Sister Barbara Rose Mersinger, MM
Born: October 8, 1914
Entered: December 7, 1935
Died: August 27, 1996
We are gathered here this morning to celebrate a long and fruitful life, the life of dedication and service of Sister Barbara Mersinger. We can speak about Sister’s life by looking at the ways she chose to meet the challenges of her times, by what she did, where she lived and worked and so appreciate her contribution to the mission entrusted her by God and her Community.
But this is not enough. We must also glance into her heart and spirit, and in Sister Barbara’s case, to see her life as a beautiful garland carefully fashioned for her by a loving God who called her, held her always in the palm of the hand and consecrated her in fidelity and in love.
Barbara Mersinger, the eldest daughter of Rose Marie Drees and Otto Louis Mersinger, was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 8, 1914. Hers was a close-knit family of ten children, five girls and five boys. Two of her brothers, Victor and George have preceded her in death.
Barbara was educated in the local Catholic schools in St. Louis. She attended Providence College in Rhode Island and graduated from Mary Rogers College in 1968. She later obtained her Master’s degree in Theology and Religious Education from St. John’s University, Jamaica, New York.
Barbara entered Maryknoll on December 7, 1935, at Maryknoll, New York. She made her first vows on June 30, 1938 and was missioned to Kweilin, China, the same year. She made her final vows in China on June 30, 1941.
Sister spent eleven years in China during some of China’s most turbulent history. By early 1944, Maryknollers in China found themselves surrounded on all sides by the Japanese. For four years, Kweilin was a frequent target of Japanese bombings. By the fall of 1944, most of the people in Kweiin were desperately trying to escape some of the ravages of war. Sister remained in China through hardships and dangers. In 1945, unable to continue with catechetical work, Sister undertook the work of formation of the native Sisters in Laipo. She returned to the States in 1951.
The Community soon recognized Sister’s administrative skills. Easy to work with and a good listener, Sister served as the Assistant Novice Mistress in Valley Park, Missouri in 1953, as both local and regional superior in Hong Kong from 1954-1964 and then as a member of the General Council of the Maryknoll Sisters in New York from 1964-1970. Later, she worked as an adult education teacher for Caritas and in 1979 served as manager of Caritas’ Kai Tak East Temporary Centre for Vietnamese Refugees and served on various diocesan projects.
In 1981, shortly after China opened up again to the world outside, Sister returned to Kweilin with Sisters Rose Chin and Joan Ling, two of the Chinese Sisters who had later joined Maryknoll. True to her habit of never forgetting people, she visited her old Kweilin friends whom she had held in loving memory in her mind, heart and prayers throughout the years.
Sister was a woman of prayer and one of her favorite ministries was her work as spiritual advisor to the Legion of Mary. Girls whom she trained many years ago have remained faithful to the ideals of the Legion of Mary and are still among Sister’s most ardent admirers and friends. In her later years, Sister taught religion at Maryknoll Convent School. No better testimony could be given of Sister’s influence on her pupils than the one written by a young student shortly before Sister retired from teaching religion, at the age of 80, in 1995. The letter contains a small hand drawing of a smiling Sister with a caption: “Does she look like you? Always full of happiness!” The young girl wrote:
“Dear Sister Barbara,
You are such a good, kind and full of love teacher and I am so glad that you’ve taught me religious studies this year. I think you’ve been the best religious studies teacher that I’ve ever met. Your way of teaching is very good so that we can learn without any problem!
When I’m having religious studies lesson, I always feel very calm and full of happiness. This is because you always bring us such a happy atmosphere. Thank you!
… I will miss you forever … but your spirit will always stay in my mind! Best wishes. God Bless You, Love, Cinderella Tang”
This young woman captured the essence of Sister’s person. Sister had a special gift of graciousness for greeting people. She was ready not only to be of service but to have fun with others. She was happy enjoying a good swim at the beach and happy at the mahjong or bridge table with her friends. It was good to have her in the crowd. She brought relaxation, joy and happiness.
Sister had a knack for making friends and keeping them through her voluminous correspondence. She was “just keeping in touch” in case they had need of her encouragement and support.
Her love for Maryknoll never wavered even during the times when change came too often and too fast for her liking, yet she was adaptable. She was the first in the Region to sign up to attend the Congregational Gathering. Sister never came to a house meeting without having done her homework or being eager to make a contribution. She was also a woman of great determination. This trait shaped the way she met life’s challenges and dealt with the sufferings which plagued her life.
Sister Barbara died at 2:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, August 27, 1996 (Hong Kong time).
It was a fitting day for such a valiant woman to go to God. It was the feast of St. Monica. The antiphon for St. Monica’s Vespers well described Sister Barbara’s life, “While in this world, she lived for Christ, the goodness of her life was so evident that the name of the Lord was praised in her faith and in her works.” The Lord had called her back home. She now found herself face to face with the love of the compassionate God who had followed and sustained her all the days of her long and fruitful life.