Sister Marie Elise Baumann, MM

Born: October 14, 1910
Entered: June 26, 1937
Died: September 1, 1999

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke: The spirit of the Lord is upon me, who has anointed me to bring good news to those who are poor… offers us a striking reflection on the long life in mission of Sr. Marie Elise Baumann, whose passion for pastoral work and direct evangelization was continually given new life through the many friends whose lives she touched during her fifty-five years in mission.

Sister Marie Elise Baumann died peacefully on Wednesday, September 1, 1999 in the Residential Care Unit at Maryknoll, NY. She was eighty-eight years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for sixty-two years.

Irmgard Baumann was born October 14,1910 in Chemulpo, Korea. Her father, Paul Baumann, was a German businessman in Korea. Her mother, Elise Vincart Baumann, was the daughter of the Belgian Ambassador to Korea. Her parents met and were married in Korea. Irmgard had three sisters and two brothers, all of whom were born in Korea. Irmgard attended elementary school in Korea. Later the children were sent to Japan for two years to study English. In 1925, the family moved to the Philippines where they resided in Manila. Irmgard attended high school at the American School in Manila from which she graduated in 1929. Following graduation, she was employed as an English teacher at the Japanese School in Manila. An accomplished athlete, she was well known in the Philippines as a tennis player and in 1934, became the Philippine National women’s singles tennis champion as well as the doubles champion. An extremely gifted linguist, she spoke German, French, Japanese, Korean, English, Tagalog, Spanish and Russian.

Irmgard became acquainted with the Maryknoll Sisters while in Manila. She entered Maryknoll on June 26,1937 at Maryknoll, NY. On her trip to New York, she accompanied Sr. Trinita, who was traveling to Maryknoll as delegate to the General Chapter. At Reception, she received the religious name of Sr. Marie Elise, a name she would retain for the rest of her life. She made her First Profession of Vows on January 6, 1940 at Maryknoll and was assigned to Manchuria that same year. Her Final Profession of Vows was on the same date in 1943 in Manchuria.

Soon after Sr. Marie Elise’s arrival in Manchuria, World War II began. Maryknoll Sisters working in Manchuria who were U.S. citizens were interned and later repatriated. Sister Marie Elise, a German citizen, along with four other Maryknoll Sisters, remained in Manchuria. During these war years, the Sisters managed to continue their ministry in the Maryknoll Academy. They lived in complete isolation from Maryknoll, NY from 1941 until October 1945. During these war years, Sr. Marie Elise’s father was in Shanghai, her mother and sisters were interned in Manila and one of her brothers was in San Francisco.

Sister Marie Elise’s first letter to Maryknoll in October 1945 described some of her experiences: It has been a long and sometimes very hard ordeal. The biggest strain and the most dangerous and disagreeable time has been during these past few weeks. We tried to help the poor people who came running to us for protection though we were not safe ourselves. The present problem is food. The poor people, what will they do? There are many sick to be cared for and I try to do what I can for them. Doctors are very scarce here.

In September 1947, Sr. Marie Elise and the other four Sisters were finally allowed to leave Manchuria although they had to pay for their passage in gold. Sister Marie Elise went to Manila where she taught elementary school until 1949. She was assigned to Japan in 1949 where she would spend the next forty-six years in pastoral work. During those years, she worked in and around Kyoto in three parishes: Takano, Kujo and Otsu. In 1949, Sister began the Legion of Mary in the Kyoto Diocese. Her lifelong Marian devotion was an important part of her own spirituality. In each of the parishes where she was involved in ministry, she helped to develop the Legion of Mary. Sister Marie Elise’s pastoral ministry included a wide variety of services: teaching ethics to kindergarten children, catechetical classes for Catholic children, counseling, ecumenical activities and mothers’ classes.

In 1950, Sister began the Catholic Girl Scouts in Japan. She continued to work with Girl Scouts and with Scout leaders during all of her many years of service in pastoral ministry. In 1978, she received the Distinguished Service Medal from the Japan Girl Scout Association.

In her home visits one day in 1950, Sr. Marie Elise encountered a young woman, Yoshie Date, who became ill during her last year in college with a disease that left her unable to use her arms and legs. She was cared for by a younger sister and brother. Sister Marie Elise continued to visit the young woman regularly and was happy to be present at her baptism in 1952. Their friendship continued to grow in the intervening years as both became more and more interested in doing something with adults who were handicapped. In 1956, Sr. Marie Elise, together with Yoshie Date, was instrumental in the founding of a Catholic organization for the handicapped in Japan called the Lamb of God Association(Kohitsuji Kai). Based on the idea that all persons have a contribution to offer, members resolve to live according to the teachings of Christ. While encouraging and supporting each other, the members live faithfully and cheerfully proclaiming Christ to their friends in similar circumstances. This organization developed in many Catholic parishes and eventually became a national organization for the handicapped. Sister Marie Elise remained active in this group until her retirement in 1995.

Sister Marie Elise made the decision to return to the Center in 1995 after surgery was unsuccessful in improving her vision. She moved to Residential Care in 1997. Her lifelong commitment to maintaining friendships with the many people she had come into contact with during her long life in mission was clearly apparent to all especially during these last years. Many visitors from Japan came to visit Sr. Marie Elise, including members of the Lamb of God Association, parish members, former Girl Scouts and some she had been with during the war years in Dairen. Even in this last year, when she was unable to communicate with them, friends came from afar to accompany this woman whose friendship they treasured during so many years.

We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Emile Dumas, M.M., who will preside at the Eucharistic Liturgy of Christian Burial, as we lovingly remember and give thanks for the life of our Sr. Marie Elise.