Sr. M. Richard Wenzel, MM

100 year ago today, Sr. M. Richard Wenzel was writing home to her family from China. As seen in this excerpt below, she had promised to write in great detail about her grand adventure to the missions:

“Oct. 18/23 – Kowloon, Hongkong

My dear Ones:

It is a real shame to bother you with an epistle of this length but just the same I promised you all, a full account of the experiences, (ups + downs) I would encounter during my journey to the Far East. So you will please read them and bear it all in the Good old American way.”

Not only did Sr. M. Richard complete this given task but she took on the challenge with great gusto, completing a 25 page narrative of the entire trip! Upon receipt of this epistle, as she calls it, her family must have been over the moon, as they got the chance to venture on this journey with her.

Sr. M. Richard’s family would have received this letter in Michigan. They still resided in the state where she was born Isabella Josephine Wenzel on September 12, 1896. She attended public schools and later trained as a nurse at St. Camillus School in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She pursued her nursing career in a variety of ways, including one year with the Army Nurses Corps at Camp Custer, Michigan.

Over time she had gained interest “reading of [Maryknoll’s] good works in the New York Weekly Catholic News – and the Sunday Vistor.” Isabella entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation on April 1, 1921 and took the religious name Sr. M. Richard. Immediately after her first profession on April 9, 1923 she was assigned to South China and the adventure that she chronicled would soon begin.

Isabella Josephine Wenzel, March 1920

I am not going to provide the entire 25 pages of her chronicle but I did want to give you a little taste. I have chosen the arrival of the Sisters at their journeys end. 100 years ago Sr. M. Richard arrived at the end of her journey across the world that was ultimately just the beginning of her lifetime adventure in mission. An expedition where she was 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.” From her work at the Orphanage in Loting, to repatriation during the war, to her devotion to the Chinese people in the United States, serving in Boston, Transfiguration Parish in New York City, and the Chicago Chinatown Mission, Sr. M. Richard’s journey continued and her commitment to those she served stayed as strong as ever. To learn more about her life, please click on her name at the end of this sentence to view the biography on our website for Sr. M. Richard Wenzel.

Sr. M. Richard Wenzel in Loting, China, 1924
Sr. M. Richard Wenzel at a clinic in Gishu, Korea, 1928
Sr. M. Richard Wenzel in Yeungkong, China, 1938
Sr. M. Richard Wenzel in mission, Transfiguration Parish, New York City

Now, let us go back in time 100 years with Sr. M. Richard Wenzel, as her journey in mission begins!

“[A]t 12:30 p.m Wed. [October 17, 1923] we were near enough to Kowloon to distinguish our Maryknollers waiting on shore. We signaled to each other with our handkerchiefs and [at] one o’clock we docked. Here we were very fortunate again you see Hongkong is on one side of the River + Kowloon on the other. Our Convent is in Kowloon – and the boats usually stop on the H.K. side but this time it stopped in Kowloon. Had it stopped on the other side we would have had to take the Ferry across as it was we got off right where Srs. Paul, Magdalen, Dolores, Francis, + Rose were waiting for us. Fathers McShane, Meyer, Ford and Brother Albert were also there. Next we packed into rickshaws for it was raining – and in a little while our men stopped and we found ourselves at 40 Austin Road – Kowloon, Hongkong. Oh! Were we happy to be here, yes indeed we were and such a surprise as we got we found all of our eleven Sisters here[.] [Y]ou see it is this way[,] Yeungkong is about 300 miles up the River from Hongkong, and the five Sisters came down to H.K. for their annual Retreat. When the Retreat was over and they started back they could only get part way due to a hold up on the River so they returned to Kowloon and here we found them. Just another act to show us how Good the Good God is and he certainly has been especially so to us. Oh! The Joy of such a reunion – and it does seem good to have so many Maryknollers together in China.

Just a word here about the Fathers. The Maryknoll Procure is about a ten minute walk from the Convent so the Fathers + Bro. Michael were escorted there[.] [T]hat is where they will make their head-quarters for a time. I presume until they are assigned to some one of the missions.

At the present we Sisters are also awaiting our assignments. We have the Privilege of two masses each morning and October devotions in the afternoon. Oct. Devotions consist of Rosary, The Litany of the Blessed Virgin and a special Prayer to St. Joseph – followed by Benediction of the most Blessed Sacrament. During these special times of Prayer you all may be assured of a very special remembrance. We found the Sisters here very well. Considering the very warm and trying summer they have just passed through. I think it is very remarkable a happier lot there never was – and the Privilege which has been given me to come here to help them in their great work. O! Just the thought of it is overwhelming.”