Sister Monica Marie Boyle, MM

Born: October 27, 1903
Entered: July 2, 1931
Died: April 21, 1997

We gather today to remember and to celebrate the life of our Sister Monica Marie Boyle. At the age of ninety-three, after sixty-six years as a Maryknoll Sister, she died peacefully at 5:00 a.m. on April 21, 1997 at Maryknoll, New York.

The words of today’s Gospel reading speak eloquently of Sr. Monica Marie’s life of service in mission in China, Hong Kong and the United States:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me.”

Catherine Boyle was born on October 27, 1903 to Mary Kelly and Edward Boyle. She grew up in a happy family with her two brothers, Edward and John, both of whom have predeceased her. After graduation from St. Cecilia’s High School, she studied nursing at Misericordia Hospital in Philadelphia, PA.

Catherine worked as a registered nurse in Philadelphia for more than five years before entering Maryknoll on July 2, 1931 at Maryknoll, New York. She had hoped to enter Maryknoll in 1928 but the death of her father made this an impossibility for her. In her December 1930 letter to Mother Mary Joseph she indicated that she had been looking forward to the day when now she could write and say that all obstacles are overcome and her one desire was to enter Maryknoll with the July 1931 group. At Reception she received the religious name of Sister Monica Marie. She made her First Profession of Vows on January 6, 1934 and was assigned to the South China Region. She made her Final Profession of Vows on the same date in 1937 in Hong Kong.

On her arrival in China, Sister began language study and did clinic work in Yeung Kong. In 1937 she was assigned to Sancian Island. Within weeks of her arrival she was battling a cholera epidemic that claimed eighty lives in the first two days. She traveled on foot through the hills with Maryknoll Father Robert Cairns to bring vaccine to the island’s thirty-two villages. The effort was rewarded as not another person died of cholera.

As World War II intensified in the area, the Sisters had to keep moving and Sister Monica Marie went to Loting. She was to spend fourteen years there doing clinic and dispensary work, home visiting and her greatest love, caring for the orphans. In later life she would refer to them lovingly as “my babies.” Sister Monica Marie wrote: “We treated eighty to one hundred patients in our dispensary each day. The very sick we followed up by visiting them in their own homes which they deeply appreciated since they could not afford any other medical care. We were welcome in any village. All along the country roads the children would run out to greet us as we walked along.”

In the bombing of Loting, Maryknoll Father Robert Kennelly was wounded in the leg. Sister Monica Marie, ever the vigilant nurse, observing that he was bleeding profusely, braved the bombing and ran to get supplies to control the bleeding. The people of Loting treated him as a war hero afterwards, although there was no doubt in his mind that the real hero was his courageous nurse, Sr. Monica Marie.

The bombing of Loting continued and eventually required the evacuation of the missioners to Kunming in 1945. Sister Monica Marie worked in the 172nd General Hospital of the U.S. Army during this period. After a year or so, the Sisters were able to return to Loting where they reopened the clinic and dispensary. In the orphanage they received nearly two thousand infants a year, many of them severely malnourished. Sister Monica Marie wrote: “Babies would be left on our doorstep. I’m a nurse and I had to do something about them. I even smuggled a couple to bed with me to give them medication. My heart would break because so many died.”

In 1950, as the Communist Party took over China, the missioners anticipated the coming of the army by emptying the orphanage. Sister found this difficult but, ever the practical woman, realized the necessity of what they were doing. “It was heartbreaking to see all our little ones that we had worked so hard to raise bundled off with local families but we knew it was better for them to have a home than to stay with us.”

In 1951, Sister Monica Marie and her companion missioners were imprisoned. After repeated interrogations and untold suffering, she was finally expelled from China on June 26, 1951. The missioners were accused of various crimes including the killing of the babies they had struggled so hard to save.

Sister Monica Marie returned to Maryknoll, New York and studied medical technology at Misericordia Hospital in Philadelphia. She returned to Hong Kong in 1958 and played an important role in the opening days of Our Lady of Maryknoll Hospital in 1961. She returned to Maryknoll in 1967 and served as infirmary nurse. In 1970 she went to Boston Chinatown where she did catechetical work and home visiting until 1972. She requested assignment to Monrovia, California in 1973 where she remained until 1989 when she returned to the Center.

Her lifelong love of children was apparent even in her years of retirement. In 1992 she was awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Friedman Rehabilitation Institute for Children in recognition of outstanding voluntary service. Sister Monica Marie made weekly visits to the Institute to offer loving care to the children there, many of them infants of mothers with substance-abuse problems. She comforted the children during her visits often just by sitting and holding them and talking with them.

We thank our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Bill Donnelly, who will preside at this Eucharist of Resurrection as together we thank God for the gift of Sister Monica Marie’s life.