Sister Celeste Tsai
A few weeks ago, on September 9, we celebrated the funeral liturgy for Sister Celeste Tsai on her beloved campus of Ching-Yi University – Providence University in Shalu, Taiwan. Bishop Yao Wen Su delivered the beautiful and heartfelt eulogy. For those of us who cannot understand Mandarin Chinese, we were able only to see his facial expressions to realize that his words were completely sincere, said Sister Paula Damiano in her commentary for Sister Celeste Tsai, who passed away on Saturday, August 26, 2023, Taiwan time in Taiwan. She was 80-years-old and had been a Sister of Providence for almost 56 years.
Sister Paula continued: Bishop Su relayed the experience of visiting Sister Celeste at our convent in Miracle Home in Taishan during her final days. He said this, “When we arrived, Sister Rose Chiu welcomed us into the convent. In the stairway, I found a framed picture that reads: ‘Grant, O my God, that all who dwell in this house may love thee much, may love one another and may never forget why they came here.’ I was so touched by the quote, I couldn’t help but stop to admire and take a picture of it!”
Why was Bishop Su moved by this quote of our Saint Mother Theodore Guerin? Was it because he saw how this wish of Mother Theodore – that we love God much, love one another and never forget why we came here – was lived out in the life of our dear Celeste? I believe so. It’s what many of us saw in her as she lived her life for 56 years as a Sister of Providence.
Ying-Yun, Celeste Tsai, was born on May 29, 1943, in Hsin Ying, Tainan, Taiwan, to Tsai Min Huang and Tsa Chen Yu-lei. She was the second of seven children.
One brother, Yi-Nan Tsai, preceded her in death. Another brother, Dr. Yi-ch’ang Tsai, lives in Taiwan. Her sister Gretchen Montemayor is in Walnut, California, Ying Tsai in Rochester, New York, while two sisters, Theresa Tsai and Merry Tsai are in Taiwan.
We’re happy that both Gretchen and Ying can be with us today and that the other family members are joining by livestream.
Gretchen had graduated from Providence College and Celeste followed in her footsteps a few years later. Celeste was attracted to the Catholic Church as she observed the sisters at the College, the priests and the Catholic students. This led her to ask to be baptized in her sophomore year at Providence.
At that time, she was given the name, Anna Elizabeth. Once baptized, her desire to become a Sister of Providence grew stronger each day. Celeste graduated from Providence College in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in English. Two years later, on Aug. 30, 1967, after traveling from Taiwan to Indiana, Celeste joined the Sisters of Providence.
Those of us in the 1967 band felt so blessed to be together with women from the Midwest, the west coast, the south, the east coast and the very far east. We were quite the crowd and our Postulant Director, Sister Joyce Brophy, endured our attempts to learn a children’s song in Chinese … this crowd with our many and varied regional accents. Celeste was a patient, and yet, determined teacher.
Celeste was also a good student, earning a master’s degree in Asian Studies from Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.
Sister Celeste professed final vows on Sept. 28, 1980.
Sister Celeste was talented and quite competent in whatever ministry she served, and there were many. She was an instructor here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, at Fu Jen University in Taipei, Taiwan, and at Providence University. She was a campus minister, regional superior, director of formation, counselor and translator. Perhaps the ministry that was most impactful to Providence University was her 34 years of service as the Director of the Luking Library. She helped make it a premier library, cited as one of the best in Taiwan.
Who was this woman of faith, so willing to give fully of herself?
“That all who dwell in this house may love thee much” was Mother Theodore’s prayer. Well, Celeste did indeed love God much … her faith was strong, her reliance on Providence steadfast, even through the difficult moments of her life. Sister Marilyn Baker, one of Celeste’s dearest friends who lived with her for more than 20 years, tells that Celeste personally knew Mother Marie Gratia and the sisters who entered in China. Thus, she had a strong desire to uphold the legacy she received from them – a legacy which included a strong sense of mission, a desire for a growing and life-giving community, and a dedication to education.
Celeste was a woman of prayer who had a special devotion to the Eucharist and to the Blessed Mother. In this way, she was following in the footsteps of Mother Theodore and Mother Marie Gratia.
“Grant, O my God, that they may love one another.” Sister Celeste loved so many of her sisters and was well-loved by so many of us. She was faithful and loyal to her friends.
The friendships she developed in her early days in community continued, despite the physical separation. Sister Danielle Sullivan was one of those friends. Danielle’s family house was Celeste’s second home when she was in the states and all of Danielle’s family welcomed Celeste as another member of the Sullivan clan.
Celeste was one of the prime organizers for the Asian Experience, a program which allowed sisters from the United States to experience Taiwan for several weeks. Sister Barbara McClelland, one of our band members, another of Celeste’s friends, was a participant in that trip. Barbara said the hospitality extended to the entire group was outstanding. Under Celeste’s leadership, the sisters, faculty, staff and friends did everything to make it both an educational experience as well as a heartfelt one. Sister Barbara describes it as an experience that deepened her appreciation for the beauty of the people of Taiwan and for their culture. Celeste could, at times, be strong-willed. Like so many of us, our gifts can sometimes also be our cross. It made Celeste a determined person!
Sister Marie McCarthy shared a story that points to Celeste’s more humorous and joyful side. Sisters Rose Ann Eaton and Marie McCarthy were visiting in Taiwan when Celeste offered to take them to meet Sister Carole Fedders’ uncle, a priest ministering in the countryside. As they were traveling home late at night, Celeste got lost. They were driving through dark and hilly terrain. Eventually, they came upon a town.
Celeste stopped to ask for directions. When she got back in the car, she turned to Marie and Rose Ann and asked, “Do you like getting lost?” Marie replied, “Not particularly, why?” Celeste responded, “I kind of enjoy it. You always see something new along the way!” Keep in mind – it was late at night and quite dark!
Sister Marilyn Baker shared another story. Peg, Marilyn’s sister recalled the first time she went to Taiwan with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Baker. At that time, Peg was going by the name, “Peggy.” Celeste asked her if she would like a Chinese name, and what name might she like. Peg said that she would like the name, “Beautiful Young Flower.” Peg recalled Celeste looking at her as if to say, “You can’t be serious!” Celeste told her she would give her a name that would sound like “Peggy” and would be much easier to pronounce. Apparently, they all had a good laugh over that experience.
Sister Janice Smith cites Celeste’s dedication to Sister Regina Mary Wallace during her illness. Celeste never left Regina’s side even when Regina was hospitalized but faithfully stayed in the hospital room, sleeping on a small vinyl couch every night until the time of Regina’s death. No doubt those two best friends are happy to be reunited again.
This past week, Sister Teresa Kang relayed a memory she had of the way Celeste loved without limit. A Jesuit priest who is a friend of Teresa’s told her that he remembers Celeste as one who was always ready to listen, especially to the students who would seek her out for guidance in whatever they were facing, whether it was a situation at home, or problems with studies or wanting to know more about the Catholic faith. She loved the young people, he said. Celeste was there for them, often after long hours of work in the classroom or the library.
Bishop Su said it this way, “Sister Celeste was one who advised wisely and provided encouragement. She is one of those who has Christ’s love, joy and care in their hearts. She served God and loved people until her death.”
Saint Mother Theodore prayed that her followers would never forget why they came here.
Celeste was truly a “daughter of Providence.” She came here because of her love for God and God’s love for her; she came to serve; she came to draw strength from her sisters; she came to give strength to her sisters. She came to preach Christ by the way she lived her life … and she never forgot her purpose and her call.
Celeste’s last days found her surrounded by love … her family members, especially her four sisters, were with her day and night; our four SP sisters in Taiwan – Delan, Rose, Sophia and Anna – prayed with her, sat with her, gave her some of her favorite foods. Many of the Missionary sisters of Providence were by her side as well. In addition, she was visited by friends, colleagues, former students, priests and bishops.
Once her body was prepared for the mourning room in our Shalu convent, hundreds of persons came to pay their respects … they were Catholics and Protestants, Buddhists and Taoists, the old and the young, the middle-aged. They came during the day and late into the night. They respected her. They loved her. One visitor told me that she had not spoken with Celeste for many, many months, but there was peace and comfort in simply knowing she was there on campus. She said Celeste was a strong rock and foundation for many at the university.
Tsai Shone, Sister Celeste, you have fought the good fight; you have finished the race; you have kept the faith. And you have fulfilled the prayer of our Mother Theodore, “Grant, O my God, that all who dwell in this house may love thee much, may love one another and may never forget why they came here.” Tsai Shone, XieXie! Tien zhu bao you ni.”
Sister Celeste, thank you. God bless you!
Funeral services for Sister Celeste took place at 9:55 p.m., EST, on Friday, September 8, 2023, and 9:55 a.m., on Saturday, September 9, in Taiwan.
Services took place in the Our Lady of Providence Chapel at Providence University, Shalu, Taiwan.
A Memorial Liturgy for Sister Celeste took place in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at 11 a.m., on Thursday, October 5.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Celeste to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Celeste in the comment section below.
Sister Celeste Tsai
In Taiwan: Instructor, Fu Jen University, Hsin Chuang (1973-74); Instructor/Library Director, Providence College, Taichung (1974-77); Library Director/Instructor/Regional Treasurer/Campus Ministry, Providence College, Taichung (1977-79); Instructor/Library Director/Regional Treasurer/Campus Ministry, Providence College, Taichung (1980-85); Instructor/Director Luking Library/Regional Treasurer, Providence College, Taichung (1985-89); Regional Superior/Instructor/Library Director, Providence University, Taichung (1989-91); Director of Formation/Regional Superior, Novitiate, Yuching, Tainan, Taiwan (1991-92); Director of Formation/Instructor/Luking Library Director, Providence University, Shalu, Taichung (1992-93); Instructor/Luking Library Director, Providence University, Shalu, Taichung (1993-2008); Part-time Instructor, Providence University, Taiwan R.O.C. (2008-2010); Translator/Providence University Affairs Consultant, Taichung City (2011-2022); Prayer, Shalu, Taichung (2022-2023).
In Indiana: ELI Program/Instructor, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1979-80); Translator, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2010-2011).
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