Sister Rose Duchesne Debrecht, MM

Born: November 20, 1922

Entered: December 8, 1940

Died: February 22, 2014

“To me life is a confirmation of that initial impact that you are loved. There is openness, sincerity and frankness in my lifestyle that makes me feel completely liberated. Free to be myself, happy to be what the Lord has given me to be.”

This is how Sr. Rose Duchesne once described her life, a life wherein she could freely acknowledge that she was loved, a life wherein she found her happiness in becoming what the Lord had given her to be. We celebrate that life today.

Sister Rose Duchesne Debrecht, MM, died peacefully on February 22, 2014 at Maryknoll Sisters Home Care, Maryknoll, NY. She was 91 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 73 years.

Armella Elizabeth Debrecht, better known to her students and friends by her religious name, Sister Rose Duchesne, was born on November 20, 1922 to Aloys and Leona Schneider Debrecht in St. Peters, MO. Her parents, brother Glennon Debrecht, and sister Mildred Ochs predeceased her. Another sister, Virginia Debrecht of St. Charles, MO, a niece and two nephews survive her.

Of her childhood, Sister Rose once wrote, “I did not realize until I had become an adult how much I had to be grateful for in terms of the loving warmth, and security of a comfortable family.”  It is this warmth that she so easily radiated to others with whom she came in touch.

Armella attended St. Peter’s High School, St. Charles, MO. graduating in 1940.The school was directed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who often encouraged their teenage girls to think and pray about their future vocation. “Being a cooperative student, “ Sister Rose wrote, “ I complied, feeling assured that the answer to my prayer was that I was vague about where my future lay, but I was certain that I could never be a Sister.” However, she said, “At this stage I didn’t even know that Maryknoll existed.”

It was shortly after her graduation that a Maryknoll priest came to her parish for a mission appeal. She recalled, “As I listened to him relate a story about the missions of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, I was frozen in our family pew listening to an inner voice saying, “You be a Maryknoll Sister.”

Armella entered the Maryknoll Sisters at their Center, Maryknoll, NY, from St. Peter’s Parish on December 8, 1940. She made her first Profession of Vows at the Maryknoll Sisters Motherhouse, Maryknoll, NY, on June 30, 1943, and her Final Vows on the same day, 1946 also at the motherhouse. Following her initial spiritual formation, Sister Rose was assigned to teach at Maryknoll Convent School, Hong Kong.

A graduate of St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO, with an M.A. in geography, and Maryknoll Teachers College, Maryknoll, NY, with a bachelors in education, Sister Rose spent her entire missionary life in Hong Kong, where she was a teacher and principal from 1946-2006.

Sister Rose studied Cantonese in Hong Kong and Macau as well as Mandarin at St. Louis University, MO in 1978-79. She served at Maryknoll Convent School in Kowloontong first as a teacher in Form IV and V from 1952-1958, and principal of the Secondary Section from 1965-1972, supervising 37 teachers and approximately 900 students. Later, from 1983-1985, she also served as supervisor of Maryknoll Convent School’s Primary Section. Maggie Chau, one of her students remembers her as “slender of build but straight of back, her presence reassuring. Her kind words, though gently spoken, deliver a serenity that touches the heart and a wisdom that commands respect. Her words are often stout vehicles of truth and God’s guidance.”

She taught at Maryknoll Sisters School at Blue Pool Road, Hong Kong, from 1958-1962.  From 1973-1978, when Kit Sam Middle School, Kwun Tong, was badly in need of a principal, Sister served there as both principal and teacher. From 1979-1985 Sister Rose served as matron at the student hostel at Adam Schall Residence, Chinese University of Hong Kong. In her own words “only in rising up to challenges can we realize our full potential.”

Following three years working at the Maryknoll Sisters Center in its Promotion and Mission Education office from 1985-1989, Sister Rose returned to Hong Kong, where she served in Regional Service Team Administration from 1989-1992.  She then worked in communications for Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) from 1989-1993. In 1991, in view of the uncertainty created by the return of Hong Kong to the sovereignty of China in 1997, UCAN decided to move its editorial staff to Thailand. Sister Rose spent the next year in the UCAN office in Thailand. Following her renewal in the United States in 1992, Sister Rose returned to Hong Kong where she engaged in tutoring English.

Before returning to the United States in 2011, Sr. Rose realized her most cherished dream: visiting the Kaying mission, where so many Maryknoll Sisters had worked long ago. To her delight the elderly in the village remembered the Sisters, even by name and welcomed Sr. Rose with wild open arms.

Returning to the Center for health evaluation in 2012, she joined the Eden Community where she remained until her death. Sister Rose gave her body to science with the hope that others might benefit from her donation. Carolyn Ku wrote “…going home to God is a moment of triumph for her as she has bravely and lovingly dedicated her life on earth to serve Him.”

We are happy to welcome many of Sister Rose Duchesne’s relatives and friends present here today. We also welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Jack Sullivan, MM, who will preside at this Memorial Mass.