Sister Juliana Devoy was a missionary and late executive coordinator of the Good Shepherd Centre in Macao. At the age of 80, she still went up and down the stairs of the shelter she founded with the energy of a high schooler. Known throughout Macao for her tireless work in women’s rights, she was always drawn to fight another round in the pursuit of a better society. She spoke English and Cantonese.
Born 7 February 1937, in Norfolk, Nebraska, in the heartland of America, Devoy grew up with six siblings. Her family moved around the country following her father who was in the Air Force.
Ambitious at an early age, Devoy was born to be a leader. She ran for vice president of the student body of her high school in her last year. Choosing a catchy and clever slogan, her campaign posters read “Sue for Vice.” And passed out cigarettes to the students. When she didn’t get elected, Devoy joined the drama club to practice her presentation skills for the next challenge.
After she graduated, she was certain that her path was to serve God. “It was a matter of love.” On 12 September 1954, she joined the Good Shepherd Sisters in Los Angeles, which she’d only heard about through a brochure passed around school. “I was attracted by the pictures of sisters at prayer. When I made the decision to join the Good Shepherd Sisters, people told me that the “semi-contemplative” aspect of their lives included time in the cloister which would limit my experiences, but I’ve actually travelled the world with my service.”
After spending a year to complete her formation at the Motherhouse in Angers, France, Sister Juliana Devoy took her final vows in 1960. In 1963, she moved to Hong Kong on a mission to work with teenage girls in a residential home. Her missionary life took her to Taiwan, mainland China, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Myanmar.
She arrived in Macao in 1988. At first, she wasn’t so keen on her new assignment, wondering what she would do in this city but it soon became her favourite and the place where she would devote the rest of her life’s work to improving women’s living conditions. “Macao is full of opportunities to innovate in areas that would be more difficult to accomplish in other places,” she asserted.
In 1990, she founded the Good Shepherd Crisis Centre, a shelter for women in crisis situations. Sister Juliana’s philosophy is to run a “home rather than an institution,” where the Centre offers free accommodation and food to women and their children. “Macao is such a small place; today, whenever I go anywhere, I’m sure to meet someone who was once in our centre. Some I don’t even recognise because it’s been many years, and they were mere children who came with their mothers. Now they’re young adults, but they recognise me and always come to greet me,” she said.
Sister Juliana used to wake up every day at 5 am to pray for the grace of God. “God is always sending us love letters from heaven.” She believed steadfastly that she had been blessed throughout the years and treats everything as a gift from God, living by the words of Mother Theresa:
“If you want to do something good, do it. God has plenty of money.”
Sister Juliana followed politics and policy closely. She worked on a long-awaited government bill to prevent and combat domestic violence and when the law went into effect in June 2016, she organised a city-wide celebratory march. In December 2013, she received the Medal of Altruistic Merit from the Macao government for all she has done for the city over the years.
Sister Juliana may be seen as someone who has accomplished a lot for women in Macao, but she is still human and candidly admits to having a quick temper and may often react before fully understanding a situation. However, she is “always willing to apologise” and recalls the teachings of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication to guide her.
At the end of our interview, she told us that if she could have dinner with anyone of her choosing, she would sit down with her good friend Marie McCloud.
Sister Juliana passed away in December 2020.