Sister Mary Chanel Xavier, MM

Born: March 4, 1901
Entered: June 25, 1923
Died: July 31, 1987

Today, as we bid farewell to Sister Mary Chanel we recall the bountiful goodness of God in the long life and fidelity of this missioner.

Sister Mary Chanel Xavier returned to her Creator with the usual tranquility and gentleness that characterized her whole life. She had awaited this moment with serene joy, so that when God finally called her, she was ready. Our Sisters Sisters Julia Hannigan and Madeleine Sophie Karlon were at her bedside praying the rosary in Chinese when Sister Chanel peacefully died at 6:10 in the evening on Friday, the 31st of July, in Maryknoll Nursing Home.

Aurea Augusta Xavier was born in Hong Kong on March 4, 1901. She was one of seven children, six girls and one boy. Their parents Carlos Augusto and Cezaria Xavier, though both born in Hong Kong, ware Portuguese Nationals tracing their roots back to Macau.

Aurea completed her elementary and secondary school education at the Belilios Public School in Hong Kong. At different times, she also studied home nursing, stenography and music. Her talent and love for music was something she shared with her sisters and their father who was a leading violinist in the Hong Kong Amateur Dramatic  Company for 34 years.

While working as a stenographer with Shell Oil Company in Hong Kong, Aurea read in the March 1920 issue of “The Field Afar” about the newly approved Religious Congregation the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic. This prompted her to write Father James Anthony Walsh “to inquire if this new order is for American girls only” and also to express her “very ardent desire to serve God and to join… for future missionary work in China.” She received a prompt reply from Mother Mary Joseph together with the required application forms.

On June 25, 1923 Aurea joined Maryknoll as a postulant in Hong Kong. She came to the United States for her Novitiate, traveling with Mother Mary Joseph on board the SS President Cleveland to San Francisco, and by train to New York, arriving at Maryknoll 3 days before her formal Reception on April 19, 1924. At that time she was given her religious nane, Sister Mary Chanel. She made her first profession on April 30, 1926 and three years later pronounced her final vows.

For 2 years after profession Sister Chanel worked in the Maryknoll Seminary pantry, did typing in the Publicity Department and art work on mission posters and exhibits. In 1928 she was assigned to Hawaii. There she taught at Maryknoll Grade School in Punahou until 1931 when she returned to Hong Kong. She spent the next 44 years happily fulfilling the dream that drew her to Maryknoll: loving and serving God and the peoples of China, Hong Kong, and Macau as a missionary. She taught religion, art and music and did nursing and catechetical work as well. She also taught in the local Novitiate in Kongmoon, China.

During World War II, Sister Chanel, because she was a Portuguese National, was not taken to the internment camp. During the bombing of Wuchow City in September ‘43, Sister Chanel and 2 other Maryknoll Sisters along with 11 school children had a narrow escape. They were praying in Chapel when they heard the planes approaching. From the rear of the Chapel where they were sitting, Sister Chanel moved with the children closer to the altar. Just a moment later a bomb crumbled that whole rear section of the Chapel to dust.

Sister was much loved by her students whom she taught in a quiet, patient manner that brought out the best in them and encouraged them to try harder. In Hong Kong she was always so happy when her students qualified for the Royal School of Music exam. She took personal interest in each one of then and followed their progress over the
years. Since coming to the Center in 1975, her gift of music brought joy to many in the community either at Liturgies or at recreation times. She loved Chopin and other classical music – all of which she played beautifully – but she was equally adept in her rendition of jigs and other popular melodies. Her artistic talent was also put to good use at our Annual Bazaar, which became another of her “hobbies”. Months before the actual date, she would save every pattern and scrap of material she could find to make clowns, puppies, and doll dresses. Each year many of us also looked forward to seeing her Easter parade of stylish men and women all fashioned from eggs!

Sister enjoyed going places and would sign up eagerly whenever a list went up on the board. One of her last trips was to the Bronx Zoo last year on a cold windy day. She returned home with the remark: “Oh, it was wonderful!” and immediately signed up to attend the Christmas Pageant at Radio City Music Hall. But this was not to be; she became ill and never fully recovered her strength. When diminishing physical energy and mental capacity no longer allowed her to continue with these activities, Sister Chanel was admitted to our Nursing home on January 5 of this year. Since then, she would announce to those who visited her, “Well, tomorrow I will not be here.” If asked where she was going she would merely smile and point straight upward. Now, we can also look upward and smile, certain that Sister Chanel is somewhere there with the God she loved and served so faithfully.

Sister Chanel is survived by one sister, who lives in England and by many nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews all of whom she knew by name and age. To all of them, we express our sympathy, knowing they are with us in spirit though they could not be present in our Eucharistic Celebration today.

The celebrant of our burial Liturgy of the Resurrection this morning is Maryknoll Father Raymond Nobiletti.