My Current Situation in Asia: A Quadrillion Blessings
Note: This blog was written by Sister Anne Therese Falkenstein, Professor/Special Assistant to the President and Trustee at Providence University, Taichung Taiwan.
To say that my life as a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods has been abundantly blessed is an understatement. I entered the Community in 1979 and had the privilege of teaching in schools in California and Chicago prior to becoming involved in Asia in February 1995. During my first two years in Taiwan, I was given the opportunity to study Mandarin Chinese full-time at Fu Jen University in New Taipei. Upon leaving Fu Jen, I began what has become a 20-year journey at Providence University in Taichung, where I currently serve as a trustee, professor and special assistant to the president. As such, I have been blessed a quadrillion times with great students, colleagues, friends, challenges, local experiences and international adventures.
Recently, I had an incredible experience in Kaifeng, China, the birthplace of Providence University. The founding story is very complicated. However, the concise version begins with the desire of the Sisters of Providence to be God’s love, mercy and justice in the world. This aspiration led to a commitment to strive for gender equity in Chinese society through the education of girls in 1920.
As a result, Sister Marie Gratia Luking, SP, of Connersville, Indiana, was chosen as the leader of her sister co-laborers who were to establish a school in Kaifeng, China, in 1921. To fully understand the heroism of Sister Maria Gratia and her sisters, one has to imagine the atrocities committed by the Japanese armies in China and the Civil War with the Communist Revolution as its final stage. Despite so much adversity, the sisters established at least three schools there, the first in 1921, the second in 1932, and the third in 1945. They also founded a Chinese religious community, The Missionary Sisters of Providence, took care of orphans, and tended to the wounded and dying.
In 1948, after attending to so many of the desperate needs around them for almost three decades, Mother Marie Gratia realized that the severity of the situation in Kaifeng necessitated that the sisters leave behind all those who they loved and worked for so selflessly there. Eventually, their departure led to the founding of Providence University in Taiwan.
Today, Providence University is strong with more than 12,000 traditional students and the original Ching I (Jing Yi) Middle School that was founded in 1932 was renamed Kaifeng Ba Zhong (Kaifeng Eight Middle School) and is owned and operated by the Chinese government. A lifelong dream came true for me when I and a colleague, Fu Mei Lu, were given the opportunity to visit Kaifeng Ba Zhong for the first time. It was an unbelievable experience and our hosts were extremely gracious.
Part 3: Recent Visit to the Original Ching I Middle School, founded in 1932
When we arrived at the school, now named Kaifeng Ba Zhong, on Nov. 6, 2017, we were greeted by the school’s administrative team, the immediate past principal, and Ms. Xu, a very knowledgeable and dedicated music teacher.
After the initial greeting, we had the pleasure of listening to music performances by students.
We also visited the school’s legacy museum. In addition to highlighting Mother Marie Gratia Luking and other key figures in the foundation story, the exhibition focuses on one of the school’s most courageous early alums, Pei Ying Wang, who stood up for justice and paid the ultimate price of her life for doing so. Her son, Mr. Zhang, is one of the main reasons why the school boasts having 1,000 students. In honor of his mother, he established a foundation about seven years ago that provides students with a nutritious meal every day, two uniforms a year and the resources they need to tour Taiwan. It was obvious that his kind generosity was greatly appreciated at the school.
Next, we were treated to a Chinese etiquette class and a cheerleading performance.
One of my most favorite experiences was interacting with the students in an English class. During the exchange, students expressed their dreams to become doctors, teachers, engineers and military personnel and to travel the world. They used English and spoke with a great deal of confidence. It was very impressive.
When we were finished visiting classes, we viewed videos showcasing Kaifeng Ba Zhong and Providence University. They were followed by a great discussion with the school’s administrators. We spoke of the founding spirit of Mother Marie Gratia Luking and how dedicated she was in using her abilities to serve others. I mentioned that I could see similarities between Mother Marie Gratia Luking and Pei Ying Wang. For example, they were both strong women who stood up and spoke out for the most vulnerable individuals in society. They made painful sacrifices and took risks regardless of the consequences that they had to endure themselves, because they knew their hearts could not be at peace if other humans were suffering. They were women of love, mercy and justice. From my perspective, it was the Providence of God that put both women’s lives in motion and it is the Providence of God that has kept Ba Zhong open to this day.
I wish the teachers, staff and administrators of Kaifeng Ba Zhong School all the best and I humbly congratulate them on the great work that they are doing for their students. They are truly an amazing group of people.
Part Four: The Big Surprise
After a great day at Kaifeng Ba Zhong School and meeting with government officials, we set out in search of the 1932 home of Mother Marie Gratia Luking. Ms. Xu led the way and we were very surprised to see that the building was still standing and that we could actually go inside of it. Until then, neither the Sisters of Providence nor the Missionary Sisters of Providence in Taiwan were aware that the home was still there. It was absolutely thrilling. The house is tucked away on the campus of an early childhood school and one needs and electronic fingerprint or special permission to receive entrance into the campus. We were so happy to be allowed in.
Part 5: Nan Kuan
Still so excited about finding Mother Marie Gratia’s home, the next day, we traveled to Nan Kuan where we visited the Marie Gratia Home for the Elderly and two Missionary Sisters of Providence. We were also ecstatic to see the remains of the novitiate and church that Mother Marie Gratia built. The entire experience was one of the great quadrillion blessings of my life as a Sister of Providence.
How wonderful to read of your experiences. Certainly is a long, long way from St. Polycarp but it took me back to growing up on stories from the Bugle Call.
Many continued blessings in your ministry.
It’s interesting that you would mention St. Polycarp because while I was in Kaifeng, I kept thinking about how my father used to send me to St. Polycarp School with money to contribute to the “Chinese mission”. I am not sure exactly where the mission was that benefitted from such endeavors, but I am guessing Taiwan and possibly an orphanage in the Mainland. Such a fundraising effort on an elementary school level makes me believe that no person’s efforts are insignificant, no idea is too small and no dream is too big. Our nuns were not just collecting chain from us to help others, they were teaching us that our actions matter and they were expanding our world views and hearts.
How thrilling to hear of this visit, Anne Therese! It is beautiful how the ministry of Mother Marie Gratia and her companions lives on today. And I hope you will share with us sometime what you learned in Chinese etiquette class. 🙂
I would be happy to share what I learned in the Chinese etiquette class with you next summer. As you know, expressions of politeness are intriguing aspects of culture and vary so much. It was a gift to be taught by such a sincere young student.
Thanks for this informative blog as well as for your contribution to the ongoing mission in Taiwan.
There is no doubt in my mind that if you were there you would have a hundred creative ways to share such a profound experience and another hundred great ideas about how to keep in relationship with several people in Kaifeng. It is exciting to know that three years from now will mark the 100th Anniversary of the SP relationship with China, the 90th Anniversary of the Missionary Sisters of Providence and the 10th Anniversary of the Zhang Da Zhong Foundation.
Anne Therese, I loved reading this blog and am so happy for you. You make it very clear that the days were a blessing and you experienced being on holy ground. Thanks so much for including us in your experiences in such a vivid and loving way! Denise
Thanks for always being so encouraging. Thanks too for sharing your experiences of France via livestream. How very fortunate we have been to walk in the footsteps of such inspiring Sisters of Providence.
Anne Therese, what a beautiful visit you had. Thanks for the all the history and
connections you made while there. It was such an interesting account.
Dear Marie Grace,
I have been thinking about the map of the Wei Hsien (Wei Xian) Camp and the signature note that you were kind enough to bring to my attention last summer. My understanding is that part of the camp still exists and that there is a memorial wall that lists the names, occupations and countries of those who were interned there. I can only imagine the extreme reliance on Providence that Marie Gratia, Marie Patricia, Mary Margaretta, Monica Marie, Carmel, Agnes Loyola, Saint Francis, Francis de Sales, Mary Liguori, Theodata and so many others that were interned there must have had that gave them the courage to go from one day to the next. As we journey into Advent, lets keep all those who have suffered as a result of war and the world’s need for peace in prayer.
Thank you so much, Sister Anne Therese! I have read the story about the Sisters going to China several times and was so pleased to read your blog. There are so many parallels in the story of our Mother Theodore and Sister Marie Gratia and their companions. wouldn’t you agree? I have been to Ruille and Taiwan is on my bucket list, so I was drawn to your story. At Part 4, I couldn’t believe you found Mother Marie Gratia’s home and that you were able to go inside. Perhaps you have pictures and they will be sent to Archives? When I got to Part 5 and saw the picture of the church Mother Marie Gratia had built, I almost stopped breathing. You are so special to share all of this with us……even more special that your name is Anne Therese, don’t you think? Did you ever imagine when you entered this community that you would one day be at Providence University? Continued blessings on you and your work.
You are most welcome to visit us in Taiwan. Also, I do have pictures of the 1932 home that Mother Maria Gratia lived in and would be happy to send them to Archives.