Maryknoll sisters celebrate 100 years of ministry in China

WASHINGTON (CNS) – 100 years ago – September 12, 1921 – when the Maryknoll sisters assigned their first group of sisters to China, the order’s first mission.

A sister has been there almost half that time, 49 years to be exact. To mark the 100th anniversary, Maryknoll Sister Michelle Reynolds spoke during a panel detailing the situation in China at the Sisters’ General Council in Maryknoll, New York.

“A lot of sisters were asking what was going on in Hong Kong,” where she has ministered since 1972, Sister Reynolds told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 13 telephone interview during a break in general council.

Sister Reynolds, of Saugus, Mass., Said she was drawn to Maryknoll for two reasons: Her father always had a copy of Maryknoll magazine at home, and her own inclination for religious education led her to discern a vocation with Maryknoll.

She has been a member of the order for 60 years, including four years teaching in New York’s Chinatown.

As with almost everything else in life and in society, so much has changed since she was first posted to Hong Kong.

When she first went there, the people Sister Reynolds worked with were “in a small village parish,” she said.

“Many of them were refugees from mainland China. They were extremely poor. Their living conditions were small one-room cottages. My first 10 years I worked in this ward, ”said Sister Reynolds. “But the people were very strong as a community and very close that even now, after all these years, I will have contact with a lot of them.”

From that village parish, Sister Reynolds moved to an area where the government had “reclaimed the land and demolished all of their homes, so they were all relocated to skyscrapers – so I moved with them and I I continued in the parish for a few years and thus became more or less stable, ”she said.

“Then there was a demand for someone to work in the ‘New Territories,’ living and working near Hong Kong’s border with mainland China,” Sister Reynolds added. “For my part, I was initially open to all needs. That’s why I said that when I moved to the new territories, it was a whole area that was developing. So I was happy to be there. “

She remembers fondly the “association of pastoral sisters” of Maryknollers and nuns from other religious institutes ministering in Hong Kong.

“We made fairly regular trips to (mainland) China. We got in touch with other religious communities there. We were kind of a support group, whether they needed support for their schools or whatever, ”she told CNS.

There are eight Maryknoll sisters currently ministering in Hong Kong, although one has been stranded on the Chinese mainland for a year due to travel restrictions linked to COVID-19. Sister Reynolds said there were also five Maryknoll priests in attendance, including one who teaches at a university in northern China.

“There was more communication with the pastoral groups. But now a lot of it has been stopped because of COVID, ”she said.

As for his own methods of communication, “I speak Cantonese and have studied Mandarin, so sometimes I can follow conversations. But when I open my mouth, the cantonnais comes out instead.

Today, at age 80, Sister Reynolds is retired. If you can call it that.

“Being retired, I am responsible for a diocesan building. We have groups that come for activities, ”she explained. “We are open to the village using space. We have a small chapel for occasional liturgies. We have classes for catechumens. In addition, due to my previous links with Catholic schools in the area, I sit on the board of directors of the independent school management committee.

“It’s retirement! Sister Reynolds said with a big laugh.

She has been on US soil since July and plans to return to Hong Kong in mid-October.

Beyond the changes of ministry over the past half century, much has changed in Hong Kong even in the past few years.

“The situation has deteriorated a lot” since then, she said. The season of mass protests in Hong Kong against a bill on extradition and related issues “has been a very difficult time,” she said. “When I left, things were still very hectic. “

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