Sister Nadine Tierney, MM

Born: January 27, 1935
Entered: September 2, 1954
Died: November 29, 2010

“Above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And with gratitude in your hearts, sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. Col. 3:14 & 16

These words from Colossians, echoing the readings chosen for this Liturgy of Christian Burial, truly encapsulate the missionary life of our dear Sister Nadine. A woman of faith and prayer, her life in its essence was a hymn to our God, enthusiastically and unreservedly poured out for the many peoples to whom she ministered and whom she deeply loved in the Lord.

Sister Mary Nadine Tierney died here at the Maryknoll Sisters Center Residential Care IV, on November 29, 2010. She was 75 years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 56 years, having spent more than half of these years living among the peoples of Taiwan, China and the Philippines.

Born in Brooklyn, NY on January 27, 1935 Elizabeth Ann Tierney was the first-born child of Edna Marie (Canterell) and Herbert Francis Tierney. She was followed by two brothers, Herbert Francis and John Michael, and a sister Geraldine. Both of her parents, as well as John Michael and Geraldine, have predeceased her. She is survived by her brother, Herbert Francis Tierney who comforts us by his presence here this morning, along with his wife, Liz, and their daughter Joy – to all of whom we extend our deepest sympathy.

Betty Ann, as Nadine was fondly called, attended Catherine McAuley High School in Brooklyn,NY, graduating in 1953. She was employed by the NY Telephone Company for some months and later worked at the Zylite Products Company in NYC. On September 2, 1954 Elizabeth Ann Tierney entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation at Maryknoll, NY from her home Parish of St. Jerome’s in the Brooklyn Diocese. At Reception she received the religious name Sister Mary Nadine, which she retained throughout her life.

Sister Nadine made her First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1957 at the Marvknoll Sisters Center; and professed her Final Vows in Taiwan on the same day in 1963. Before being missioned to the South China Region, she had obtained a Bachelor of Education degree at Maryknoll Teachers’ College, NY in 1960; and subsequently obtained a Master of Science in Education from Brooklyn College in 1969. A woman of considerable intellectual gifts, Nadine later studied Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese and the Cebuano dialect of the Visayan language of the Philippines. Colleagues, students and companion missioners readily acknowledged that Nadine had mastered Mandarin Chinese as few non-Chinese persons ever have. It was said of her, that if one did not see her face, one assumed she was Chinese!

Sister Nadine’s first mission assignment to the South China Region was as a teacher at Maryknoll Convent Primary School in Kowloon, Hong Kong. One year later, in 1961, she was transferred to Taiwan to become an English language professor and lecturer at both National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Normal College. For the next 12 years, she continued in ministry among Taiwan’s rapidly growing university student population, while also serving with her Jesuit colleagues as chaplain to Catholic students. Years later many of Nadine’s students maintained contact with her. One man recalled how she “was the first person who taught us about our humanity and enabled us to realize that it is never God’s intent to give us conflict and illness; rather, as she showed us, it is how we deal with adversity” Another former student informed that Nadine could no longer respond to letters, replied: “even if she cannot communicate with us, if we can see her smile just one more time, it would be worth all the time and effort to visit her “.

From 1973-1975 Nadine returned to Maryknoll to give Congregational Service as the Admissions and Program officer in the Maryknoll Mission Institute. When she returned to Taiwan, she took up a new and demanding ministry among Taiwan’s exploding numbers of young factory workers. With the generous financial support of the Maryknoll Society she, together with Maryknoll Sister Andree Normandin, established a Young Workers Center in the industrial southern port City of Kaohsiung. This Young Workers’ Center was the first Catholic program of outreach to young Taiwanese women and men, flocking from the rural areas into the multiple Export Processing Zones all around the Island. Chapters of Young Christian Workers [Jocists movement] were the strategy and guidelines for this new ministry in Taiwan.

This radical shift in her ministry gave clear witness to Nadine’s gifts of adaptability and her deep desire to foster equitable justice for all, the less advantaged struggling at the bottom of the social scale, no less than the privileged who sat in universities. It was at this time that Nadine’s passionate involvement with the Taiwanese peoples’ quest for political independence was born.

Sister Nadine returned to Maryknoll, NY in 1979 for the customary Renewal Program. Her unique talents as an educator and fluency in Chinese Mandarin made her an apt candidate to respond to a request for an ESL Instructor in the Port of Entry Program at Queensborough Community College in NY. This short term intensive language and orientation program was designed to help students from abroad prepare for graduate study and research in the U.S.A. In a letter of appreciation sent to the CGB of the time, the P.O.E Program Administrator not only lauded Nadine “as an outstanding teacher, skilled organizer, and creative designer of ESL materials, but above all as a warm, expansive and loving person. She succeeded in dispelling deep animosities between Taiwan and Mainland Chinese students by creating a true loving family atmosphere in which tolerance, understanding, and positive feelings were exemplified” [Letter of Dr Elliot S. Glass, Chair, QB Community College, 4-21-81]

Subsequently, Sister Nadine was recruited by The Asia Center, an advocacy movement dedicated to improving the human rights situation in Taiwan. She lectured widely in the States and Canada, raising awareness and promoting understanding of the polictical repression of the Taiwanese people under the martial law regime of the Nationalist government, where, as she said, “truth is held hostage by fear”. Given the tenor of the times in the 1980s, these and other activities were not without controversy, both within and outside Maryknoll; and they eventually led to Nadine’s being denied permission to return to her beloved mission in Taiwan.

In 1984 Sister Nadine sought a new assignment to the Philippines, where, in her own words she might “continue to share the life and struggles of the poor and marginalized peoples of Asia; and cooperate with people of good will in their efforts to bring peace and justice to the global family, searching for a non-violent response to challenges that face the human family; and to experience the Spirit’s movement in the dynamic communities of these countries; and come to know how God is experienced by peoples of different faiths, all the while sharing with others the joy I have in my life in the Lord” [1982]. Nadine eventually became the program director for the Social Pastoral Institute in Mindanao, residing in Davao City.

At the time of her Father’s death in 1985 she was back in the States, and again briefly in ministry to Chinese university students. She served an interim period as Coordinator of China House, a residence for Chinese graduate students at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ established by the Maryknoll Society. Returning to the Philippines in 1987, she continued working at the Mindanao Pastoral Institute, later becoming a founding member of Banwang Tuburan, an organization dedicated to integrated spirituality and social involvement. Nadine also served on the Board of Directors of Kinaiyahan Foundation, an NGO dedicated to fostering consciousness of ecological issues in the Mindanao region. She remained active in such organizations until she returned to Maryknoll, NY in 1994. Nadine managed to serve in various capacities at the Maryknoll Sisters Center until 1998. As her prayer ministry Sister Nadine chose the refugees of the world.

We are very pleased and honored this morning by the presence with us of Nadine’s good friend and long time collaborator in mission in Taiwan, Msgr. Steve Rossetti. He will preside at this Liturgy of Christian Burial and go forth with us to commit her body to the earth, an integral part of God’s creation for which Sister Nadine, long before it was in vogue, sang in praise and gratitude. May Nadine’s “Joie de vivre” her “joy of life”, good humor, enthusiasm, kindness and never failing optimism, live on in the hearts of all of us who remain, and in the lives of many succeeding generations of young people, both in her own homeland and in her adopted lands across the seas.

We also welcome with us this morning Sr. Nadine’s family, relatives, friends, former students, and our Maryknoll Brothers who served with Nadine in Taiwan. We are grateful for this opportunity to accompany each other in our loss of Nadine.