Biographies

Brother Francis T. Wempe, MM

Born: June 26, 1900
Oath: September 6, 1930
Died: July 2, 1993

Brother Francis T. Wempe died peacefully at about 1:00 p.m. on Friday, July 2,1993 at St. Teresa’s Residence. He was 93 years of age and a Maryknoll Brother for 63 years.

Theodore Francis Wempe was born on June 26, 1900 in Cumberland, Maryland, son of John F. and Mary Pfaub Wempe. He had one sister, Helen. He attended St. Marys Parochial School for 8 years and some night school for another 3 years. After 6 months training he worked as a telegraph operator in Cumberland. Shortly after, Theodore was accepted as a candidate for the Maryknoll Brotherhood. After preliminary training he took the religious name of Brother Francis. He served first in the Maryknoll Center business office.

On June 25, 1928 Brother Wempe was assigned to the Maryknoll Mission in Wuchow, South China, and remained there for 22 years. In the Wuchow mission he did extensive medical work in the mission clinic that served the people in a wide area. Brother said he knew little about medicine, but he used to hand out patent medicines to the people who had no other source of effective medicines. The most common disease was malaria and for decades then Maryknoll dispensary distributed quinine to the failing. He also served in the maintenance of the physical plant and some office work. His Superior wrote: “As a missioner he got top marks from all of us who worked with him. By sheer perseverance, in spite of poor ear for musical intervals, he became one of the best speakers of the Cantonese dialect”.

Along with Father Bernard Meyer, Brother Francis co-authored the Student’s Cantonese-English Dictionary for the Wuchow Vicariate missioners that represented diligent work and extensive knowledge of the Chinese language and people. One day an impoverished high school teacher came to ask Brother Francis for help. Father Meyer said he would pay the man a small salary if he would help on the dictionary, and that is the way the dictionary was finally finished. Years later in Taiwan Brother Wempe with Father James Smith wanted to publish a much needed second edition, but they could not afford it and the project collapsed.

When the Japanese army invaded South China in 1941, Brother Francis remained at the mission until the troops were reported in the next town. Finally, Brother Francis fled to the mountains, always keeping one step ahead of the Japanese. He settled in a Catholic village in the countryside, always moving into the mountains whenever the troops threatened the village. He remained in hiding in the rural areas until the end of the war in 1945 when he returned to his mission in Wuchow without taking home leave.

When the Chinese Communists took over South China in 1950, Brother Francis, serving as bookkeeper and procurator for the Wuchow mission and purchasing agent for the Taichung Prefecture, was transferred to the Maryknoll mission in Taichung, Taiwan, on February 16, 1951. There Brother learned a new Chinese language and showed his strong determination to be one with the people. In learning the language, he typed out and mimeographed copies of a Taiwanese grammar book (now out of print) which has proved a great help to the language students in Taichung. He was a tower of strength to the Superiors of the Taiwan mission At the Cathedral residence he carried on as the mission accountant in his usual quiet, humble, cooperative manner. Twice a week he would go out to villages with a Sister Doctor in her mobile medical clinic to assist her. He taught English classes to middle school students a few times a week. His Superior wrote of him: “He was a legend in Kwangsi (Wuchow) for his work. Here (in Taiwan) he is a legend in another sense, he is always on the job. Still looking to interest people in the Faith.”

Against his personal desire, Brother Francis was enrolled in the Special Society Unit on May 14, 1979 with continued residence and limited work as accountant and English teacher. He suffered from a bleeding ulcer and other ailments and the Taiwan Regional Council transferred him to St. Teresa”s Residence on May 12, 1986. Brother Francis attained the distinction of being the Brother longest in continuous service overseas–fifty two years in all.

Wake services for Brother Francis were held at St. Teresa”s Residence Chapel on Monday evening, July 5, at 7:00 PM. Presider: Father Brendan M. O”Connell and the Reader was Father James P. Nieckarz. Concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial was Tuesday morning, July 6 at 11:30 AM in Our Lady Queen of Apostles Chapel. Principal Celebrant: Father J. Donald McGinnis; Homilist: Father James P. Collignon. Interment to follow in the Center Cemetery.