Sister Mary Gloria Wagner, MM

Born: February 17, 1901
Entered: October 15, 1928
Died: July 8, 1983

On the morning of July 8th, 1983, our Sister Mary Gloria Wagner awoke in the glorious presence of her Risen Lord.
Her final hours typically reflected the spirit which had filled her almost 83 years of life. Today we gather to celebrate in faith and confident hope Sister Gloria’s passage into Risen Life with Christ, whom she now beholds face-to-face in glory.

Those, who for many years were privileged to share mission and community with Sister Gloria, remember her as:

“magnanimously generous”, “a very gentle and kindly person”, “loveable and loving”, “understanding of human frailties”, “a leaven in community with her positive spirit”, “having a contagious sense of humor”, “very humble despite adversity”, “patient and long-suffering”, “a great lady”, “one who radiated joy and happiness, despite personal illness, suffering or hardships”.

Elizabeth Barbara Wagner was born on February 17, 1901 in Baltimore, Maryland, one of four children born to Michael and Caroline Amrhein Wagner. At three years of age, her father died leaving her mother the sole provider of a family of four. “All through my school days”, she wrote, “I realized very keenly the great debt I owed my loving mother who was ever a wonderful example to us of patient endurance and loving confidence in God all things.” After graduating from St. Anthony’s Parochial School, Elizabeth enrolled in a 2-year business course at St. Gertrude’s Commercial School. For 11 years, thereafter, she worked in the office of a prominent real estate lawyer in Baltimore, contributing to the support of her family.

On October 15, 1928, Elizabeth entered Maryknoll and received her religious name “Mary Gloria” the following year. She made her first profession of vows on January 6, 1931 and was missioned to Manchuria the same year. Three years later, January 6, 1934, Sister Gloria made her final vows in Fushun.

For the next 30 years, Sister Gloria generously and unstintingly responded to the challenges, opportunities and hardships of mission life; in Manchuria, through the violent uprooting of wartime, and later during cultural adaptations in Japan. In Fushun, after 2 years of Mandarin language study, Sister Gloria undertook supervision of Mission Arts, making liturgical vestments for sale in the West. “Sister was so devoted to apostolic work, in addition to vestment room work”, recalls Sister Lelia Makra, of those years they were together in mission…”she often asked me to go with her to visit the homes of the workers. I remember as outstanding qualities, her great artistic sense and her apostolic enthusiasm which continued all through her life.”

With the outbreak of World War II, the Fushun Sisters shared the violence and upheaval of the people, culminating for the Sisters in their repatriation to the United States. On August 6, 1942, aboard the M.S. Gripsholm, Sister Gloria wrote to Mother Mary Joseph:

“We nine sisters from Fushun have been on our way since May 26th, when we left in an open truck with an escort of four guards…we were three nights sitting up all night en route to Kobe. After about ten days, living like goldfish, we proceeded to Tokyo and Yokohama, where we were marches through the streets for public demonstration, before boarding the Asama Maru” for Lorenzo Marques, Africa.”

At the Motherhouse, from 1942 to 1947, Sister Gloria worked in the sewing room and in Chi Rho Arts department. In 1947, she was again missioned to Fushun, but historic circumstances led to her transfer to Kyoto, Japan, where she spent the next 20 years utilizing her artistic talents, creativity, and skills supervising the Vestment Room work.
Sister Gloria was compelled to communicate through a translator with her women workers because she had not had the opportunity for Japanese language study. This, no doubt, was painful for her, since in Fushun she was able to communicate with the people in their own language. Yet, her kindness and her concern for each person came through to them in countless other ways. Her bright eyes, warm smile, and friendliness spoke from the heart to the Japanese people.

Sister Gloria is best remembered among her Sisters in Japan for the positive spirit she continually generated in community life. Her spirit of leadership was manifest in her unfailing ability to minister to all of us in turning adverse situations into good. One example of her innate generosity was seen when her family wished to present a gift after their mother had died in 1954. Rather than choosing something to help the much-needed vestment work, Sister Gloria chose a white marble statue of Mary, to grace an outdoor shrine in the Kyoto Convent garden. That, to us, symbolizes the way her joyful spirit enriched our community life during her 20 years in Japan.

In 1968, Sister Gloria went to live at Bethany Convent where again she shared her artistic talents and gifts as part-time director of arts and crafts as well as occupational therapy.

A letter which Sister Gloria received from a woman who had worked in the Kyoto Vestment Room, speaks for many others:

“Please believe that I always remembered you and was always so glad for your kindness…those past days in the vestment room, and remember how kind you were. I think you’ll have no chance to come to Japan again and we won’t have the opportunity to meet each other. But, please don’t forget that there are people like us who continue to remember you in this country.”

As we celebrate the Eucharist this morning in our remembrance of Sister Gloria, let us offer thanks for the Light, Goodness, and Active Power of God which touched our lives and community through her presence among us.

We wish to extend our sympathy and prayer to Sister Gloria’s family and friends in Maryknoll and around the world.

The Liturgy this morning is being concelebrated by Maryknoll Fathers Edward J. Manning, and Silvio R. Gilbert, co-missioners and friends of Sister Gloria. Father Manning is wearing vestments which were made by Sister Gloria and women workers in the Kyoto Vestment Room. As a symbol of her committed life and work, a Mass stole designed by Sister Gloria has been placed on her casket today.