Sister Mary Patricia Coughlin, MM

Born: December 28, 1895
Entered: March 3, 1921
Died: July 14, 1977

Someone would have to write a whole book to do justice to the missionary life of Sister M. Patricia Coughlin. In this letter – giving only a very brief appreciation of her life – the best we can do is to reach out and pinpoint a few highlights which may give us some insight into those qualities of mind and heart that enabled her to sustain the trials and sufferings God had reserved for her. These reminiscences make us grateful to God that we have known her, that she has been a part of our life and for us, her Sisters, that God in His great love called her to Maryknoll.

Catherine Josephine Coughlin was born on December 28, 1895, in Arlington, Massachusetts. She entered Maryknoll on March 3, 1921 at the age of 25, She pronounced her first vows on April 9, 1923 and her final vows on April 9, 1926, Sister died gently in her sleep at Bethany Convent at 9:00 p.m., July 14, 1977.

Between 1923, when Sister Patricia was first assigned to Kowloon, until her death, she lived out her missionary call in a variety of places through a diversity of services. She was a teacher, a bursar, a cook. She was an office worker and a pastoral worker; she cared for Chinese aspirants to the religious life and she cared for orphaned and abandoned children. She was a baker and a social worker. She was a teacher of English to Chinese in the United States. When she retired at The Center late in 1971, she still offered her services in part-time work in the International Shop and in the bakery. She helped with those household tasks which were not beyond her strength and she spent many hours as portress, welcoming all who came to Maryknoll.

Sister Patricia served in Asia for over 30 years before she ever returned to the United States in 1951. Assigned to Hong Kong in 1923, she stayed there only a short while. She left Hong Kong for Loting, China, in September, 1924. The situation in China was already tense and the anti-foreign propaganda kept increasing until in June, 1927 – at the advice of the American Consul in China- Sister left Loting and went to Manila in the Philippines, where she stayed for six months. In March of 1928 she returned to Hong Kong. When the anti-foreign feeling in China seemed to subside, Sister was asked to return to Kongmoon. It was December, 1931. For the next 10 years she went about her daily tasks until suddenly on on December 9, 1941, the Japanese Military placed the American Sisters under house arrest. World War II had begun! One week later, on December 16, 1941, the Japanese soldiers escorted her and Sister Beatrice Meyer to Macau.

In Macau, both she and Sister Beatrice were asked to open a home for orphans or children abandoned because of the war, or because their families were too poor to feed them. The Sisters had no home for the children so daily they walked the streets to minister to those dying of starvation. Sister recounts how during those days, she and Sister Beatrice instructed and baptized an average of 17 people daily. Finally, a wealthy Chinese gentleman turned over a structure to them for their children’s work. The structure had been intended for a pigsty. Quickly, the Sisters had walls put up. They moved in. Within the next five years, from 1941-1945, 1100 children were cared for in this makeshift institution. The number was often so large at any one given time, that the children had to sleep 4 or 5 crosswise in the beds. Conditions were so poor in Macau that the Sisters were also asked to take care of beggars. The Pagan Benevolent Association furnished the Sisters with money for food. In addition to caring for the children, the two Sisters fed an average of 500 beggars each evening.

Finally, World War II was over; families came to claim their children; and Sister Patricia was re-assigned to Kongmoon on December 8, 1945.

Again, there was much unrest in China and much animosity was levelled against the foreigner, and so on July 9, 1951, Sister was again placed under house arrest and finally expelled on July 25, 1951.

1945-1951 were most difficult years. Sister Patricia was subjected to all kinds of sufferings and indignities. Her greatest pain, she said, came not because night after night she was harassed by Communist soldiers; not because the Sisters’ convent was confiscated and used for rice storage or because it became a residence for Communist officials; it wasn’t that the Church – where she had spent so many hours in prayer and instruction of her beloved Chinese in the fundamentals of the love of God for all peoples – was converted into a dirty barracks; rather, her greatest pain was being betrayed by those she loved so well. In a short note which somehow through Sister Imelda Sheridan reached Mother Mary Joseph, dated November 28, 1950, she said, “God’s ways are strange. It is all coming from our own.” For 20 months, the Sisters lived under mental torture, physical harassment and the threat of death. Sister was accused of being in the employ of John Foster Dulles, then the United States Secretary of State. She was taken to a courthouse and tried. She wrote to Sister Imelda, the Regional Superior in Hong Kong, “We are expecting our baptism of fire daily. Pray that we will be other St. Paul’s and be able to take what comes. All we ask is prayers and the grace to take this trial.” Finally, Sister was expelled on July 25, 1951, and escorted to Hong Kong.

Sister Patricia returned to Maryknoll and served in various missions in the United States. She had been in the Orient almost 31 years!

This morning we are gathered here to celebrate Sister’s life. We rejoice in the fullness and greatness of that life. We admire the boldness of her faith that enabled her to embrace the experiences of her life which demanded from her total dependence on her Creator and abandonment to His faithful love. Today, we also celebrate her life after life. “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

The Mass of the Resurrection will be offered for Sister in The Center Chapel on Saturday, July 16, 1977 at 11:00 a.m.

May we ask that every Local Community have a Mass of Resurrection celebrated for Sister Patricia.