Sr. Maria del Rey Danforth MM in her office

Pacific Hopscotch was written by Sister Maria del Rey Danforth and published in 1951. It records the Maryknoll Sisters’ work in and around the Pacific. Specifically, in China, the Philippines, Guam, Palau (in the Caroline Islands), Japan, Korea, and Hawaii. Sr. Maria del Rey was a journalist who joined the Maryknoll Sisters in 1933. She first went to mission in Hawaii and the Philippines. After WWII, she returned to New York and established the Publicity (later Communications) Department at the Sisters Center. For the next twenty years, Sister traveled the world. She gathered information about the Sisters’ mission work and experienced it for herself. Then, she compiled her findings into many bestselling books, including Pacific Hopscotch.

Painting Word Pictures

With these well-told stories, the missions come alive! Even if you have never been to places like Japan or the Philippines, with Sr. Maria del Rey’s help, you can see those places from the Sisters’ point of view. The detail she includes helps the reader picture each scene. The mountains, the people – its as if they’re in front of you. The visceral descriptions make the stories feel real and tangible. And they ensure the reader understands what the Maryknoll Sisters actually saw and did every day.  Click on the arrows below to read stories from Palau, China, and Japan. Click on the photos to enlarge. Play the audio clip below to hear a story from the Philippines.

The Sisters [in Palau] have ‘regular classes’, Kindergarten and First Grade. They are scheduled from 7:30 to 11:00 in the morning, but nobody watches the clock. One large central room on the first floor is Sister Loretta Marie’s kindergarten where thirty-four little brown angels with shining black curls and eyes like saucers are perched on benches on either side of the long tables. In English and in Palauan, Sister puts them through the one-two-threes. In another room behind, another Sister has twenty-six first graders, twelve on each side of the table and two parked on a packing case. There was room for one more on the packing case, so a twenty-seventh was accepted…

Sr. Loretta Hoffman teaching in Palau

Some of these jagged rock formations [in the mountains of Kweilin, China] are like rabbit’s ears; some like cat’s ears; a few like alligator’s teeth. One was a tall thimble upside down with a neat little house right on the rounded top. Several massed together to look like cathedral columns. One, the horizon reminded Father Toomey of the saw-toothed roofs of weaving factories in his native New Bedford, Massachusetts. Another time, they all slanted the same way and Sister Maria called them ‘windblown mountains’. One was a cat on his haunches sitting with ears cocked forward to check on all traffic. Another was an owl shrouded in misty afternoon light.

There’s a tremendous rush for the new ideas, too [in Japan]. Sister Veronica Marie and I were caught one day in that rush. Two college boys, with blue students’ caps pushed back on their foreheads, were stewing over their English lesson in the streetcar. As we sat beside them, they gave each other a look that spoke volumes. The English battle was won for the day. They stood politely, doffed their caps, and bowed. ‘Please, Miss, will you explain this word?’ One word led to another; the lesson was done in jig time. Then they started reciting. ‘Four score and seven years ago…’ was followed by ‘When in the course of human events…’ and the entire Star Spangled Banner.

Sr. Veronica Marie Carney (circled) and the other Sisters in Kyoto with members of their local congregation.

Everyday Moments

Sr. Maria del Rey also showcased everyday moments familiar to average Americans. She knew that anyone can picture their own families or neighbors getting ready for school or playing ball games in the yard. So she told stories like the ones below. Through stories like these, readers can feel personal connections to the Maryknoll Sisters’ work. They can see their own lives reflected in the lives of people around the world. Click on the arrows below to read stories from the Philippines, Korea, and China. Click on the photos to enlarge. Play the audio clip below to hear a story from Japan.

It’s a poor convent, indeed, that can’t afford a pet. Nearly everyone I know has some stray on which to lavish affectionate forgiveness. It may be a canary in the superior’s office; it may be a fern in the community room; or it may be a flea-bitten dog who haunts the kitchen door step. In our house in Baguio in the Philippines, it was Tessie the cat, named after the great St. Teresa but not much like her in virtue. Tess had her kittens regularly under the house or in the laundry basket or on somebody’s best habit. She knew our horarium to the minute. She never failed to leap to the first sound of the bell for the refectory, but chapel bells never broke her sleep.

Bishop Patrick Byrne with his cat, Furuya, Japan, 1938

In the yard below my window [at the St. Paul de Chartres Sisters’ orphanage in Seoul], I silently refereed many a game with athletic equipment American soldiers have given – good strong throwing, screaming laughter, and a jolly time for all. No supervised play, this; no indeed, just like the games of my youth when every child in our block used to gather under the street lamp in the summer evenings and we’d play hopscotch, and run-sheep-run, and catch the robber, and I-spy, without benefit, thank you, of anybody supervising our play.

Sr. Rose of Lima Robinson with the Sunday School class in Shingishu, Korea, 1937

That’s the kind of Catholics Chinese are. You are surprised to see your own image – putting a bit in the collection, getting clothes brushed up on Saturday night to look respectable at Sunday Mass, shooing the children off to Sunday School, having difficulties at times wondering why Sister failed their little Ah Lim but passed that stupid Wong child. But loving the Sisters none the less and marveling that they can stretch pennies so far.

Sr. Frances Murphy with a family in Lipu, China, 1949

Pacific Hopscotch is just one example of a book that shows Maryknoll’s mission work in tangible, relatable ways. Some others include Same Fate as the Poor by Judith Noone, Singing to the Dead: A Missioner’s Life Among Refugees from Burma by former Lay Missioner Victoria Armour-Hileman, and Once Upon a Time in Africa by Fr. Joseph Healey. The average American can pick up any of these books and travel to parts of the world they would never see in person. And through stories like those in Pacific Hopscotch, readers can better relate to foreign cultures and see common humanity around the world.