Sr. Agnes Hinder was born in the canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1927. She had three sisters and one brother. The family had a beautiful home surrounded by mountains and woods and the children skied to school in the winter. Agnes trained and worked in domestic science for five years before qualifying as a children’s nurse. She worked as a private children’s nurse for four years and then completed studies in general nursing and anaesthetics. She was now a highly qualified nurse and wondered which direction her life should take.
She attended a mission course run by the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) that included information about lay missionaries. In 1962, at the invitation of Bishop Jobidon in Nyasaland (now Malawi), Agnes and another woman, Maria Raber, prepared to go to the Diocese of Mzuzu, under the auspices of a Swiss lay missionary group. Beforehand both women were sent to Drogheda, Ireland, to learn English and to study the ethos of MMM. They lived with a local family, working in the International Missionary Training Hospital (now Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital) in the morning and learning English in the afternoon.
When the two women arrived in Mzuzu, the Swiss group had built a house for them – always referred to as ‘the Swiss house’. Agnes was well qualified for the development of Saint John’s Hospital, the first MMM foundation in Malawi. She spent four years there as a lay missionary and then decided to join MMM. She completed her postulancy in Malawi in 1966 before proceeding to Drogheda for her novitiate training.
After first profession Agnes qualified as a midwife and was assigned back to Mzuzu. She served there for four more years, doing general and paediatric nursing as well as anaesthetics. At that time the demands continued to grow in providing extended health services from Saint John’s Hospital.
In 1974, she was assigned to a new rural mission in the diocese, in Nkhata Bay. There she developed a mother and child welfare clinic and an outreach programme.
In 1976 Sister Agnes returned to Switzerland for a refresher course in anaesthetics, after which she was back in Mzuzu. For the next twenty-three years she was involved in general and children’s nursing. She also worked in the nutrition unit and in anaesthetics in the operating theatre.
Agnes was a competent, experienced and compassionate nurse who also became a mentor for the many lay volunteers who spent time in Saint John’s.
MMM later handed over Saint John’s Hospital and moved out of Mzuzu Diocese. Agnes went on a sabbatical which included a long visit to Switzerland and three months in the Holy Land, which she described as ‘the best time of my life, walking in the footsteps of Jesus and attending lectures and outings.’
In 2001 she was assigned to Chipini, a new mission in the south of the country. Here she encountered a different people with their own language and traditions. For six more years she cared for the children she loved.
During her time in Malawi, Agnes was supported by a group in Switzerland who knitted clothes and blankets. This was a great help, especially in the cold season. A very good friend, Sr. Gertrude, in Germany, sent medicines.
At the age of seventy-nine Agnes returned to Drogheda. There she served in the infirmary and clinic in the Motherhouse. She has accompanied many of the Sisters who were her friends in Malawi on their journey home to God. Willing to assist in any place she was needed, she also helped in the stamp department. She also contributed greatly to her local MMM community, always a cheerful and encouraging presence. A deeply spiritual woman, she loved the Psalms and could recite them by heart.
In recent years her strength diminished and she moved to Áras Mhuire in May 2018 for extra care. In July 2018, Agnes celebrated fifty years as an MMM and some of her family joined her. In early 2019 her condition seriously deteriorated and within a short time she died peacefully, on March 28, with her favourite hymn, ‘Be Not Afraid’, playing in the background.
Her funeral, though small, was a real celebration of her life. The main celebrant was Fr. Billy Fulton, SPS, accompanied by Fr. Pat Kelly, SPS, chaplain in Áras Mhuire, and two other St. Patrick’s priests, Fr. McHugh and Fr. McGivern, who worked in Malawi. None of her family from Switzerland was able to attend. Agnes’ brother Emil died many years ago. Her older sister, Maria Priska, entered the Benedictine Sisters and died in 2015, Olga, her married sister, died in 2017. Her one surviving sister, Heidi, is in a nursing home.
Nevertheless they sent messages and flowers and were united with all in Beechgrove during the Mass and burial.