Sister Paula Sullivan, MM

Born: February 8, 1901
Entered: May 24, 1926
Died: February 22, 1986

On Saturday, February 22, 1986 at 5:30 A.M., Sister Paula Sullivan died peacefully in our Maryknoll Nursing Home where she had been a patient. Sister had been failing for about a month though up until the day before her death she had taken part in Nursing Home activities. Her death came six days after her group celebrated its Diamond Jubilee and fourteen days after her eighty-fifth birthday.

Anastasia Elizabeth Sullivan was born to John and Mary Parnell Sullivan in Bristol, Vermont on February 8, 1901. She was the fourth of ten children, six girls and four boys. At age four she moved with her family to Burlington, Vermont where she grew up in Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish, attending its grammar school and later Mt. St. Mary Academy for three years of high school.

A stenographer before her entrance to Maryknoll at the Venard on May 24, 1926, Sister went into nursing following her First Profession, October 28, 1928. After completing her high school education at the Venard, she enrolled at Providence Hospital School of Nursing in Seattle, Washington where she graduated and acquired her license as a Registered Nurse. She made her Final Profession in Seattle on October 28, 1931.

In 1933, Sister Paula was assigned to Manchuria where she served in Fushun, Ho Pei and Antung until 1941 when the Sisters were interned by the Japanese in Fushun for a year. During all of this time, Sister Paula nursed in the clinics and villages around the mission stations. Fushun was her first love. It was here that she studied Mandarin half days and worked the other half in the early days. She deeply felt for the people and was perceived by those who lived with her as a wonderful member of the community,full of life and humor, feisty, fastidious and gentle. Diminutive in size, she had a great zest for life.

A story is told of her caring for a leper and being visited by an American tourist. Watching Sister care for the wounds, the visitor said she wouldn’t do that for a million dollars. Without looking up, Sister Paul stated, “Neither would I!”

Sister herself tells about a snowy day when she and her companion, a Chinese woman, set out to make two house calls. Reaching the second home, Sister says, “We entered and found a girl about fourteen years old lying on the k’ang. One glance told us she was in the last stages of tuberculosis. We instructed her and baptized her, gave her a little medicine to ease the pain and a crucifix and taught her to say, ‘Jesus, have mercy.’ We then went home and wondered how she would fare. The first thing in the morning we went again to see her and found her much weaker. We noticed that the crucifix was missing, but upon inquiry she said her brother had asked her for it and she gave it to him. We then explained to her that we wanted her to have it and say the little prayer – she knew the prayer – so I disconnected the crucifix from my big rosary and gave it to her. (It was my Reception crucifix and had my name and the date of Reception on it.) We visited a bit and then left her. “The next day when we went we met the little group half way. They were on their way with the body going to the cemetery and that was the end of that and my last sickcall in dear old Manchuria. We were not allowed to make any more.”

Internship was in Fushun from December 1941 until August 1942 where the Sisters were under house arrest. Unable to attend Midnight Mass that Christmas, they knelt on the wide window sills of their house and looked across the courtyard to the priests’ house where the Maryknoll Fathers celebrated Mass, having turned all the lights on so the Sisters could see as well as possible.

Following Sister’s return to the United States on the Swedish ship: M.S. Gripsholm, Sister Paula served in the Motherhouse Infirmary for a year and then was assigned to Bolivia for three years where she ministered as a nurse in Cobija and Riberalta. One does not have to think hard to imagine the cultural and language adjustment this involved. Yet Sister in her letters, speaks with enthusiasm about the people and her work among them.

Sister returned to the Motherhouse in 1946 and readied herself for another assignment to Manchuria but that assignment had to be canceled because of the political situation. This must have been disappointing, but she went instead to Crichton House, a few miles away, where she served as a nurse and in 1949 was assigned to Hawaii where she ministered again as a nurse at the Maui Children’s Home, and later at Punahou in the high school in Hawaii she took some courses in Library Science and enjoyed the work in the school library.

In 1967 Sister Paula returned to the Mainland where she worked at St. Teresa’s as a nurse for the Fathers and then at Valley Park, Missouri. In 1971 she returned to the Motherhouse where she worked part-time until her move to Bethany three years later and then to Maryknoll Nursing Home when it opened.

Through the years Sister maintained an interest in stamp collecting and photography. Her Vermont roots were never far away as members of the family sent maple sugar products to the delight of all. Each Sister from whom I sought information told me of eating maple sugar! Sister also loved the outdoors and in the winter would borrow–with another equally small Sister–huge pairs of skates from a Maryknoll Brother in Manchuria, filling them with six pairs of socks to enjoy a few minutes on the ice.

We offer our condolences to Sister Paula’s family, including her brothers, sisters, niece and especially her nephew Father Peter Barry of Maryknoll who works on the China History Project in Hong Kong, as well as by many other nieces and nephews of three generations.  We extend our sympathy to them and to all other members of the family. Let us stand now and begin our Eucharistic celebration of remembrance and thanksgiving with Father Edward Manning of Maryknoll.