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.