While looking through Penny Lernoux‘s book, Hearts on Fire, the heading of a particular section struck me. Hard beginnings. Something about those two words together just seemed appropriate for the beginning of this New Year. As the year 2020 came to a close, we did not magically leave behind all that has happened. It is with us and a challenge that we must continue to navigate through together.

These hard beginnings that Penny Lerneaux speaks of happened 100 years ago, “[w]hen the first band of six Maryknoll Sisters departed for China in 1921[.] [T]heir only thought was of the wonderful adventure that awaited them in ‘blazing a trail to Christ.’ The Maryknoll Fathers, who had already established mission centers in South China and Hong Kong wanted the Sisters to evangelize among Chinese women, who were inaccessible to priests because of the rigid separation of the sexes. But the goal was vague, and the Sisters, who had nothing to guide them save ‘faith and simplicity,’ in the words of Sister Mary Paul McKenna, the leader of the pioneer group:”

First six Maryknoll Sisters assigned to China
Mother Mary Joseph knew nothing about China. She had never been there. And Father Walsh, the Maryknoll superior, who was traveling with us, knew China only from a general tour. He had not seen the Fathers there since 1918, and this was 1921. When we got to China, I asked him, ‘What should we do?’ He said, ‘Didn’t Mother Mary Joseph tell you?’ I said, ‘No.’ Mother Mary Joseph had said, ‘Oh, Father General will be with you.’ So that was all we knew.

I never even thought about financial arrangements, and consequently we made none before we left [the United States]. We had a certain amount of money when we arrived, but we soon found ourselves in debt.

Sr. Mary Paul McKenna, MM

This was quite a way to start out but through perseverance, tenacity and imagination Maryknoll’s first Sisters in China laid a foundation that over time and throughout the world grew, changed, expanded and flourished. We may not know exactly where or how to begin this year but let us apply that same grit and see where it will take us.

While we make this charge forward, let us also remember on this day of Epiphany that, through the good times and the hard times, as Fr. Jack Sullivan says, “God is always revealed to us; God revealed in Christ Jesus calls us to be aware of this ever-revealing God. We discover God and name the discovery revelation. Scripture, history, experience seem to be telling us that God always and everywhere reveals self in and through whatever is available at a particular time and in the words, culture, and people of that time. There is nothing, no experience, no joy or catastrophe, no happiness or suffering, no destructive behavior or loving sacrifice, no life or death that is ‘outside’ of God who is in and within all, not as the all-powerful one but as the all-compassionate One[.]” 

Fr. Jack Sullivan saying Mass in the Holy Land, 1999