Sister Doreen Lai
Years in the Congregation: 17 years
My grandparents and parents came from Mainland China, but I was born in Singapore. Growing up in this multicultural environment was enriching. A melange of spiritual experiences colored my earliest years. An ancestral shrine held a place of honor in our home, and I remember that each morning my grandmother would light joss-sticks and pay her respects before the shrine. I attended a Catholic nursery school with my older sister and brother. The Irish sister who taught us were great educators. Each of them seemed to radiate both love and goodness. Each Sunday, we joined our friends and neighbors to sing and listen to the pastor preach the Word of God at a nearby Pentecostal church. Through these experiences I first came to know God and to love God in others.
Though there was no Catholic elementary school, the Irish sisters who staffed the nursery school also operated a junior and senior high school. These sisters taught us Catechism every morning. I loved to hear the Bible stories, to learn about the Church teaching, to discover how Christians should live today, to share the good news of the Gospel with others. Eventually, after graduating from high school, I was baptized.
After high school, I enrolled in the Institute of Education. When I completed my studies, I began teaching in elementary school and in junior and senior high schools in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. Most of these were mission schools so I had the joy and privilege of teaching Catechism to my students.
A catechetical course took me to Taiwan in 1982, and a year later I first encountered the Sisters of Providence. I visited the local community of SPs in Taishan, in the northern part of Taiwan. After the Eucharistic celebration, they invited me to share supper with them. It was truly a family meal. I felt very much at home and accepted.
The sisters shared with me stories about their life and ministry in Taishan. I, in turn, shared with them my experiences in Singapore when I worked with the social welfare department and worked with abused women, drug addicts, and prisoners. I learned about the Congregation’s history and heritage, of its founding in Indiana and its early years in Taiwan. They also told me of the many different ministries in which members of the community were engaged.
I listened to it all with keen interest. I already felt drawn to life as a sister because of my work in Singapore. I felt called to walk with the weak, the the meek in our world. I believed I had the responsibility to speak for the voiceless. The Sister of Providence were doing that. They reflected God’s care through their works of love, mercy, and justice. This day left a very deep impression on me.
My next encounter with the Sisters of Providence came a year later. I was teaching part-time at Providence College which the Sister of Providence founded, and I came regularly to share meals with the sisters who ministered there. Being with them each morning for the Eucharistic Liturgy and to pray together brought me the greatest happiness. These quiet moments helped to deepen my faith, hope, and love.
Through continued contact with individual sisters, by witnessing their work in various ministries, I knew that they were furthering God’s loving plan. A strong desire to join them grew within me. I wanted to be a Sister of Providence if it was the will of God. Even as a child, I felt an intense urge to share the message of God’s love with the people of China. As I came to know this congregation of sisters, it became clear to me that Providence, too, had a design for me: to carry on God’s mission of love and reconciliation, I found myself identifying more with the Sisters of Providence, and in 1988, I requested to join the Congregation.
My Providence journey continued as I ministered with physically and mentally disable children at St. Theresa Opportunity Center. Though most of the people in Taiwan are not Catholic, they accept and support our ministry with these children.
The grandmother of one of my students, a boy named K-Sing, said to me in Taiwanese one day, “I don’t know what it is, but the way you hold my little grandson is different from the other teachers.” Then she reached out and touched my SP cross. “You wear this white cross of your God. I do not know who this God is, but there is a special love in your heart.”
Prayer is part of everyday life at St. Theresa’s. Though most of the teachers are not Christians, they join in our prayers and are happy to take turns preparing the prayers and hymns at our weekly meetings. They tell me that they experience peace and love working at the Center. Even the little ones in my class (none older than five and only one can speak) do not open their lunch boxes until I make the sign of the cross and recite grace before meals. At the word “Amen” they beam their sweetest smiles and then begin to eat.
When I went to work at St. Theresa’s, I thought I had a lot to give to the teachers and students. Instead, they have taught me to be grateful for little things, to smile when a child with cerebral palsy struggles to help a friend pick up his bag. My heart was forever touched when one of my students who has Down’s Syndrome wiped away the tears of another classmate.
Today, I minister as a consumer service coordinator for the North Los Angeles County Regional Center, ministering to developmentally disabled adults. I came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1995 to prepare for my perpetual vows, which I professed in 1996. Later I worked at Genesis House in Chicago where I ministered to prostitutes.
Though many miles separate me from most Sister of Providence, I am bonded to them by faith, by our charisma and by the God who is the center of our lives. I am blessed to be a Sister or Providence. The lives of all the sisters have enriched my own and we continue this Providence journey together.
time of day: early morning
least favorite course in school: English literature
If I weren’t an SP: I’d be a missionary in China.
Flower: bamboo; it bends but does not break
vacation spot: a cabin in the mountains
zoo animals: pandas and koala bears
food: spicy noodles, chicken wings
least favorite food: beans
heroine: My great-grandmother Chin Choo (Precious Pearl) who saved dozens of baby girls during the Cultural Revolution.
childhood activity: jumping into stacks of hay
quote: “The past is yours, learn from it. The present is yours, fulfill it.” -Walter Fauntroy
my best friend says: I’m too organized.