Sister Rosalia Kettl, MM

Born: October 25, 1911
Entered: October 27, 1929
Died: November 24, 1998

Today we gather to celebrate the life of Sister Mary Rosalia Kettl whose presence blessed our lives for sixty-one years as a Maryknoll Sister. Sister died Tuesday, November 24, 1998, in Assisted Living at the Center. She was eighty-seven years of age.

Mary Martha Kettl was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania on October 25, 1911 to Robert and Ellen Grace (Doyle) Kettl. She grew up in a loving and close-knit family with three brothers and three sisters. Mary Martha received her early education at St. Mark’s parish school in Altoona, PA. She attended Mt. Aloysius Academy in Cresson for one year and then transferred to Altoona Catholic High School. At the time of her graduation in 1929, she already knew she wanted to be a Sister. Her interest in the missions was spurred after reading in the Altoona Catholic Register that Maryknoll was sending a group of missioners to the Orient in the Fall of 1929. Mary Martha entered the Maryknoll Sisters on October 27 of that same year! Recalling that day she said: “It just seemed from the minute I read about Maryknoll, about which I knew nothing, that this was what God wanted of me and I found myself more than ready to answer His call, no matter where it led me.” At Reception, Mary Martha received the religious name of Sister Mary Rosalia, the name she retained throughout her religious life. She made her First Profession of Vows at the Maryknoll Motherhouse on January 6, 1932, and the following year was missioned to South China. She made her Final Vows on the same date three years later in Kaying, China.

After two years of language study, Sister Rosalia launched into her 13-year mission of direct evangelization in the Kaying Diocese. She always remembered this early period of her mission life with great fondness. It was her formative period and called for great love, zeal, endurance and fidelity. In her own words, she wrote:

“Kaying was a new Maryknoll mission field. It was the forerunner of the direct apostolate under Maryknoll Bishop Francis X. Ford, M.M., in which Maryknoll Sisters lived two by two in rented houses among the people, in order to be in more daily contact with them and thus to spread the Gospel and to build up the local Church in areas where there were no Catholics or churches.” In 1937 she spent five months translating the Chinese Doctrine Course into the Hakka dialect so that the people of Kaying could participate directly in the evangelization of their province.

Sister Rosalia returned to the Motherhouse in 1947 and studied at Maryknoll Teachers College for a year. Upon her return to China, she was assigned to the Wuchow Diocese, where she introduced the methods developed in Kaying. In 1952, as the Communist government sought to consolidate its power, she was arrested on trumped up charges, imprisoned and treated harshly for six months before being expelled to Hong Kong.

Today’s first reading from Saint Paul asks: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?” These words bring very much to mind the time Sister Rosalia spent in prison. Sister spoke of her fear during those days, especially when in the early hours of the mornings she would be called out of her cell for interrogation. She wrote: “I was dreadfully frightened. I confided my safety to God and I went forth. Only faith in God’s providence held me straight and fearless. I felt that God would not let me suffer beyond my strength.” Sister Rosalia did not let anything separate her from the love of Christ. The example of her witness to God’s love not only during her time in prison but during her whole life-long dedication and love of mission and of the peoples of Asia was an answer to the questions Paul poses in today’s first reading.

As Sister crossed from China into the British Territory of Hong Kong she recalled “It was the saddest day of my life because I was leaving behind all those dear people. I knew I could never go back.” However, thirty-six years later, in 1988, she once again was able to visit her friends in Wuchow. It was a very moving time for her not only to see many old friends, but also to meet eighteen young Chinese women who had recently entered religious life – preparing to go out “two by two” as she had done fifty-one years ago in Kaying. The women she herself had trained years ago were now training others for mission.

In Hong Kong, Sister Rosalia continued her work in direct evangelization at St. Teresa’s Parish in Kowloon and in the Chai Wan resettlement area for refugees on Hong Kong Island. Assigned to Changhua, Taiwan, in 1969, she directed a school for women catechists and a hostel for high school students. At the same time she continued to do pastoral work which she loved so dearly — visiting the sick in hospitals and at home, counseling, instructing catechumens, conducting Bible classes in the parish center for the handicapped, teaching English and working part time in a newly opened parish a half-hour away. On the diocesan level, Sister Rosalia served as Executive Secretary for the Commission on Lay Catechists, and was in charge of Maryknoll’s Apostolic Center, a place for retreats and workshops.

Sister Rosalia was also an engaging writer. She somehow found time to write about the people and experiences that filled her days. In 1941, The Field Afar Press published her book One Inch Of Splendor, and reprinted it four times. The book is a simple, day-by-day account of life as lived by a Maryknoll Sister in China. Her work in Maryknoll’s early missions was also featured in Jean-Paul Weist’s history Maryknoll In China and Penny Lernoux’s Hearts On Fire.

In 1993, at the age of 81, Sister transferred from the Taiwan Region to the Main House Community. Writing about this time she stated: “My life has changed so much. My apostolate here is one of more time for prayers, of living more fully in His presence so that the little things I do for others will be radiant with God’s love and that they will thank God for His loveliness. What do I do? Just little things: a visit to someone down the hall, a sharing of books and thoughts – just being a friend with a smile.” Reflecting on her life’s work, she wrote: “I have often rejoiced in being the first to speak His name in the remote villages and crowded cities in China, and I have thought that there could be no joy greater than speaking His name among those who know Him not.”

So today as we give thanks for Sister Rosalia’s life as a Maryknoll Sister. Let us rejoice that she is now speaking face to face with the One whose name she spoke throughout China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States.

We welcome Sister Rosalia’ s family. In the name of Maryknoll I express our condolences to each of you and thank you for having shared Sister Rosalia with us and the peoples of Asia for sixty-one years. We are also happy to have with us members of the Catholic Community in Kaying, China and thank them for their remembrance of Sister displayed in the beautiful banner which adorns our Chapel today.

We welcome our brother Maryknollers, Father Lawrence McCulloch who will preside at this Eucharistic Celebration of Sister Rosalia’s resurrection, and Father James Collignon, a long-time friend of Sister Rosalia, who will share a reflection with us on today’s Gospel and Sister Rosalia’s life.