Sister Donna Marie Fu
In the very last paragraph, on the very last page of a 21-page transcript of Sister Donna Marie Fu’s oral history, is written this comment made by Donna to Sister Maureen Abbott:
“I love people truly and did work cheerfully.”
In the days that have passed since “Fu Shoney” (Sister Donna Marie) died the morning of March 27 (Taiwan time), the veracity of these words has come home to me time and time again, said Sister Dawn Tomaszewski in her commentary for Sister Donna Marie Fu, who passed away on March 27, 2022, in Taiwan. She was 89-years-old and had been a Sister of Providence for 68 years.
Sister Dawn continued: At her funeral in Taishan, Taiwan, the young priest, whom she herself had chosen to preside at her funeral, gave testimony to her loving patience and cheerful perseverance as she taught him English.
In the comments offered by her family members in the video that was part of services both in Taishan and later that week at Providence University in Shalu, we heard over and over again their expressions of love and appreciation for the presence of her love in their lives.
And in the observations expressed by our sisters here and in Taiwan, and by the many friends and alumni who have been communicating about what Donna Marie meant to them, we can say without a doubt:
Donna Marie loved people truly. AND she did work cheerfully.
Oh, I know she had her moments, as we all do, but can you not, in your mind’s eye, still see that great smile of hers, look into those bright eyes and experience her indomitable spirit? I daresay, if she had been on the beach with Jesus the morning that was depicted in today’s Gospel, he would not have had to ask her three times, “Do you love me?” She would have made it known to him immediately.
And in response to Jesus’ instructions to “feed my lambs and tend my sheep,” I feel sure she would have been offering suggestions on just how to do that. Donna Marie’s love of people was coupled with a determined missionary spirit that she put at the service of the mission of Providence throughout the 68 years she journeyed with us.
Donna Marie/Fu Baoshan met us as a student at Ching I high school in Kaifung after her family moved to Kaifung at the end of World War II. In her retelling of this part of her life, Donna made it clear that she had “no religion at all – and no interest in religion at all.” It turns out, however, that her father had actually been baptized a Catholic sometime during his high school or college years, though none of the family knew until many years later.
It seems Providence had designs on the young Fu Baoshan from the moment she arrived at Ching I. And the patience, perseverance and holy cards showered upon her by another missionary – Sister Agnes Joan Li – led to Donna’s baptism sometime with that first year of her coming to Kaifung.
According to our records, her baptismal name was Madeline. However, her niece knew her as Magdalene and that is the name that will appear on Donna’s tombstone in Da-zhi Catholic Cemetery in Taiwan where she will rest alongside the other Sisters of Providence who will eventually be buried there.
Donna reported to Sister Maureen that at the time of her baptism she asked Jesus in the Eucharist as she also received her first Holy Communion, if she might become a Sister of Providence. “I wanted to belong to Him only,” she said.
But her vocation would be delayed by the turmoil in China. Like our own Sisters and other missionaries in China, her family literally raced to stay safe and ahead of the Communist takeover of China.
Donna recalled: “My parents asked my married sister to take my younger brother John and me to run to the South of China. We tried never to stay where the Communists (were). (My parents) could not leave since both my father’s aunt and my mother’s mother didn’t want to leave. So my younger brother and I came out with my sister Martha and her family, her husband and a newborn baby.”
Her brother John was only 6. Donna was 14. They never saw their parents again.
“At first we went to Nanjing (they sent me to Shanghai to a Catholic high school), then they moved to Suzhou and I came to Suzhou and changed to another Catholic high school. By that time the Communists (had) already crossed the Yangtze River, so we ran again to many varied places for nearly a whole year. We finally ended in Fuzhou where we stayed a month, while the Communists had conquered nearly all of China’s provinces. Finally, we decided to leave by boat to Taiwan.”
By that time, the Sisters of Providence had also moved their mission to Taiwan. Shortly after her own arrival, Madeline Fu found her way to Taichung where the sisters had opened a school teaching English conversation and typing. They offered Madeline her first teaching job there. She stayed until she started college later that year, but it wasn’t long until she was longing to become a Sister of Providence.
Interestingly enough, the SP “Motherhouse” said no in response to Mother Marie Gratia Luking’s request that Madeline be accepted into the community. By now, the Korean War was brewing and the U.S. sisters were reluctant to have her come because of it. She was told to wait.
They changed their minds, however, when a year later, Madeline announced to her spiritual director that she was going to enter the Carmelites. He went immediately to Mother Marie Gratia and told her, “You will regret it if you don’t take her.” Donna related, “Well, that put some force to Mother. Within a month, Mother got permission that I may enter.”
And thus in 1953, the force we came to know and love as Sister Donna Marie entered the Sisters of Providence – the first Chinese vocation in 25 years. In order that she not travel to states alone, she came with another young woman who was going to enter the Franciscans. They arrived at Christmas time. According to Donna, the sisters “surely treated me as their Christmas gift, everybody was so kind, so thoughtful and so sensitive to my needs.” In fact, during the first two weeks when she was adjusting to American food and not taking more than a bite or two at a meal, she would find a nice large apple and two chocolate bars in her desk whenever she finished.
Various sisters who knew Donna in the novitiate at the time said they never realized how hard this transition must have been for her, not only to adjust to U.S. life, but also to navigate the Sisters of Providence culture. More than once in her oral history, Donna Marie complains about the fact that they could not sit on their beds in the novitiate. Listen to what she said, “There’s no chair and you couldn’t sit on the bed. So your shoes and things, you have to kneel down to do that. So to me it’s very queer, odd …”
But then here comes the Fu Shoney philosophy of religious life, “But I knew that if you go to offer yourself, it’s total.”
That’s what Sister Anji Fan remembers most about Donna Marie. Anji met Donna during the time Donna served in China. It was Donna who encouraged her to dedicate her life as a Sister of Providence:
“Donna Marie not only introduced me to the community, but she also supported me during those initial years while I was attending (Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College) through her extensive writings. She understood the challenge I went through, loneliness, homesickness, and loss of loved ones. She told me to offer to God willingly. She did not want to see me become a Sister of Providence grudgingly.”
This philosophy was tested more than once in Donna’s own life and perhaps never more so than in accepting the news that her first mission was not to be a return to her beloved Taiwan. Instead, she was missioned as a fourth and fifth-grade teacher – yes, she was given a double classroom for her first teaching assignment. “I said, I’m not prepared. I didn’t take any education classes … I just don’t have any preparation, no classroom materials … So, I went to my alcove and cried.”
What happened next was due in large part to the sisterliness of Sister Thomas Loretto, who gave Donna preparation week by week so she could get through the first month of school. But Donna’s sense of obedience and resilience, coupled with her uncanny ability to love people truly had her crying again when at the end of her first semester, she was told to come home to study. “I said, ‘No, let me finish this year. I just love this class.” The response came in one word: “Obedience.”
She came home to study at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and earned a bachelor’s degree in Math. Two years later, she was able to return to her beloved Taiwan. Later, she would earn a master’s degree from Indiana State University and a doctorate in Higher Education Administration from Indiana University. All of this prepared her for the many administrative roles she would perform as a Sister of Providence.
She served Providence College in Taichung as the dean of student personnel; at Fu Jen Catholic University, she was the director of public relations, guidance and counseling, and she had a three-year period as the academic dean of Immaculata College of Washington, D.C.
Her administrative roles in congregational ministry in Taiwan included a time as the director of novices, six years as the regional superior and countless years as the vocation promoter for Asia. And on the side, Sister Donna Marie translated hundreds of documents and other communications for us and others.
Sister Norene Wu offered this memory:
“I was the first postulant entering the Formation House after the Sisters of Providence reopened it in Taiwan at Taishan. Sister Donna Marie was teaching full-time and was the Director of the Public Relations for Fu Jen Catholic University. Yet, no matter how busy or tired she was, as soon as she got back to the convent, she would chat with me to see how I was.”
But perhaps Donna’s finest hour was the offering of self for the mission in China. In an article Sister Nancy Nolan prepared for the 100th anniversary celebration of the SP mission to Asia, she recounts a 1990 trip to Kaifung that led to a desire and a commitment on the part of the Congregation to strengthen the connection between ourselves and that mission to Asia. One of the recommendations coming from the Congregation Council at the time was to explore the possibility of sisters volunteering to go to China as teachers of English.
Nancy, who had enjoyed a special relationship with Donna Marie by virtue of the fact that Donna was assigned to be Nancy’s guardian angel in the novitiate, wrote:
“Once again, my guardian angel would arrive on the scene. In 1993, Sister Donna Marie began a 16-year career as an English teacher in Chinese universities.”
Paula Damiano, who was the liaison to that China mission during her time as a general officer, related this story:
“We were in Hong Kong where (Donna) wanted me to meet the Apostolic Nuncio to China (secretly, of course, because he wasn’t supported to be known to mainland China!). On our visit, she told him we were hoping to renew our congregation on the mainland and asked for his blessing. Of course, he gave it and told us that it would not be easy due to government restrictions, etc. Donna replied that our congregation was well aware of the challenges because we had suffered through very difficult times when the first sisters went to China. ‘We have the strength and courage of our foundresses in us,’ she told him.”
How grateful we are that Mother Marie Gratia, our China foundress, heeded the words of Sister Donna Marie’s spiritual director, “You will regret it if you don’t take her.”
We may have taken her in, but Sister Donna Marie has taken us to places we might never have gone. Truly, she has been poured out as a libation. She exhibited the strength and courage of our foundresses. She has fought the good fight. There is reserved for her the crown of righteousness.
As Providence would have it, Donna’s Chinese name – Fu Baoshan – sums up her life story. Fu means to assist, to teach, to instruct. Bao is translated treasure; and shan is righteousness.
Despite all the roles she carried out in her life, Donna was a teacher at her core and an excellent one. In one of the many letters she sent back to the states during her time in China, she communicated to Sisters Marie McCarthy and Nancy Nolan that her seniors scored highest among all the Normal University English majors in a given year on the nationwide test. The dean of the school told her they had never accomplished this before. Donna’s response: “I’m very happy that my weekly correcting 82 compositions was worthwhile. I did see their improvement but didn’t expect (them) to be that good.”
In the time since Donna came home to Taiwan from China, she continued that teaching ministry. Sister Delan Ma recounted for those who attended services at Providence University that Sister Donna Marie loved teaching and her students loved her. Of course, the teaching she loved best was religious instruction.
Donna treasured people. Delan also shared that she cared for foreign students and would invite them to join the Sisters for meals for Christmas or Chinese New Year. Sister Ann Paula Pohlman, who told us that she stayed up all night waiting for Donna to arrive at the Woods as a postulant, said there was no one that Donna Marie met that she did not befriend.
Sister Jenny Howard, who spent the past 10 years as the GO liaison to Taiwan and to Donna Marie, underscored the fact that Donna was loyal to those she connected with throughout her life.
“What stands out most for me was her way of connecting with young women in China. She exhibited such passion in bringing young women from all over China for ‘discernment weekends’ in her little apartment … under cover of course.”
And finally, the word righteousness. Perhaps Sister Anji’s assessment of Donna’s vision of China gives us a glimpse of the righteousness for which Donna Marie worked:
“She saw a bigger picture of the church in China. She served a bigger mission in China. Donna Marie valued the continuation and legacy of the mission (in China), so she worked hard to recruit future members. I am sure she is working hard for this purpose now in heaven.”
Shortly after Donna died, we general officers worked on our strategic plan for the next five years. We grappled with and, frankly, continue to grapple with how we will carry out the legacy of our mission in China. I have asked Donna Marie to be our guardian angel in this endeavor.
I shall conjure up her smile, see those eyes and pray for her indomitable spirit to come inside of me, inside of us, as we seek to respond to Jesus’ call to love, to feed, to tend. May we love truly; may we work cheerfully.
Xie, Xie, Fu Shoney, many thanks. Anxi, rest in peace.
Funeral services for Sister Donna Marie took place at 10 a.m., Monday, April 18, Taiwan time, at the local parish in Taishan—St. Francis of Assisi Church.
A Eucharistic Liturgy memorializing Sister Donna Marie took place at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods at 11 a.m., on Friday, April 29, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Memorial Contributions may be made in honor of Sister Donna Marie to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Donna Marie in the comment section below.
Sister Donna Marie Fu
In Indiana: Teacher, Sacred Heart, Terre Haute (1956-57); Teacher, St. Ann School, Terre Haute (1972).
In Washington, D.C.: Academic Dean/Director of Continuing Education, Immaculata College (1976-78); College Closure, Immaculata Collage (1978-79).
In Taiwan: Director of Novices/Teacher/Dean of Students Personnel/Dean of Studies, Providence College (1968-72); Director of Public Relations/Guidance and Counseling/Psychology, Fu Jen Catholic University, Hsin-Chuang (1979-89); Professor/Director of Public Relations, Fu Jen Catholic University, Taishan (1989-92); Vocation Promoter for Asia/Residential Services, Taishan (2019-22).
In China: Professor, SW Normal University, Chongqing (1993-96); Professor, Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou (1996-99); Professor, Xiao Hsing Industrial College, Fuqing, Fujian (1999-2001); Professor, Fujian Medical University (2001-2009); Consultant/Counselor, GCI Technology (2009-2010); Professor, Sujian College, Sujian City (2010-2011).
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