The nuns of lepers: Compassion, discipline and surrogate parenthood in a former leper colony of Vietnam

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    Abstract

    This paper focuses on a Christian model of leprosy care overseen by Catholic nuns in Quy Hòa, a leprosarium in South Central Vietnam, from 1929—when the leper colony was established—until 1975, when the American-backed Southern regime collapsed and all of Quy Hòa's foreign nuns were forced to leave. Drawing on recollections of elderly residents of the former leprosy colony, it describes the close and loving attention that the nuns offered to inmates, an attentiveness that was informed by the nuns' ethic of Christian sacrifice. The nuns at Quy Hòa successfully built a quasi parent-child relationship with leprosy-afflicted inmates. Their striking devotion to the 'lepers' resembles substitute motherhood. However, these recollections of that era also shed critical light on an approach to leprosy care that was premised on hierarchy, strictly enforced segregation from the wider community and pronounced paternalism towards all those who came under the nuns' rule of care.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)350-366
    JournalThe Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology
    Volume19
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2018

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