This September we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Maryknoll Sisters’ first overseas mission departure to China. Though the Sisters began mission work on the west coast of the United States in 1920, this departure marked the beginning of the Sisters’ long history of mission in fields afar. Like the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers before them, the Sisters chose China as their first mission. And who were these first intrepid Sisters to take this journey? They are the focus of this blog as we highlight the first six missioners to China.
Sister Mary Lawrence Foley
First up is Sr. Mary Lawrence Foley, who entered Maryknoll on March 24, 1919. Before entering, Sr. Mary Lawrence worked as a clerk-stenographer in an insurance agency in Massachusetts. Sister was professed on August 5, 1921 and just a month later was on her way to China. Her mission career saw her in a variety of fields: caring for orphans (Yeungkong and Loting), working in a medical dispensary (Loting), doing family visiting (Yeungkong and Loting), catechetical work (Yeungkong, Loting, and Kowloon), teaching English and music (Yeungkong, Loting, and Kowloon), and running the Catholic Action Group in Kongmoon. Sister Mary Lawrence eventually left China and was assigned to Hawaii and Boston’s Chinatown.
Sister Mary Barbara Froehlich
Sister Mary Barbara Froehlich entered Maryknoll on October 14, 1919 after working for ten years in her father’s cigar factory in Wisconsin. Sister was chosen to be part of this first group of missioners and spent the next six years in South China – Kowloon, Yeungkong, and Loting – before receiving mission assignments to the Philippines and Hawaii. While in China, Sister Mary Barbara gave service to the mission by working in the kitchen as well as helping in nurseries run by the Sisters. She ended her mission life back in the United States serving at the Venard, the Motherhouse, and Bethany.
Sister Mary Rose Leifels
Our next Sister, Sister Mary Rose Leifels entered Maryknoll on July 19, 1916, and was among the first group to be professed on February 15, 1921. Before arriving at Maryknoll, Sister worked as a stenographer for a real estate company and for the General Electric Company, both in Schenectady, NY. After arriving in China, Sister Mary Rose was assigned to Yeungkong and Pingnam until 1944 (with a short interruption to St. Paul’s Hospital in the Philippines from 1927-1930). There she gave service doing clerical work, caring for the elderly, working in a medical dispensary, doing family visiting, catechetical work, and teaching blind girls hymns. After leaving overseas mission due to World War II, Sister spent her remaining days in New York’s Chinatown and finally served as a secretary at Bethany.
Sister Mary Paul McKenna
Sister Mary Paul McKenna was charged with leading this first group of missioners to China. Sister entered Maryknoll on July 10, 1917 after having spent the last few years teaching in Pennsylvania. As Regional Superior Sister Mary Paul was based in Kowloon, where she spent the majority of her time overseas. In 1925, she did travel to the Philippines to help set up the Sisters’ mission there. Sister also gave service in the United States where she was appointed as the Local Superior in Chicago in the early 1960s.
Sister Mary Monica Moffatt
Sister Mary Monica Moffatt, born in England, became a naturalized US citizen in 1913 and entered the Maryknoll Sisters on February 1, 1920 after attending business school. After arriving in China, Sister spent her time in Kowloon (Vestment Department) and Yeungkong (working in the medical dispensary, doing family visiting, catechetical work, and teaching) and was later assigned to St. Paul’s Hospital in the Philippines. Due to failing health, Sister Mary Monica was sent back to the US in 1935 and gave service at the Motherhouse and Bethany.
Sister Imelda Sheridan
Our final Sister, Sister Mary Imelda Sheridan, entered Maryknoll on October 14, 1919 after completing her education in Scranton, Pennsylvania and working in a textile factory. Sister spent her life in service to the Chinese people – in South China, Taiwan, and in Chicago’s Chinatown. In South China, Sister Imelda worked in Hong Kong (teaching pianoforte and acting as a choir director), Kaying (catechetical work, family visiting, and running sodalities), and Tungshek (directing the language school, family visiting, and catechetical work). Sister was also the Local Superior of Tungshek and Kaying.
These first six Sisters in China set in motion 100 years of service by the Maryknoll Congregation. Their legacy lives on today in the Sisters missioned in 18 countries around the world.
For more information please check out the Maryknoll Sisters’ webpage dedicated to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first sending of Sisters to China in 1921.