Sister Therese Grondin, MM
Born: August 21, 1909
Entered: October 15, 1929
Died: June 30, 2004
We gather this morning to remember and to honor Sister Therese Grondin, a truly valiant and noble woman of Maryknoll. It was a shock to everyone, even though she was almost ninety-five years old, when Therese died suddenly on Wednesday evening, June 30, 2004, shortly before 6:00 p.m. here at Maryknoll, New York. Maryknoll Sisters and Residential Care personnel prayed at her side during her final minutes among us.
Therese Jeanne Grondin was born in Westbrook, Maine, on August 21, 1909, to the late Herman and Anna Auclair Grondin. She had one sister and five brothers, all of whom are deceased. Her beloved brother Gerard (Jerry) was a Maryknoll priest. She completed high school at Presentation of Mary Academy in St. Hyacinth, Quebec, and then worked for her home parish doing research and keeping parish records.
Therese came to Maryknoll, at the age of 20, on October 15, 1929. At reception she received the religious name of Sister Marie Marcelline, the name of her little sister who had died as an infant. Therese felt that taking this name would be a consolation to her mother. She made her First Profession of Vows on January 6, 1932, and her Final Profession took place on the same date in 1935, both ceremonies were held at Maryknoll, New York.
In 1935, Therese received a B.A. in French from Mt. St.Vincent College, in Riverdale, New York, and that same year was assigned to South China, Guangdong Province. She studied the Hakka Language and began a ministry that she would repeat in other countries of Asia – the formation of young women who desired to become Religious Sisters. By 1937, she was named Novice Mistress of the Sister Catechists of our Lady in the Kaying Vicariate. This is the congregation to which our Sister Catherine Mary Lee belonged before she became a Maryknoll Sister. It was here where Maryknoll Bishop Francis X. Ford was innovative in having the Sisters go out two-by-two to visit outlying villages. Years later reflecting on the plight of girls she saw during these visits and their lack of opportunities for education Therese wrote, “I guess today you would call us feminists. In that day we didn‘t think of that. We were evangelizers.” Therese proudly shared the experience of those years in the book she wrote, Sisters Carry the Gospel, a description of the Kaying Technique for Evangelization developed by the Maryknoll Sisters under the guidance of Bishop Ford.
Therese was arrested in December 1950, imprisoned and expelled to Hong Kong in 1951. Twenty-five years later she wrote, “…when I was in China, way back in the early 50’s…and lived through the Communists taking over the country, again the feeling of being overpowered by the reality engulfed me… I was led to a Communist prison. In that reality, during questionings, I was able to witness to my faith. But the witness was not received. I was judged and condemned to leave the country, my adopted land.” She returned to the States in 1952 and studied at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA and in 1954 was back in Hong Kong where she served as teacher and assistant principal.
From 1957 to 1966, she was once again involved with Sister formation work, this time in Miaoli with the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Maryknoll Bishop Frederick Donaghy had founded the Congregation and Therese was the Novice Mistress. During the years 1966 to 1969 she was in Thailand, in the Archdiocese of Thare, where she was counselor to the community of Thai Sisters, Lovers of the Cross. She studied then at the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila, after which she returned to Maryknoll and worked in the Development Department from 1969 to 1971.
Therese returned to Taiwan in 1972 where she was involved in a variety of ministries until 1993. She served at Cheng Chi and Fujen Universities, and offered her secretarial and editing skills to the Provincial of the Jesuits and the Chinese Bishops Conference. She worked for Archbishops Lu Kwang, Kia, and Ti-Kang, as well as Bishops Wang and Shan. With her fine grasp of the Chinese language and characters she assisted in the translation of documents. For thirty years Therese shared herself and her gifts in Taiwan.
After the Bamboo Curtain was lifted, Therese returned to China in 1988 for a visit. “It was like coming back full circle to our missionary roots, giving thanks to God with gloriously happy hearts, for the deeply treasured experience of seeing our people again, our dearly-loved Chinese sisters and brothers.” Her concern for the education of the Chinese Sisters remained with Therese until the end of her life. She talked about them the very day she died.
In 1993, she returned to Maryknoll, NY. Knowing that there were replacements for her work in Taipei was a major factor in her decision to leave Taiwan. She described the move as an experience of coming home. She offered pastoral care, serving as Eucharistic Minister, to the Residential Care Unit which for her was “a ministry of the heart.”
Therese lived her life with fervor and great humor. Whatever she did, from building a small poustinia in Taipei to her daily “salute to the sun,” it was done with enthusiasm. Her vision was global and her knowledge expansive. She was reflective and articulate. She wrote essays, letters, reports, and poetry about global issues, congregational matters and day-to-day life. With wit and skill she related tales of the death and burial of their much prized cat in Kaying, and of being locked outside a dormitory building for more than two hours trying every means to get back in. In her Christmas letter of 1992 we read, “Some of us have lived through two world wars and many other wars, old and new, near and far away. We have seen the spread of Communism, and lived through the arms race, the nuclear threat, the age of drug abuse, violence, perils to Mother Earth and the environment, and AIDS. Peace and good will on earth sounds good indeed!”
In a 1929 note to Mother Mary Joseph just before entering Maryknoll Therese wrote, “Hoping ardently that we shall get along nicely, and promising you the very best in my power, anywhere you place me… I am, dear reverend Mother, one of your future postulants, Therese Grondin.”
This year Therese celebrated seventy-five years as a Maryknoll Sister. Therese kept her promise. She has been a faithful Sister and a creative and courageous missioner. We shall miss her.
We welcome and thank Maryknoll Father John Moran who will preside at the Eucharistic Liturgy of Christian Burial.