Sister Anna Otome Hayashi, MM

Born: January 23, 1899
Entered: February 7, 1924
Died: May 27, 1984

In this, her 60th year as a Maryknoll Sister, Anna Otome Hayashi (Susanna) entered into eternal joy. Sister died here in our nursing home on the morning of May 27th. A few hours before that some of us from the Japan Region sang the “Salve” at her bedside and prayed “Meditashi,” that is the “Hail Mary” in Japanese.

Anna Otome Hayashi was born in Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido in Japan on the 23rd of January, 1899. Her parents were Joseph Yaichiro Hayashi and Agnes Nawo Yoshimoto. She had an older sister and two brothers. Anna Otome received her education from the French Sisters of St. Maur, at their school for girls in Hokkaido.

Maryknoll Sister Marianna Akashi (now deceased) had been a girlhood friend of Anna Otome, and they had talked together about becoming Sisters. So, from Los Angeles in the early 1920s, Sister Marianna wrote to her friend about a missionary community called Maryknoll, which was beginning work among the Japanese in that city, and she added, “I think this is the Community for you.” Anna Otome had the same feeling and on February 7, 1924, at the age of 25, she came to Los Angeles and made her postulate there before coming to New York. Anna Otome became Sister Mary Susanna at Reception time, April 30, 1925, and made her first vows two years later on April 30, 1927.

Shortly after her profession Sister was assigned back to Los Angeles where for 21 years she taught Japanese language in the Maryknoll School, and Christian doctrine to Japanese immigrants – some of whom were prospering, but mostly she worked with the elderly, sick and poor in the County Hospital. It was in Los Angeles that Sister made her final vows on April 30, 1930.

When she returned to The Center in 1948, she was asked to speak to the novices. Someone took notes and from these I quote: “Maybe you will be interested in how I became a Catholic because lots of people ask me about it. So I have to go back to 1854 – the time when Commodore Perry opened Japan. I have told you about the discovery of the old Catholic descendants, and how persecution began again and many Christians were exiled to Hiroshima. Well, at that time, my grandfather was a persecutor, a persecuting officer. He told the people they should not practice such bad foreign religion. That is why I have to make up for his crimes now by telling my people, ‘You must be a Christian in order to be really happy in this world and the next.’

“My grandfather gave lectures everyday, asking the people to give up such a bad religion. My mother told me how her father came home and praised those people for their firm faith. Whatever he had to say was of no avail. Although the Christians were put to hard labor, they found everything just wonderful. My grandfather brought home some of their children and wanted to adopt them. My mother, as a little girl, put them on her back and petted them. That was her first contact with the Catholic religion. When persecution stopped, the Christians returned to their home prefectures.

“After that, a French priest arrived in the city and rented a house which belonged to our family. My people did not know he was a priest until he put out a crucifix and started a church. Then, by becoming friends of that priest, my parents became Catholic. Theirs was the first Christian wedding in Hiroshima. Years went by and my family moved to Hokkaido. It is a land of snow for half of the year, a beautiful paradise.

In 1950, Sister Susanna was assigned back to Japan where she did parish work in the port city of Tsu, a place that had been bombed, burned and then inundated by a tidal wave. It was no paradise. But it was a time when the people of Japan were turning to religion, and Sister Susanna was busy instructing them.

When Sister came to the Center again in 1961, she became an American citizen before returning to Japan. Seven years later, she wrote to Mother Mary Coleman, “…God is taking away, little by little, my body power. So now I cannot write straight… The place where my head nerves are controlled is not functioning well, so all is unbalanced. But I teach religion. God works within me. I am able to teach middle-aged persons with a great power. So I am fine.”

In 1970 when Sister Susanna retired and was due again for a period of renewal in the U.S., she knew she would probably never go back to Japan. Filling out a questionnaire, she offered to serve in any capacity at the Center or Bethany – especially among the sick and elderly.

As we state in our Constitution, Maryknoll Sisters in Mission, “We are blessed by the influence of diverse cultures both within Maryknoll and among the people with whom we live and work.” Indeed, we have been blessed by Sister Anna Otome’s presence among us. And we say “Sayonara, Sister Anna” and we ask you to pray that we, too, may be simple, loving and zealous missioners.

We welcome our celebrant, Maryknoll Father Edward J. Manning, who will join with us in this Eucharistic Liturgy of Remembrance and Thanksgiving.