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Elizabeth Kuo, beloved “Grandma Kuo” of the sisters in Asia

Grandma Kuo

In the center of a 1983 snapshot of 11 smiling Sisters of Providence ministering in Taiwan, sits a serene figure — Elizabeth Kuo — lovingly known as “Grandma Kuo.” A faithful companion and excellent cook, Elizabeth was an essential part of the Providence community for 72 years. Sister Delan Ma met Elizabeth in 1962, and over the years Grandma Kuo told Delan many stories about her life with the sisters.

As a 24-year-old widow with two children, Elizabeth Kuo had found work and shelter with the American sisters in China in 1931 and remained as a loyal part of the community until her death in 2003. After her daughter died, the sisters taught Elizabeth and her son Paul Catholic doctrine. Both were baptized before Paul also died.

Loyal companion

In every stage of the sisters’ trials in China, Aunt (or Grandma as she was later called) Kuo was there, walking to the markets every day, sending meals to the sisters in house arrest, sleeping on a cot in the room where the sisters took their meals. When the sisters were sent to a concentration camp in 1943, Elizabeth Kuo was inconsolable. In 1944, the sisters were allowed to move to house arrest in Beijing, and Mother Marie Gratia sent for Elizabeth, who slept in a small storage room and cooked on charcoal stoves in a courtyard, with a straw mat to block sunlight and rain.

Elizabeth, center front, with Sisters of Providence

In 1948, when life in communist China became too dangerous, the sisters fled to Shanghai. Elizabeth Kuo joined them shortly after. When Mother Marie Gratia decided to move the community to Taiwan, Elizabeth was also with them. In Taiwan she lived with the sisters in each of their make-shift dwellings, sleeping on the floor of a tiny kitchen and cooking in a small lean-to until a kitchen was built in the new school in 1954. She continued to cook for the sisters for many years.

Elizabeth remained a devout Christian, attending Mass with the sisters every day. Sister Delan remembers that, “Usually after dinner, she finished work, she went to the convent chapel to pray the Rosary and silently talked to God and Blessed Mother Mary.” Students who were to be baptized often asked her to be their godmother. “She was strong in faith, worked hard all her life, kept her duty and did what pleased God.” Delan remembers her as courteous, kind and intelligent. She was a versatile cook, preparing both Chinese and western dishes. When the sisters tried to convince her to take a break, “she always said, I am bored when I am idle.”

Grandma Kuo

Family

Grandma Kuo was loved by each sister as if she were her mother. The sisters in turn “loved and took care of her like our own grandma.” In 1990, the sesquicentennial celebration of the Sisters of Providence, the community made sure Grandma Kuo took one more journey with the Sisters of Providence — this time to Indiana and Saint Mary-of-the Woods.

When Mother Marie Gratia was dying, Aunt Kuo spent her free time caring for her. She said Mother Marie Gratia had taken care of her like a mother, “so she must do her filial duty at the end of her life.” When Elizabeth died in 2003, the sisters honored her wish to be buried near Mother Marie Gratia.

Sister Delan writes: “Grandma Kuo is the first Associate of the Sisters of Providence. Although she did not make three vows in the Sisters of Providence, she actually lived the wonderful life of the three vows completely.”

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

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Sister Janet Gilligan

Sister Janet Gilligan is a volunteer in the Sisters of Providence Archives. A retired English professor, she enjoys her role as an archivist — answering queries, writing grants, and learning how to digitize collections.

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