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Sister Donna Marie Fu: Called by God to serve a global church

Sister Donna Marie Fu

Madeline Fu, the future Sister Donna Marie, first met the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in her native China. The sisters had recently been released from imprisonment during the Second World War and were able to return to their Ching I School mission in the city of Kaifeng. Madeline’s father had been educated in a German Catholic University, so he enrolled his daughter in the Catholic-run Ching I.

At first the young Madeline avoided the school’s elective religious services. But she began asking questions about religion. She was soon meeting several times a week with Sister Agnes Joan Li. By the following year, Madeline was attending Mass every day, and she asked her parents if she could be baptized. She and three close friends became active leaders in religious activities and invited others to share the joy of their new-found faith.

Displaced by war

Life became increasingly difficult during ensuing months. Communists battled Nationalists for control of Kaifeng. Madeline’s parents arranged for her and her younger brother to leave with her older sister Martha and her husband. She was sent to a Catholic girls’ boarding school in Shanghai. There she reconnected with the Sisters of Providence, who had also fled Kaifeng. Soon the young refugee family had to move again, finally settling to Taiwan.

Madeline went to Taichung to visit the Sisters of Providence who had also settled there. She taught Chinese for a few months in the American school they staffed there. When the school year began, she returned to Taipei to complete high school and then begin college as an English major.

Novice Director Sister Marie Ambrose McKenna, left, helps Madeline Fu, the future Sister Donna Marie, with her new postulant clothing upon her entering the Sisters of Providence in December of 1953.

Ever since her baptism the young Madeline had known she wanted to become a religious sister. “I said to myself, 20 is the golden year of your life. You should give it to God.” Mother Marie Gratia wrote to the motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to request that Madeline enter. Because of the Korean war and worsened political situation, Congregation leadership told her to wait. Madeline’s spiritual director, Fr. Juan Goyoaga, SJ, was worried that she would enter another congregation. He interceded for her. After hasty passport arrangements, Madeline and a friend left Taiwan on Christmas Day in 1953 flying to Chicago. After staying overnight with the sisters at Providence High School, a sister accompanied her by train to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. It had been 25 years since a woman from China had entered the Congregation. She was greeted warmly as a Christmas gift.

Becoming a sister

Adapting to American food and to what she regarded as strange novitiate practices was not easy. But she recalls: “I always thought, one more thing to offer.”

During her time of formation as a sister in the United States, Sister Donna Marie completed her college degree and gained teaching experience before returning to Taiwan. Back in Taichung she was a welcome addition to the faculty of the rapidly growing Providence College. Student activity duties provided opportunity to introduce the young women students to Catholic action opportunities and devotions. Several requested to be baptized.

Sister Donna Marie returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for final vows in 1961. She returned to the U.S. again in 1966 with a two-year Fulbright grant. She studied psychology and earned a master’s degree from Indiana State University. She then studied theology at Loyola University in Chicago and attended a Formation Program in Connecticut. On her return to Taiwan, she began the psychology department at Providence College. Then, in 1972 she returned to the United States to earn an educational doctorate degree at Indiana University. She then ministered at Immaculata Junior College in Washington, D.C. where she worked with international students and began an outreach adult education program.

In 1979 Sister Donna Marie accepted an invitation from the president of Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei to join the faculty as both professor and director of public relations. Here she also hosted symposia of international dignitaries and scholars. During these years she was able to travel to Saint Mary-of-the Woods for important meetings. She also helped the women in formation in Taiwan to become Sisters of Providence.

Return to China

In the 1980s when the Asian Bishops Conference encouraged Catholic contacts in China, Sister Donna Marie struggled with a decision about whether or not to return. In 1988 she and Sister Edith Pfau joined Cecilia, her friend from Ching I school days, on a tour to reacquaint herself with her much-changed homeland.

Sister Donna Marie is given a cheerful send off by the sisters at Saint Mary-of-the-Wood in 1958 as she returns to Taiwan to teach in Providence College in Taichung.

By the 1990s organizations were looking for instructors to teach English in Chinese universities. Sister Donna Marie was encouraged to apply. So, she brushed up on a subject she had not taught for years. And, in 1993, when she was eligible to retire, she began a 22-year career as an English teacher in Chinese universities. But for her, the real ministry was on the weekends. Soon she found Catholic parishes where she could use her passion for evangelization in teaching and practicing the truths of the faith.

In one such parish a Franciscan sister introduced her to a young woman named Anji Fan who was hoping to become a religious sister. Sister Donna Marie helped arrange for her to move to the United States, where she later joined the Sisters of Providence.

In Sister Donna’s final two years in China, she worked with three priests to plan a program to train religious sisters for marriage counseling. After 24 years ministering in China, a fall and continuing heart problems led Sister Donna Marie to return to Taiwan.

A fulfilling life

Sister Donna Marie feels she experienced such a fulfilling life in answering her own call to offer her life to God. She continues to encourage that call in other young women. She regrets that political circumstances have prevented others from following a similar path. Today, Sister Donna Marie continues to assist with vocation promotion in Asia from her home in Taiwan.

For Donna Marie, the gift of herself at age 20 has extended into many golden years serving God through works of love, mercy and justice across a global church.

(Originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Maureen Abbott

Sister Maureen Abbott

Sister Maureen has been a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods since 1956. She has served as a teacher at junior high and high school levels. She also ministered as a principal at three different Catholic schools. Sister Maureen has also ministered in diocesan administration positions and was the author of the Sisters of Providence fourth volume community history book. Currently, she ministers in the Archives Department as a community historian.

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