr Kim’s brother Fr Peter Ngoc Doai Ha, who lives in Canberra, and is the crowning glory of a project that she has worked hard to fund and manage, with the help of the sisters’ “religious delegate” in the Archdiocese Fr John Armstrong and many others.
But the house is just one spoke in what Sr Kim calls a “wheel” of projects that she hopes will fit together as she sets up the sisters’ first community in Australia.
The second spoke in the wheel has been the establishment of a scholarship for another sister to study English and nursing through the Canberra Institute of Technology. It is hoped similar arrangements will allow more sisters to study here in future.
The third spoke in Sr Kim’s wheel is to create a workshop for people living with disabilities in her Vietnamese diocese, where she has been given an agricultural plot to convert for her use.
She hopes her experience as a Catholic sister and with CatholicCare’s family support services will guide her in completing this project.
“With the social work I do … I work with people with disabilities and their families and I have a learnt a lot from that,” she said.
Financially, she is a little over half way there, thanks to the $52,000 she has raised with the help of parishes and schools around the Archdiocese.
While she has had many offers from Australians to help with the workshop project, Sr Kim says the language barrier has thrown up some obstacles.
She hopes a benefit of having a base in Canberra is that Vietnamese sisters will be able to come here and learn English so they can work more effectively with Australian volunteers back home.
Meanwhile, Fr Armstrong said the Vietnamese bishop, priests and congregational leadership team that will attend the house opening will be shown how disability workshops are run in Australia.
The house opening is a significant event for Sr Kim, 53, who, having entered the convent as a 13-year-old, came to Canberra 12 years ago to learn English then study theology and social work at Australian Catholic University.
While studying, she lived as a night-time carer with an elderly couple whose family came to know her as their “angel”, saying she was the answer to their prayers.
She worked in a boarding school for indigenous students in Vietnam for a couple of years, but returned to Canberra and has worked with CatholicCare for the past six years.
In that time, she has minded houses, stayed in caravans and lived with her brother while raising money to rent the land and put a deposit on the house, which she moved into last May. She will live in the house with at least one other sister and visiting members of the community.
“With my sisters in the house here, we want to show the gospel by how we live, not just by words,” Sr Kim said.
*Archbishop Prowse will bless the community house for the sisters at 9 Lucy Beeton Court, Bonner, at 10am on Saturday, 8 March. A Mass will be celebrated at Holy Spirit Church, Amaroo, at 11am.
Heart of a community … Sr Kim Hoa Ha outside the house for the Vietnamese Sisters of Mary Queen of Peace in Bonner.