Sister Agnes Joan Li
“Sister Agnes Joan has been a heroine … . She really deserves much credit and a place of honor in our history.” (Mother Marie Gratia Luking, quoted in “Against All Odds” p. 188)
“The account of Sister Agnes Joan’s vital role in the preservation of the Ching I School in Kaifeng during World War II has perhaps become more familiar to us than ever following our current LGU study of the Mission in Asia,” said Sister Ruth Eileen Dwyer, in the commentary for Sister Agnes Joan Li, who died Jan. 17. “The account clearly tells the value of the role she played as the only Sister of Providence in Kaifeng during those perilous days from 1940 to 1944,” continued Sister Ruth Eileen, who prepared the commentary with the assistance of Sister Dorothy Souligny.
The first of eight children of Joseph and Martha Nu Li, Agnes Li was born Feb. 21, 1910, in Kaifeng, Honan Province, China. She attended primary and secondary school at Hua Mei, Kaifeng, a school opened by the Sisters of Providence.
“Mother Marie Gratia recognized her talents as a probationer. When the opportunity to send young women to America presented itself, Mother Marie Gratia received permission to send three young women to enter as postulants at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods,” said Sister Ruth Eileen.
Agnes entered the Congregation May 11, 1930. Of the three young Chinese women to enter the Congregation, she was the only one to profess first and perpetual vows Aug. 15, 1933, and Sept. 25, 1938, respectively. Sister Agnes Joan earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in mathematics from Indiana State University.
Sister Agnes Joan served in Kaifeng from 1937 to 1949 and then ministered at Providence-in-China in Formosa (Taiwan) from 1949 to 1951. She returned to Taiwan three more times in the 1950s and 1960s. In the United States, she taught mathematics at Marywood, Anaheim, Calif.; Our Lady of Providence High School, Clarksville, Ind.; Washington Catholic High School, Washington, Ind.; and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. From 1972 to 1980, Sister Agnes Joan returned to Taiwan to Providence College, Taichung, where she taught calculus and was head of the math department and a councilor. After a year-long mission furlough at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, she returned to Providence University, now in Shalu, and served in a variety of capacities until 1991. She returned to the Woods in that year.
Sister Ruth Eileen shared, “Sister Agnes Joan came to Lourdes Hall in 1991 to offer the gift of her ministry of prayer. She closed a generous and grace-filled life in Mother Theodore Hall, where her radiant smile in the midst of pain and discomfort almost always called forth a returning smile from those who greeted her. A favorite personal enjoyment was to paint roses and other flowers on note cards, thus imitating her father, who was both attorney and artist.”
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Agnes Joan was celebrated Jan. 24, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She is survived by three sisters, Josephine Li and Mary Wang of Kaifeng and Theresa Chan of Hong Kong.
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