Sister Magdalena Urlacher, MM

Born: November 4, 1906
Entered: October 15, 1927
Died: January 25, 1997

In October of 1997 Sister Magdalena Urlacher would have celebrated her 70th anniversary of entrance into Maryknoll. God couldn’t wait and called her, at the age of 90, on January 25, 1997. In recent months, all at the Center were keenly aware of Sister’s decreasing energy and physical difficulties. Throughout her diminishment Sister Magdalena remained always appreciative and at peace – so she died peacefully at the end.

Sister Magdalena had to brothers and one sister. Her family is planning a service in their Rochester, NY parish at 11:00 a.m. today to coincide with our Resurrection liturgy here at Maryknoll. We extend to Maryknoll and family members, and to Magdalena’s friends in the U.S., China and Taiwan, our deepest sympathy as we share the loss and yet celebrate the life of one who was such a constant example of what it means to be faithful to God and to friends. The mystery of life and death is poignant to us today as we experience the sorrow of losing our dear Sister and yet grow in confidence that we now have another friend in heaven among the communion of saints.

Sister was born November 4, 1906 in Rochester, NY of Michael and Magdalen Strubel Urlacherand baptized Catherine. Before coming to Maryknoll she attended East High School in Rochester for two years and while in the Novitiate completed her High School diploma. Beginning in 1930 for three years, studies were undertaken at Providence Hospital in Seattle where an RN degree was achieved. Later, in 1948-1949, she attended Maryknoll Teachers College.

Having received the name Mary Magdalena at Reception, Sister made her First Profession on April 30, 1930 at Maryknoll, New York and made her Final Vows on the same date in Seattle, WA in 1934. That year Sister Madgalena was assigned to Bethany. A year later she went to China, Tungshek and Tsungkow and then from 1938-1951 to Kaying where she took part in the famous two-Sister mission approach started by Bishop Ford. In China Sister was a catechist, a nurse, did home-visiting and direct evangelization work until she was under house arrest and expelled in 1951 following the liberation of China by Mao Tse Dong. In China and Taiwan, Magdalena served as Superior and Mission Councillor.

The long-term effect of Magdalena’s person and ministries can be gleaned from a letter she received in November 1991 from a woman who, during the Cultural Revolution, was a mainstay of the Christian community. She wrote, “You are our friend – not the same race – but you are our most beloved and intimate friend because in God we have an eternal love, reverence that cannot be broken.”

After being expelled from China, Magdalena spent a short period in Hong Kong until she was assigned to the Pusan, Korea clinic for two years. In 1953 she returned to Hong Kong as infirmarian and again, as infirmarian, to Valley Park in 1954. For the next twenty-three years Magdalena was in Taiwan from 1955 to 1978. There she worked and lived in Miaoli, Tahu, Towfen, Changhua and Taipei. For the most part she engaged in catechetical work with a focus on forming Christian communities and an adult education program. The last four years in Taipei, Magdalena helped with part time English secretarial work for the Chinese Bishops Conference and for the Social Action Conference of China. At that time, she also was a part time aide at St. Anne’s Home for Retarded Children where her devoted care was to hold the infants who so lacked such a blessing.

Sister Eileen Franz shares a remembrance of what Magdalena represented to her:

“We worked in a difficult area in Taiwan where people were not too interested in hearing about the ‘Lord of Heaven’ and she told me many stories of similar places in China. For example, one day when Sister Magdalena had walked many hours, she stopped to rest. An old lady approached her and wanted to know what she was and what her ‘Lord of Heaven’ was all about. Magdalena was tired and could hardly speak, but she suddenly thought that, ‘this old lady may never have another opportunity again to know about God and how God loves her’, so she began her tale…”

Such a story seems typical of Magdalena. Her love of God spilled over into sharing about that love with as many as she could wherever she was.

Sister Magdalena talked with the Sisters in Taiwan about her retirement. She was assigned as a nurse’s aide to Bethany and the Maryknoll Nursing Home from 1978 until 1980. In 1981 she helped part time in the library and the Central Governing Board secretariat. Typical of her adjustments in life Magdalena moved from contracted Congregational Service work to a couple of hours of daily volunteer work in the secretariat. In recent years it was always a surprise and with a chuckle to receive a phone call from Magdalena, when she was in her upper eighties, to say she didn’t feel so good and could she be excused from work that day! Once in a while, to be sure no undue pressure was put on her, Magdalena was told there was no work for her. Later when it was learned that on such days she stuffed envelopes in Direct Mail, the Secretariat staff felt she could just as easily stuff envelopes upstairs! It was with easy hearts that Magdalena’s time and work were accepted because she was always up front about what she felt she could or could not do and she wanted to help. Magdalena, we thank you!

A long time ago Sister Magdalena said that her aim in retirement was to spend a large share of time in quiet prayer and to be of service. She found small group living easier than a large group. In her own fine tuned way she was able to give volunteer service, spend a large portion of her day in quiet and prayer and developed her own circle of friends.

Sister Magdalena spoke both Mandarin and Hakka. But, she did not feel she could undertake another language when she asked to go to Bangladesh for three years for Christian presence, faith-sharing and moral support. Such a new venture did not materialize, but it seems so typical of the outreach from Magdalena’s heart and zeal. She did have the joy in the fall of 1987 to go for a visit in Hingning and Kaying, China. There she rejoiced to see again so many of the Christians and Chinese Sisters that she knew so long ago. Remembrance of that experience always brought a look of joy to Magdalena’s face and a sense of amazement that she was able again to meet so many old friends.

We will long remember Magdalena as a quiet, gentle, kind woman, thoughtful, faithful and filled with mission zeal. A Marianist prayer card perhaps expresses well our remembrance of Magdalena:

this way again                 or neglect it.
any good I can do           For I shall not pass
that I can show               this way again.

Today’s entrance song, “Ecce Ancilla Domini”, chosen by Magdalena, seems to typify the spiritby which she lived and served. Thank you, Magdalena, for being with us in Maryknoll so long, for your personal example and as a model missioner. We will miss you and yet rejoice that you are now before God to say, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”

We thank Fr. Larry Lewis, M.M., a one time Taiwan missioner, for joining us as presider of todays Liturgy of the Resurrection. Indeed, we say in faith, let us be glad and rejoice!