In a spirit of thanksgiving and joy, members from several Filipino Solidarity groups hosted an ecumenical celebration and tribute for Our Lady of Sion Sister Patricia Fox to commemorate her golden jubilee and 75th birthday. Sr Pat is well known and loved among the Filipino community in Melbourne and abroad, having spent 28 years advocating for the rights of rural and urban people living in poverty across the Philippines, including farmers, workers, fisherfolk and Indigenous peoples.

In 2018, Sr Pat was controversially deported from the Philippines, having been accused by the government of taking part in illegal political activities. She didn’t want to leave the Philippines but had no choice. Fortunately, this has not stopped her human rights activism and solidarity work with the Filipino people, which continues today, as does her commitment to building a world of justice, peace, and love.

A desire to be among the people

Born in Preston and raised in Box Hill, Sr Patricia ‘Pat’ Fox attended primary and secondary schools run by the Our Lady of Sion Sisters. Inspired by their example and how they related to her and the students, she joined the congregation at 21 and was professed in the chapel of her college 50 years ago. Her earlier years of ministry saw her working with and supporting mothers living in the Kensington social housing commission flats, to the north of the city, as well as supporting ‘kids living on the streets’.

In the mid-1970s she spent three years at the congregation’s pilgrim house in the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel, a usual practice for the sisters given their roots are based in Judaism. While there, she met a Filipina Franciscan Missionary of Mary who, speaking of the plight of her people under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, inspired in Sr Pat a desire to “be among the people in their fight for justice, peace and security”.

Following this trip, Sr Pat returned to Sydney, studied law, and volunteered at a legal aid centre. During semester break, she had an opportunity to visit the Philippines and was again inspired by the Filipino people’s ‘struggle and movement for justice’. So, when the congregation was invited to consider establishing a foundation in the Philippines, Sr Pat jumped at the opportunity. Together with Sr Oonah O’Shea, another Australian sister, Sr Pat commenced her ministry in the Philippines in 1990, a ministry that sought to see the world through the eyes of the poor.

For 28 years, Sr Pat lived ‘among the people’, advocating for their rights to fair work and pay conditions, for security of land, justice, and peace. Much of her work involved human rights advocacy, visiting people wrongly imprisoned by the Duterte administration and holding the government and military to account for many ‘brutal actions’ taken against mostly poor, urban, and rural workers and Indigenous peoples. She joined the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in 1991 and became regional coordinator of Central Luzon in 1998 and then national coordinator in 2000. These roles took her across the Philippines meeting with people in their homes and their fields, in schools and mountainous lands. She joined street rallies calling for peace and justice for the workers of the Philippines.

When Sr Pat was deported in late 2018 by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, she was ‘devastated and shocked’. Since returning to Melbourne, she has spent much time speaking at public events to share her experience in the Philippines, while also raising awareness of the human rights abuses taking place. She continues to be part of several solidarity movements, both overseas and locally, fighting for justice and peace in the Philippines.

Celebrating Sr Pat’s Golden Jubilee

The celebration on Saturday 2 April at the Dandenong Regional Uniting Church was a testament to the great love and respect held for Sr Pat by the local Filipino Solidarity movements. Throughout the afternoon, there were a string of tributes read out, congratulating and thanking Pat for her tireless and fearless work in supporting the rural and urban poor, the fisherfolk and farmers, and Indigenous peoples of the Philippines.

A slideshow of photographs on display throughout the afternoon’s celebrations showed Sr Pat among the people, with young and old, participating in street rallies, looking over fields and crops with workers, speaking at press conferences, and visiting those in prison – many are ‘falsely imprisoned on trumped up charges’ according to Sr Pat.

The celebration was jointly organised by Our Lady of Sion Sisters congregation (Australian Region), Philippine Caucus for Peace, Advanced League of Peoples’ Artists, Promotion for Church People’s Response Australian Chapter, and hosted by Rev. Berlin Guerrero of the Dandenong Regional Uniting Church and long-time friend and fellow activist, Rev. Andrew Tiver. In thanking the organisers and those who attended, Sr Pat said the event also served to raise funds and awareness for the victims of human rights violations and their families.

We considered that to host a fundraiser as part of this celebration was consistent with our solidarity with those who are suffering human rights abuses in the Philippines,’ Sr Pat said. ‘And actually, the situation has gotten worse and worse under President Duterte as the May 9 election comes up … we’re already noticing an escalation in human rights violations.’

Sr Pat shared several stories of close friends who had been tortured or killed in recent years at the hands of the military or government officials. ‘There’s just one after the other,’ she said. ‘All of these people need both moral and financial support because if they’re in jail they need medicines, they need food, they need help with their legal costs if the matter is going to court.’

In Australia, Sr Pat is committed to continue the fight for justice in the Philippines and to make the issues and struggles of the people known in Australia. She is part of a movement trying to prevent the Australian government from providing military aid to the Philippines, which she said is ‘going toward the military who are killing Filipino people’. Together with others, she is writing letters and lobbying members of parliament across Australia to stop the aid.

In line with this work, Sr Pat is currently chair of the Australian chapter of the International Coalition of Human Rights in the Philippines, and is secretary of Pax Christi Victoria, which is part of Pax Christi Australia and International, a role which sees her advocating for peace across the world. She is also a member of Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH).

Speaking of Sr Pat’s contribution, Rev. Berlin said, ‘It is important for the Filipino community and solidarity friends to hold this event to celebrate Sr Pat’s 75th birthday, to commemorate her 50 years of ministry as a nun, and to thank her for her continuing contribution to the Filipino people’s struggle for genuine freedom, democracy and human rights.

It is from people like her that I learned what international solidarity is about. Her mission work, consciously directed to the poor, deprived and oppressed sectors of Philippines society, transcends national boundaries and cultures, and very Christ-like in the sense that Christ has already embraced us all no matter who we are. As a nun, she has chosen to be on the side of the exploited and oppressed sectors of society.’

In closing the day’s official celebrations, Sr Pat said, ‘Thanks once again to everybody for today. This is a celebration of the struggles of the people who never give up hope, who continue to fight for justice, freedom, true democracy in their own country and around the world. So, it’s a celebration of the people’s solidarity, people’s rights, and the people’s eventual victory.’

Learn more about Sr Pat Fox’s ministry in the Philippines at the Global Sisters Report.