Sister Amy Bernadette Yoneya, MM
Born: July 20, 1925
Entered: June 2, 1961
Died: May 1, 1987
Sister Amy Yoneya’s brave soul left her body at 03:40 P.M. on May 1, 1987.
On the evening of May 2 our Tokyo and Yokkaichi Sisters joined us at Matsugasaki for Sister Amy’s wake. Bishop Paul Furuya came to lead the prayers of the crowd that gathered to mourn and honor our 61-year-old Sister. Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers and Sister Amy’s family were a part of that crowd.
Although the next day was Sunday, the funeral Mass was held at Takano Church at noon. Father Saburo Matsumoto was principal celebrant, with Bishop Furuya and Father Emile Dumas, M.M., concelebrating along with many of the local clergy. The church was filled to overflowing. Floral arrangements lined the walls and framed Sister Amy’ s picture. Sister Loretta Frank, Regional Coordinator, expressed gratitude to all for their presence and for their kindness during Sister Amy’ s extended illness. Sister Teruko Ito read the names of the people and churches who had sent telegrams of sympathy. After the liturgy everyone went forward to offer incense. Then the casket of plain wood was opened for a last look by the family and Sisters, and each of us placed a flower within it. Sister Amy’s face was radiantly peaceful, almost smiling. At that point we broke into English with “Maryknoll, My Maryknoll” and outside the church we sang “This is the Day” as the hearse left for the crematory. Some of the Yoneya family and our Sisters accompanied the hearse and waited to gather Sister Amy’s remains, which now rest in Matsugasaki chapel. After 49 days, as is customary, they will be taken to our Maryknoll plot in the Catholic cemetery, Kyoto.
Emiko Yoneya was born July 20, 1925 in Iwakuni, Japan, the eldest of seven children: six girls and one boy. Her father, Ryo, died in 1980 and her mother, Fumiko, in 1982. They were a Buddhist family, but during her mother’s final illness, Sister Amy quietly baptized her “Maria”. At that time she wrote: “Before my mother left us, she reminded me that I had a role to play in the future, that I should be a focus of unity for the family.”
In her youth, Emiko was interested in art, but her father wanted her to be a teacher. So in 1944 she left Iwakuni and went to Tokyo Joshi Senmon Gakko. After World War II Emiko worked for the American Armed Forces, managing a dining area for officers. Over the years many kind chaplains helped her learn English, and at the same time the Christian faith. Captain Marie Tyrrell gave special attention to Emiko. Finally, in 1958, she was baptized “Bernadette”. A few years later it was a chaplain and Captain Tyrrell who introduced her to Maryknoll. After Bernadette entered Maryknoll in 1961, Captain Tyrrell wrote: “I do feel that helping her was the most important thing I have ever done in my life.”
Maryknoll Novitiate in Manila was beginning at that time, and Bernadette was one of the first group. She wrote back to the Sisters in Japan: “I felt a little strange for the first two days, as if I were a tiny green pea among the beautiful strawberries.” On March 19, 1962 she was finally received into the Community and called “Amy Bernadette”. A few months later, Sister Joan Cordis at the Novitiate wrote to Japan, “Sister Amy Bernadette is a real gem. Surely God saved her for this first group, for all the good she has done, will do, and is doing for us.” Sister Amy Bernadette made her first profession of vows in Manila on March 19,1964 and after a period of study at Maryknoll College she was assigned to teach at Maryknoll Girls School in Yokkaichi. Sister Amy pronounced her final vows on March 19, 1970 in Japan.
In 1971 Sister Amy went to the Center for a year of Renewal. This opened her mind to new ways of mission and filled her with a desire to work with adults rather than children. After her return to Japan, Sister Amy asked for a change of work. She went to Kyoto in 1973 and began helping at Kyoto’ s Diocesan Catechetical Center. In 1976 she was appointed Assistant Director of that Center,and a year later, when Father George Hirschboeck, M.M., became ill, she was acting Director until Father Saburo Matsumoto was available for that position.
Although Sister Amy’s apostolate was within her own country, she had a universal outlook. For the past six years she helped organize a yearly Walk-a-Thon, sponsored by the Kyoto Diocese, for the purpose of raising funds to help needy people outside Japan. In recent years most of her energy went into the Lay Leader Formation Courses and into helping young people become missioners in other countries. Still, with her own roots in Buddhism, she had an abiding interest in dialogue between religions. In 1983 she spent some time in India learning from the Church in that land how to integrate traditional spirituality with our Christian faith.
Sister Amy was a busy but prayerful person. Again and again she said that these words of Our Lord applied to her: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you.”(John 15—16.)