Sister Moira Riehl, MM
Born: April 30, 1907
Entered: October 15, 1925
Died: September 28, 1991
Good Morning! As we begin this appreciation of Sister Moira Riehl’s life, we ask that each of you turn and greet one another. A greeting was, for Sister Moira, the recognition of each person’s significance. Her day could not begin rightly without acknowledging all around her. The “Alleluia” we have just sung is the symbol of her special advocates before God, St. Michael and St. Joseph. In her unique way of always having a fong faat, the Cantonese expression for “having a method”, she quietly slipped away on September 28, 1991 at 4:10 P.M. in our Maryknoll Nursing Home, when halfway around the world, her beloved China was waking to celebrate the Feast of St. Michael. Truly, Sister Moira was appropriately welcomed into the fullness of God’s presence.
Anna Mary Riehl, the fifth and youngest child of Teresa Link and Joseph Riehl, was born on April 30, 1907. When she was four years old, her mother died and Sister Bernarda, her Caldwell Dominican sister, returned home to care for her. This sacrifice was quietly and lovingly acknowledged by Sister Moira throughout her life.
What and how does one write and speak of this Maryknoll missioner whose religious life began sixty-six years ago on October 15, 1925, when she entered Maryknoll from St. Joseph’s Parish in Union City, New Jersey. She, herself, stated with simplicity and directness that she wished to “save her soul and to help others save theirs.” She made her First Vows here at Maryknoll on April 30, 1928 and pronounced her Final Vows three years later while a student at The Venard.
Upon finishing her studies at The Venard in 1932, she was assigned to Yeungkong, where she began two years of language study. She entered into this phase of her life with legendary self-discipline, imposing strict study laws on herself. Later, as Superior, she more or less expected the same of all new Maryknoll Sisters coming to China. Some still remember having 100 or even 150 “missing” study hours which needed to be made up. Oh, for a Year of Jubilee in which all debts were canceled! But, if there was discipline, there was also enthusiasm and encouragement for every new Sister assigned to China. Today, many of us here and afar, remember these qualities that made up our Sister Moira.
In September 1935, Sisters Mary Gonzaga and Moira assumed responsibility for the formation of the candidates in the community established by Father Bernard Meyer — the Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart of Wuchow. The war with Japan caused many worries to Sister Moira, who assumed the responsibility of the novitiate after the departure of Sister Mary Gonzaga in 1937. As one reads the history of this period, it seems that the little community was always on the run — running away from air raids and bombings. In these troubled times, the Sister Candidates in all the Chinese communities were being trained to be capable in all kinds of manual labor. In Wuchow, in the mid—1940’s, Sister Moira took this education a step further. Besides training the Sisters themselves to be capable in different forms of manual labor, they were also trained for responsibility by being put in charge of one kind of work or other. Despite the war, the young congregation continued to grow in large part due to the continued self-giving of Sister Moira.
Having lived through the trials of the war years, Sister Moira with so many others was subsequently caught up in the trauma of the Communist takeover in China. In 1951, after a year of house arrest and “with the advice of the People’s Republic of China,” Sister moved to Hong Kong.
Her first post-China assignment was to a hostel in Macau for the various Congregations of Chinese Sisters who were studying in the area. Among these Sisters were our own Sisters Rose Chin, Joan Ling and Agnes Chou. One year later, she was assigned to King’s Park in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where she spearheaded the refugee recovery with the inauguration of women’s cottage industry projects. Even as she sought just wages for the women, obtained contracts for their products, she ended each day with catechetical instruction.
Sister Moira could put her hand to anything and nothing was too insignificant for her attention. Thus, in 1966 she was at the Kowloon Regional House as Guest Mistress, housekeeper and part-time translator and ‘brailler’ of books for the visually impaired. In 1967, this assignment was interrupted to answer the urgent call of Catholic Relief Services in South Vietnam. While Sister Marie Crowley served as nurse, Sister Moira distributed much needed supplies to civilian victims, comforted widows and gave loving care to orphans. Knowing how urgently these children needed the warmth of human love, she arranged for the local secondary school girls to come each day to pick up and hold each orphan. Before she left Vietnam in 1969, the Catholic Church made her a Dame of the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. We need not ask why.
After a wonderful renewal, she returned to Kowloon to take up her ministry with the visually impaired. In addition to the typical crafts and jobs, she encouraged all who had ability to go on for secondary school diplomas and university degrees. She extended herself by enlisting the assistance of secondary school girls and boys, teaching them to braille, to tutor in the various subjects and most importantly, to be there for others. It was with this kind of support that Peter Wong, one of the visually impaired, became the first to sit for the English Literature Examination in Hong Kong. To enable others to do likewise, she herself transcribed and typed the papers for the sighted examiners. When another visually impaired friend, Martin Chow, expressed his desire to be ordained a minister in the Evangelist Church, she arranged for his theological studies at the Regional Catholic Seminary and found a Catholic family to pay for his tuition. When Martin was ordained she was among those who witnessed the event.
In 1981, Sir Murray Maclehose, Governor of Hong Kong, informed Sister Moira that in recognition of her superb work for the visually impaired, the Queen of England wished to make her an Honorary Member of the British Empire. He summed up her ministry with these words, “Your untiring and effective work on behalf of the blind over the past three decades has been a great source of encouragement to those involved in this invaluable work.” She, herself, in sharing this honor with the community wrote, “The ceremony was very dignified to say the least. I was number 17 to be called…. When I die, England has to be informed! And someone should hold the medal! It says, ‘For God and for the Empire’! So, cheerio! I hope they don’t pin it on me when I die!” And we did not, Sister Moira, but we did lay it on your casket, as a symbol of your untiring efforts on behalf of the visually impaired.
To see how the Chinese people loved and appreciated her, one needed only to drop in and observe the happenings on any given Sunday at the Kowloon house. Among many guests, Sister Moira could be found pouring tea, conversing in Cantonese and receiving gifts from many friends. She had time for all. Mok Sau Neui as Sister was called in Cantonese, was doing what she had come to Maryknoll to do — to help others.
In 1986 she returned to the Center for Renewal and assignment to the Center. Her plan was that she could work by helping the Sisters in the Nursing Home. But her own health was not good and she found herself in a position of needing help. This she accepted with her own inimitable graciousness — making it easy for others to care for her. In this way, she ended her life of helping others.
We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Robert Jalbert, M.M. who is with us to preside at this Mass of the Resurrection for Sister Moira. We extend our sympathy and prayers to Sister Moira’s family and friends. We are grateful for their presence with us today.