Sister Elizabeth Lee, MM
Born: May 12, 1924
Entered: September 7, 1943
Died: February 4, 2014
Sister Elizabeth Lee died on February 4, 2014 at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, NY. She was 89 years old and celebrated 70 years as a Maryknoll Sister in September 2013.
Elizabeth Lee was born in San Francisco, CA on May 12, 1924 to Lou She Lee and William Lee. She had two brothers, Andrew and Victor Lee, who predeceased her.
Elizabeth attended St. Mary’s High School, Pittsburgh, PA, from 1939-1941, graduating from Mt. Gollitzin Academy, Baden, PA, in 1943. She entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation at Maryknoll, NY from Epiphany Parish, Pittsburgh, PA, on September 7, 1943, and received her Religious name, Sister Marie Clementia, at her reception on March 7, 1944. She made her First Profession of Vows at the Maryknoll Sisters Motherhouse, Maryknoll, NY on March 7, 1946, and her Final Vows on March 7, 1949, also at Maryknoll, NY. From 1945-1949, Sister Elizabeth attended Maryknoll Teachers College, Maryknoll, NY, where she earned a Bachelor of Education degree.
Her first assignment in 1949 was to Boston Chinatown where she served for three years. She admitted that she was disappointed with her assignment. Because she already knew Chinese, she felt she was an obvious choice to be assigned to South China. She wanted desperately to join the 10 Sisters assigned there that year. She soon saw the wisdom behind her assignment. In the early 1950s and 1960s, the bulk of the work in Boston Chinatown, as in the other Chinatowns in the USA, was of a pioneering nature. Large numbers of refugees fleeing from Communist China were flocking to the USA and resettling in the country’s Chinatowns. “It did not take me long to realize that I was to be a bridge-builder, that being bi-lingual, my skills would be in great demand.” Elizabeth welcomed new arrivals from China. She acted as translator, interpreter, and served as principal of schools established for the children of refugee families. With other Maryknoll Sisters working in the country’s Chinatowns, Elizabeth responded to the needs of refugees: housing, employment, adult education, provided literacy classes and other services. She welcomed the newly arrived Chinese into the Christian community through pastoral outreach. She wrote, “These years were very rewarding and fruitful, and I rejoiced with the people as gradually they made progress in adjusting to life in the USA.” After three years in Boston, she was missioned for another three years to Mauritius where she taught school and did catechetical work. Having completed that assignment, Sister was sent to Chicago Chinatown.
From 1962-1964, Elizabeth studied at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. where she earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration after which she returned to Chicago as principal of St. Therese Chinese School until 1970. In 1970, she realized her dream of going to the Orient. From 1970-1972, she was the Supervisor of Maryknoll Sisters Primary School at Blue Pool Road in Hong Kong, and from 1972-1975 served as supervisor of a government subsidized school in Chai Wan, Hong Kong. “After working with so many Chinese who had migrated to the US Chinatowns, it was a real delight,” she said, “to be in the Orient.” Here again Elizabeth found herself working with Chinese refugees. “I was thrilled to be among the poor having been assigned supervisor of one of the huge re-settlement schools of 1000 children. The Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters were very involved in reaching out to thousands of refugees, helping to provide housing, education, social services and welcoming them into the Christian communities. I was overjoyed to be part of this enterprise.” In 1975, Elizabeth was sent to Taiwan where she taught English for one year at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei and then joined the Western Language Department of Providence College, Taichung.
Returning to Chicago’s Chinatown in 1978, she served as Religious and Pastoral Coordinator until 1982. She then was assigned to San Francisco where she began to do pastoral ministry among Chinese residents at St. Anne’s Parish, San Francisco, CA. At the time, San Francisco was experiencing another wave of Chinese immigrants. These were from Hong Kong, better financially, but eager to leave the colony before the takeover by Communist China in 1997. Their great concern was that their children would be accepted into the Catholic Schools, the majority being non-Catholics. The pastor received them warmly into the parish and the school. Sister added, “The integration process was far from simple. There again, I assumed the role of bridge-builder, breaking down walls of discrimination between Asian and US groups, a slow and often painful process.” For her work in San Francisco Elizabeth was given the “Outstanding Public Service award in behalf of the People of San Francisco.” Sister Elizabeth ministered in San Francisco from 1982-1991.
From 1992 – 2002, she lived in Gallup, NM. “Finally,” she said, “After 42 years, I am able to enjoy my first cross-cultural experience living and working with Native Americans, mainly among the Zuni and Navajo Indians.” She served as a part-time advisor and instructor at the University of New Mexico, Gallup, worked with the Little Sisters of the Poor and their home for sick and elderly residents (mostly Navajo Indians), taught catechism at Sacred Heart Cathedral, taught English as a Second Language, ministered to battered women and alcoholics. Very quickly, however, Elizabeth became acquainted with the Chinese families in Gallup, and learned about a national organization of families who adopted children in China. The organization was based in and held their meetings in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Elizabeth would faithfully take the long bus ride to these monthly meetings offering her gifts of counseling, and suggesting creative way for these new parents to help their adopted children continue to hold on to their Chinese cultural roots.
In 2003, Sister left Gallup and spent the next year at the Maryknoll Sisters Retirement Home at Monrovia, California. She returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center and joined the Chi Rho Community in 2004. At the Center, she volunteered her services in the Maryknoll Residential Care IV, demonstrating the same energy, and motivation in serving the Sisters and responding to their needs as she had done in so many other places. In 2011, Sister suffered an intracranial hemorrhage. After some recuperation, she was warmly welcomed into the Eden Residential Care Community where she lived until her death. For her Prayer Ministry, Sister Elizabeth had taken the Native Americans – Gallup Diocese.
Let us now celebrate Sister Elizabeth’s life and welcome Father Michael Walsh, our brother in Maryknoll, who will preside at this Liturgy of Christian Burial.