Sr Ethel was born in Lissycasey on the West coast of County Clare – a part of Ireland famed for its hospitality, music, song and sport.
In 1963 Sister Ethel joined the Little Company of Mary and was sent to South Africa in 1972. When she arrived in South Africa, she was based at Eersterust, outside Pretoria. The mission grew very successfully, and when it became self-sufficient and independent, she returned to Ireland.
In 1987 she was sent back to South Africa, this time to the coastal city of Port Elizabeth (now known as Gqeberha). Her heart was always with the poor and she set out to find a place where she could be of value.
She often spoke of the evening she first saw Missionvale. Traveling along Stanford Road, she found herself at the top of a hill looking down into a valley. As the sun was setting, the darkness of the place made an incredible impression on her. As she drove into the valley, she was shocked and horrified by the poverty she found there, but even more so at the fact that many people did not spare a thought for those living in such dire circumstances.
She had a profound moment that she described as something telling her to “go no further”.
It was in this forgotten shantytown on the outskirts of the city where she began, woman alone, with nothing but a rucksack on her back and where she met the people she would dedicate her life to.
There were several obstacles during this time – physical obstacles like not having facilities to work from, the searing African sun, incredible dust on windy days and the uneven terrain caused several painful falls. The biggest obstacle by far was to win the trust of the people and making it known that she was not doing the work for ulterior motives (keeping in mind that these were Apartheid days).
She had no transport and walked 45 minutes every day from her house to the township. A small figure in a blue veil, she walked door-to-door, introducing herself simply as “Ethel, from Lissycasey”.
One day she met a lady by the name of Diane who had a tree growing outside her home. Diane had seen Sr Ethel coming to the township every day, and said that she could use the tree as shelter for her.
Being a qualified nurse, Sr Ethel began with basic healthcare and soon many people sought assistance from underneath that famous tree. She treated everyone with exceptional love and care, something people speak of to this day.
The children began coming to her in big numbers and her first question to them was, “Why are you not at school?” When she investigated she discovered that their parents were not registered, which means they did not have a birth certificate. Without a birth certificate they could not get an ID Book and without an ID Book, they were not recognized as citizens of South Africa. So neither were any of their children and therefore had no entitlement to education.
This concerned her deeply and so she began dividing her time between teaching in the mornings and focusing on health care in the afternoons.
She loved skipping rope with the children and hearing their laughter. One of her favourite memories is that of a little girl who wrote her name for the very first time – and she wrote her first sentence: “I am beautiful.”
Still, Sr Ethel had absolutely nothing, and would carry her supplies in a purple and green rucksack. Two barrels with a plank over it became her first desk, until eventually she was given an old shipping container to work from.
Sr Ethel called on local business people to assist, and as a result, the Urban Foundation, under the leadership of Roger Matlock, built a small school with an annex that served as a clinic in 1988. It soon became evident that the need was greater than what the structure could accommodate. In 1990, a bigger clinic was built by the glass manufacturer, Shatterprufe (the PG Group).
In 2004 the Centre was officially registered as a Non-Profit Organization and a Public Benefit Organization.
Over time, and with the support from the Little Company of Mary, businesses and people (local and abroad), the Missionvale Care Centre grew significantly and Sr Ethel’s vision of holistic care became a reality.
In 2021, the unthinkable happened. Sr Ethel was diagnosed with cancer, and after only 6 weeks, tragically passed away. It was a great shock that reverberated around the globe as she had an extraordinary connection with people from all walks of life.
It is our mission to ensure Sr Ethel’s legacy lives on not only in what we do, but how we demonstrate compassionate care. In Mary Potter’s words: “If you bring healing, bring love” and that is what we strive to do each day.
The Centre offers a vast range of services to the Missionvale community and surrounding areas. Our purpose is to play a key role in building up the individuals, families and the community, through key initiatives guided by our values. Our values are aimed at restoring dignity, developing people, and giving them more control and options over their own lives.
|Sister Ethel Normoyle came to Missionvale with a passion and empathy for the marginalised.
|Mother Theresa visited Sister Ethel
|The Union of Jewish women chose Sister Ethel as Woman of the year
Opening of Missionvale Clinic. It was built for the people of Missionvale with funds provided by Shatterprufe.
The foundation phase of the school was built and accommodated learners up to Grade 3.
Erection of the Nutrition & Wellness Unit
|The Community Hall was built and was used the following year as a voting station for South Africa’s
first ever democratic election.
|Queen Elizabeth visited the Care Centre and in her Christmas message to the Commonwealth, she paid tribute to the wonderful work that Sister Ethel does at the Care Centre.
|Sister Ethel received the Tipperary Peace Award in Ireland. Previous recipient was Nelson Mandela.
|2001: Sister Ethel received an honorary doctorate from the University of Port Elizabeth
Opening of Our Lady of the Wayside Church
Building of the Clothing Warehouse
Opening of the sewing unit
Sister Ethel awarded two Paul Harris fellowships by Rotary.
Vegetable gardens become viable
Sr Ethel awarded the John Shelley Environmental Health Bursary
Sister Ethel invited as keynote speaker at Rotary International Convention in Copenhagen. The theme was poverty and education.
Missionvale Australia launched, see www.missionvale.com.au.
Caregivers begin visiting patients in their homes
|Sister Ethel awarded Clare person of the year in Ireland.
Sister Ethel honoured by President of South Africa at the opening of Parliament for the integrated approach of the Missionvale Care Centre in the fight against HIV/Aids.
Opening of the Community Health and Development Unit
Missionvale Ireland Limited launched, see www.missionvaleireland.org.
Sister Ethel invited by the Rotary Foundation to be the keynote speaker at their annual Foundation
Seminar, The Theme: 'Making Dreams Real for the Children of the World'.
Erection of the Caretakers Cottage.
Sr. Ethel honoured by President Motlanthe with the Order of the Grand Counsellor of the Baobab:
Silver, one of South Africa’s top awards, for her excellent service to society.
Missionvale Care Centre’s Community Health Practitioners won 1st prize in the first annual Port Elizabeth Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry Health & Wellness Awards for work done with HIV / Aids patients.
Sr Ethel received Certificate of Honour from Port Elizabeth Mayor, Zanoxolo Wayile
The Community Health Practitioners received first prize in the Nelson Mandela Business Chamber Health & Wellness Awards (NGO category) and Dr Johann Strömbeck (volunteer doctor at our Clinic) became the first ever recipient of the “Wellness Champion” award.
Sr Ethel invited to speak at the St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, Northern Ireland
Our Agricultural Team won the first ever Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber Wellness Team Award for their work creating sustainable vegetable gardens in Missionvale
Missionvale USA launched - see www.missionvaleusa.org
Head of Health Esterlene Campbell and Nursing Sister Annie van der Merwe won Wellness Impact and Wellness Champion Awards respectively at the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber Health & Wellness Awards 2014
Our school finally reached a great milestone by adding Grade 7 and became a fully fledged primary school.
Our team of volunteer physiotherapists were awarded First Prize in the Wellness Team category at the Annual Nelson Mandela Business Chamber Health &Wellness Awards
The Strategic Plan for the sustainability of the Care Centre was officially launched. As part of this, Nelson Mandela University and Missionvale Care Centre signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding.
Our Marketing Manager, Linda van Oudheusden won the Business Women’s Regional Achievers Award in the Social Entrepreneur Category
Samantha Streak (Trustee), won the Professional Category in the in the Business Women’s Regional
Linda van Oudheusden was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship by the Rotary Club of PE West
Sr Ethel spoke to over 1000 young Irish people at the Basilica of Knock in Ireland for the Pope John
Paul II Award
The Impumelelo Training Centre is launched
Support groups begin and a Doctor and Social worker join the team
The Legacy Art Project holds its first ever public exhibition
A new Youth development Building is completed