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The Mission to Asia: A reflection for Foundation Day

Mother Marie Gratia Luking

“When my mind becomes occupied about the future of this foundation, it seems a matter of such importance that I can almost sink through weakness and can only get strength by casting it all into the arms of God’s Providence, living one day at a time, expecting everything from him.”

Those words were spoken by Mother Marie Gratia Luking in a letter to Mother Mary Bernard Laughlin during World War II. At the time, Japan had already invaded China, where the Sisters of Providence were ministering. However, through all of these trials and tribulations, the ministry has maintained, and Nov. 24 will mark the 97th year the Sisters of Providence have had a presence in Asia.

Over the course of the next handful of weeks, we will examine the past and present of this ministry, now based in Taiwan.

This is the prologue.

In 1919, a meeting between Bishop Joseph Tacconi and Mother Mary Cleophas Foley established the relationship between the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, and Asia.

During that meeting, Bishop Tacconi, of Kaifeng, China, asked Mother Mary Cleophas if Sisters of Providence could come teach at a school for young women in Kaifeng.

Mother Mary Cleophas agreed and dispatched Sisters Marie Gratia Luking, Mary Elise Renaud, Eugene Marie Howard, Marie Patricia Shortall, Clare Mitchell and Winifred Patrice O’Donovan, with Sister Marie Gratia taking the lead of the mission.

The six Sisters of Providence departed Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on October 29, 1920, and arrived in Kaifeng only 27 days later.

The first SP missionaries to China prior to departure Sept. 29, 1920: (from left) Sisters Winifred Patrice O’Donovan, Eugene Marie Howard, Marie Gratia Luking, the Rev. F.X. Clougherty, the Rev. J.N. Tacconi, the Rev. H.P. Lawton, Sister Clare Mitchell, the Rev. J. Kerin, Sisters Mary Elise Renauldt and Marie Patricia Shortall.

After setting up a medical dispensary and establishing the school, the sisters continued ministry in Kaifeng until 1927, when they were forced to leave because of the Communist uprising. They left for Korea, but returned to Kaifeng two years later.

At that time, they opened an orphanage and established a novitiate for women who wanted to enter religious life. Sister Marie Gratia knew a Congregation had to be founded, which in turn was the creation of the Providence Sister-Catechists, now known as the Missionary Sisters of Providence.

By the mid-1930s, Japan began attacking China, making life in Kaifeng difficult – not only for the residents, but for the sisters.

The day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Japanese soldiers attacked the sisters’ compound and the native Providence Sister-Catechists. The sisters from the states were taken and eventually were placed in a concentration camp.

However, after World War II came to a conclusion, the sisters returned to Kaifeng. But China soon began falling under Communist rule, forcing the sisters to relocate to Taiwan, settling in Taichung.

From there, Sister Marie Gratia and the other sisters worked to construct what is now known as Providence University.

In 1960, Mother Rose Angela Horan bestowed Sister Marie Gratia with the title of “Mother.”

Mother Marie Gratia died on Oct. 29, 1964.

Coming soon: Look for blogs by Sister Rose Chiu – featuring Miracle Home – and another blog by Sister Anne Therese Falkenstein!

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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  1. Avatar Melanie on November 30, 2017 at 3:14 pm

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