CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Maryknoll Sisters celebrate the living heritage of 100 years of mission


HONG KONG (SE): “Thank you for believing in us and thank you to those who have picked up the mantle and run with it,” said Sister Sue Glass in welcoming people to a Mass celebrated at St. Teresa’s in Kowloon to mark the centennial of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic.

Recognising its beginnings as 6 January 1912, when the sisters became an affiliate of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Sister Glass explained that the congregation decided to celebrate in October, as it is the month of mission in the Church, and the 27th in particular, as it is the birthday of the congregation’s founder, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, who was born near Boston in 1882.

Sister Glass added that the centennial is particularly poignant in Hong Kong, as it was the first Asian soil on which the sisters pitched their tents in 1922.

“It has been a journey of rapid growth, new developments, challenges, misunderstanding and, at times, great sadness,” Sister Glass reflected.

She explained that leaving China was a time of sadness, but as some enterprises closed, new opportunities opened up, and today, the Maryknoll Sisters work and give witness to their faith in 30 areas around Asia and Latin America.

She reflected that a chance meeting between Father James A. Walsh and Father Thomas Price, the founders of Maryknoll, and Rogers, in 1911, grew into a commitment that has seen hundreds of sisters labour in Hong Kong, China and other Maryknoll missions.

During the dark years of World War II in 1944, Mother Mary Joseph reflected, “Up to this time, we have given ourselves as completely as we knew how… In confidence we look trustfully forward to the years ahead, resolved never to hesitate to answer the call of Christ.”

The superior of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Hong Kong, Father Brian Barrons, said that this is exactly what the sisters have done up until this very day.

“They have been active in the fields of education, health care, human rights, prison ministries, theatre, campus ministry and pastoral work in their response to Christ’s call to mission,” he said.

In the spirit of a centennial, the past was celebrated with gratitude and the future faced with faith and hope, as the newest member, Sister Norma Guadalupe Pocasangre Umanzor, from El Salvador, made her final profession during the Mass celebrated by Father Paul Kam Po-wai, and one of the oldest members, Sister Agnes Chou, marked her golden anniversary of profession.

The changing nature of the once predominately American Maryknoll face was reflected in the prayer of the faithful, as sisters led prayers in their native languages.

English was followed by Vietnamese, then came Indonesian, Spanish, Tagalog and Cantonese, as the ethnic diversity of the younger members heralded a different 100 years to be faced with trust and confidence in the spirit of Mother Mary Joseph.

Sister Anne Marie Emdin expressed the determination of the Maryknoll Sisters to heal our wounded world as they move in to their second century.

She ushered the 400 or so guests to afternoon tea at the congregation’s stately landmark school adjacent to the parish church.

The sisters entertained with the finest of American and Hong Kong hospitality and all were invited to be present at the opening of the Maryknoll Convent School Heritage Centre housed in the historical building.

Although the Maryknoll Sisters are known and revered for their work in health care and other areas of social service, it is perhaps the stately school, with its red bricks, mediaeval quadrangle and clock tower that marks their most visible cultural impact on the city.

Completed in 1936, the building on Waterloo Road (Primary Section), modelled after the Maryknoll Mother House in New York, was officially declared a heritage site by the government in 2008.

Its art deco, Romanesque, Neo-Georgian and Gothic Revival style is more or less unique in Hong Kong.

Unveiling a plague to mark the opening of the Heritage Centre, the chief secretary for administration in Hong Kong, Carrie Lam Chen Yuet-ngor, said that she believes that heritage is important, as it is not just a memory of a dead past, but a living bequeathal reflecting cultural identity and collective memory, and cradles insights into what is unique in making Hong Kong what it is today.

“This building is a Hong Kong treasure,” she declared. “It is a style that is rare and unparalleled in this city.”

Sister Marilu Limgenco invited all the guests of honour, including representatives from the school management committee, educational trust, principals and past principals, to join Lam in unveiling the plague.

One hundred years of mission is indeed a heritage, but like the stately building it is not a memory of the past to be wondered at, but a living act of faith that bequeaths to coming generations a way of growing, a way of beginning a journey towards understanding ourselves and who we are with each other, as well as with God.

The stately red bricks will wear with the passage of time, but the living inheritance the sisters have bequeathed to the hearts of the countless people they have served will live forever in the eyes of those who have risen to believe.


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