Sister Mary Andre Seiler, MM
Born: October 28, 1902
Entered: September 24, 1924
Died: October 28, 1979
Sister Mary Andre Seiler was born in Covington, Kentucky on October 28, 1902, and baptized Marcella. She was one of four children born to Andrew H. Seiler and Christina Maylebe Seiler. We extend our sympathy today to Sister Andre’s family and especially to her sister, and her niece, who are with us to celebrate this Eucharistic Liturgy for the happy repose of Sister Andre’s soul.
After completing courses in St. John’s Parochial School and then Notre Dame Academy and special study in English Literature at St. Xavier High School, Marcella was employed in the office of a Law Firm in Covington from 1919 to 1924. Membership in the League of the Sacred Heart and the Daughters of Isabella, Circle 161 of Covington, preceded Sister Andre’s interest in a missionary vocation which was inspired, she said, by reading Maryknoll’s early publication The Field Afar.
Marcella entered Maryknoll at the Motherhouse in Ossining on September 24, 1924. It was here that she made her novitiate and pronounced her first vows on April 30, 1927. She was assigned to Korea in the fall of 1928. Sister Andre’s Maryknoll life, which encompassed fifty-five years, covered critical periods in the history of the world, the history of Korea and the history of the Church – all of which were reflected in her missionary experience.
At the time of Sister’s assignment to Korea in the fall of 1928, Japan was the ruler of the peninsula. Sister Andre prepared for active service with two years of language study spent in Gishu on the northern border across from Manchuria. This was followed by catechetical work in both Gishu and Singishu. In the late 1930’s there were many Koreans living in Ho Pei and Ho Nan, Fushan, and the Maryknollers in the area were very concerned about them. Father Jerry Donovan, M.M., was assigned to open a Korean mission and Sister Andre was assigned to the Mission. Father did not speak Korean so he depended heavily upon Sister. She was only in the mission for three weeks when Father Jerry was taken captive by the bandits, and months later his body was found. Throughout her life Sister Andre always kept Father Donovan’s picture on her desk and considered him among the modern day Martyrs.
Sister Andre continued in the Korean Mission where her talent in teaching and love for the people were evident in her pastoral ministry. The whole person was her concerns she was quick to recognize the need in individuals and sensitive in her response to them. This brief excerpt from a promotion talk given by Sister is only one of countless examples of her sensitivity to the cry of the poor: “I remember going along a street one day and seeing a young woman who looked to me to be very sick. I greeted her and asked, ‘You’re sick aren’t you?’ She looked at me so surprised and said ‘How can you tell?’ She showed me where she lived. The house was dirty because the young woman was too sick to clean it. The two children were sick, so we brought them some medicine. After they got better, they were so happy to see us, but at first they had been frightened. This woman had nothing. She had married young, had worked very hard and now was suffering from tuberculosis…. She received the grace to receive the Sacraments and died a beautiful death. Her husband was able to take the little boy, and we were able to place the little girl in a Korean Orphanage.” Sister concluded with, “The grace of the Lord is so marvelous! Just to see the way He picks out souls here and there. Perhaps others have received and not responded; but to those who do respond, He is lavish!”
War clouds threatened as Japan marched troops through Korea and Manchuria on the way to conquest in China. By 1940, the danger of involvement became imminent and mission personnel was reduced. At this time, Sister Andre was one of those assigned to the first evacuation and she reached the Motherhouse in the summer of 1940.
Sister Andre’s special talents in office and business management were employed in service as General Procurator for the Congregation, a post which prepared her for a future and difficult assignment in that same capacity in Pusan during the Korean War. Meanwhile, in 1947, a new Novitiate was opened in Valley Park, Missouri, and she was assigned to take care of business matters there.
In late 1949, the South Korean Mission in Pusan was opened to Maryknoll Sisters, and a “medical team” responded to a request from the American Relief Organization there. To make the wheels of their medical service run smoothly, Sister Andre was assigned as part of the team, the Business Manager. Once again, in June 1950, war altered the plans of man as South Korea was invaded by the Communist Government of the North. The Maryknoll Sisters were among the missionary women evacuated to Japan by the U.S. military. In the minds of the Sisters, this period was a trying exile from the people of Korea in the time of their greatest need.
During the three months in Japan, every effort was made to secure permission to return to Pusan and continue their medical mission among the masses of refugees. Finally, their request reached General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of American Forces. He personally issued an order permitting the Maryknoll Sisters to return to Pusan for medical services among the refugees.
This period in the history of the Sisters’ work in Korea exacted every ounce of dedication the Sisters were capable of and tested every talent and spiritual resource. It was here, in particular,that Sister Andre excelled in fulfilling the countless demands that underlaid the smooth-running of the medical services, and the support of the Staff of the Clinic. The responsibility for steering relief supplies through shipping and Customs; the training and supervision of lay and domestic workers; the care of property; the responsibility for keeping the family nourished; training cooks and often personally supplying for their deficiencies, were only part of her daily work. In addition, she was Bookkeeper and Guest Mistress. Her chocolate brownies were famous in the family and among the many friends of the mission.
Following the war, the work of the Clinic was extended to other avenues of service — home visiting and religious instruction for those who requested it. Sister Andre was a magnet that drew young adults and children by the hundreds to her Sunday religion classes. Every available space on the compound was filled! She was a compassionate friend to the lepers in the restricted villages in the outskirts of Pusan. She was a wise and experienced business manager, well-known in the travel and Shipping firms, which handled the flood-tide of relief supplies which came to the busy port cities of South Korea. She was a patient but persistent Sister in that ‘haven for the sick and the poor’ that was Maryknoll Clinic, as she approached the Customs Officials in her efforts to win the release of precious relief supplies which meant the hope of health for thousands of sick refugees – the poorest of the poor in a war-torn country.
When the Regional house for Korea was moved to Seoul in 1963, Sister Andre was assigned there as Regional bookkeeper and business manager. It was from there that she was assigned to the Motherhouse in 1970, where she had volunteered to give her services for the remaining years of her life. She had completed thirty-six years of responsible assignments. Her health was beginning to show the wear and tear of those years. However, she continued to do part—time work in the Motherhouse offices and later in The Center Library. To those who saw Sister Andre in these last years of her diminished health and strength, she seemed to be a gentle little Sister with a soft voice and a quiet manner. It would be hard for anyone who did not know her in the long years of her mission life to suspect the tremendous achievement that was so well-known to those who shared her life and mission.
On her 77th birthday, October 28, 1979, quietly and peacefully Sister Andre gave her soul back to God. We thank Him for the gift of her life to our Congregation, and for the harvest of her apostolate among the people of Manchuria and Korea. It is natural for us to think of the welcome that must have awaited her in Heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And from your Korea Sisters, “Any Ungh Kaysipsiyo!
The Mass of the Resurrection was concelebrated by Fathers Francis H. Beninati, M.M., Gerald P. O’Connor, M.M.,Robert E. Sheridan, M.M., and Philip Kim of the Cheong Ju Diocese, South Korea.