Sister M. Richard Wenzel, MM
Born: September 12, 1896
Entered: April 1, 1921
Died: November 30, 1982
We come together once again in this season of Advent and expectation to celebrate the final coming of the Lord into the life of our Sister Mary Richard Wenzel. In the early hours of Tuesday, November 30, 1982, Sister Richard died at our Maryknoll Nursing Home and began her eternal life in the Lord, having completed 61 years of missionary service, and hope in God’s loving kindness and mercy. Less than two weeks ago, Sister Richard, despite her weakness, had made an extra special effort to be present at the Liturgy and dinner of the 60+ Jubilees’ celebration here at The Center.
Isabella Josephine Wenzel was born September 12, 1896 in Sturgis, Michigan, the daughter of John S. Wenzel and Catherine Mohr Wenzel. After attending public schools, she trained as a Nurse at St. Camillus School in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Following graduation, Isabella pursued her nursing career in a variety of services, including one year with the Army Nurses Corps at Camp Custer, Michigan. On April 1st, 1921, she entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation and immediately after first profession (April 9, 1923), Sister Richard was assigned to the South China Region and then to the Yeungkong mission. This began what was to be a very fruitful and zealous apostolate – especially at the Loting Orphanage.
Sister Richard’s years in China were interrupted by a 5-year assignment to Gishu, North Korea. She later returned to Yeungkong and the Loting mission and remained there until she was repatriated at the end of 1944 in the closing months of World War II. Those years had been a time of emotional hardship and challenge to our missioners in that part of the world, who continued against great odds to live and minister to the people, even becoming refugees with them as the terrors of war drove them from their homes.
Sister Colombiere Bradley, who worked with Sister Richard in Loting, recalls for us memories of Sister as a “marvelous nurse with such skill and devotion to duty that, incredible as it may seem, she literally saved the lives of thousands of children” who were not only restored to health, but went on to receive a well-rounded education which prepared them for life. In no small measure, the success of the heroic work which characterized the mission at Loting at that time, was due to Sister Richard’s ingenuity and great adaptability.
As she was a pioneer missioner to China, so Sister Richard also made a major contribution to Maryknoll’s mission presence in the U.S. She initially spent a decade in catechetical and nursing ministries on the West Coast; and then began a distinguished additional 30 year period of service to the Chinese people in this country, serving in Boston, Transfiguration Parish in New York City, and for the last 15 years before retirement, at our Chicago Chinatown Mission.
This second mission career of Sister Richard’s was a presence in which she felt every bit as much committed to mission as she had during her years in China. A woman of strong opinions–and not one to let matters slip by without making her thoughts known–Sister Richard, at the time of our 1968 Chapter of Affairs, wrote a lengthy letter to the Superior General of the Maryknoll Society expressing her disappointment at what she felt was a lack of appreciation for the equal importance of Mission USA, which he had set forth in a talk to the Chapter delegates. After recounting for Father General a brief review of her Chinese missionary experience, she went on to say, “Half of my Maryknoll life has been on the home missions and I thank God I am still a foreign missionary working among the Oriental people here in Chicago.
In that same letter, we find a resume of her very full social-pastoral apostolate: responding to family needs, medical and other social services, as well as an active role in religious education.
Sister Richard was publicly recognized by the Community in Chicago when in 1976 she received a beautiful testimony for a decade “of outstanding and devoted service to patients of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center”. Sister Richard never lost the civic consciousness which had characterized her from her days as an Army Nurse. She was a lifelong member of the American Red Cross and was always an active participant with the Veterans of World War I.
From this brief recollection of the life of one of our early missioners, we can certainly affirm what her sister, our Sister Mary Constance Wenzel, said when asked to describe Sister Richard: “She was a zealous missioner.”
As we celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection for Sister Richard we look forward in hope to the fullness of Life the Lord has promised.
Our celebrant for today’s Liturgy is Maryknoll Father Robert E. Sheridan, a long-time friend and associate of the Maryknoll Sisters.