The First Congregational Chapter - 1925
The first Canonical Visitation by His Eminence Cardinal Hayes was made on December 6, 1924. He decided that elections be held in the Spring of 1925, and the Sisters' First Chapter took place in May 1925. The single most important work of the eighteen Sister-delegates, who represented in some way all the 163 Sisters, was the first official canonical election of officers to govern the community for the next six years. Mother Mary Joseph (MMJ) was chosen unanimous-ly as the first Mother General, and four Sister Councilors were elected: Srs. M. Columba Tarpey, M. St. John Brown, M. de Paul Cogan, M. Felicita Clark, and Sr. Regina Reardon continued as Bursar General. MMJ was also to act as Local Superior.
Discussions on Proposed Questions
After the elections, MMJ convened the meeting to consider the proposed questions from the Chapter. The content included the care of the sick, the general discipline of the houses, the speaking of English on the missions, the vows, particularly obedience, the training of new members, and the means of financial support.
MMJ added her comments to the discus-sions on these subjects. She called attention to the fact that gradual changes were taking place both in the spiritual and material life of Maryknoll Sisters because "we are growing." Her balanced common sense prevailed always. MMJ stated a younger Sister would be placed in authority because of her abilities, not on the basis of any seniority. She noted that charity is essential in the care of the sick. Having given some time to all questions, MMJ and the Sisters left unanswered some which only time could resolve when tested by experience.
An important event that occurred during the Chapter days was the bringing home of the remains of our dear Srs. M. Xavier Wholean and M. Emmanuel Donahue, who had been interred in St. Augustine Cemetery in Ossining. Sisters wearing mantles met the hearse as it entered the Maryknoll grounds and they followed in procession to a section for the Sisters in the Society's cemetery plot, within sight of both Rosary House and the Seminary. Fr. James A. Walsh (JAW) said the prayers at the graves. Then the Sisters recited the De Profundis, as they filed past the graves, each one dropping a flower on the caskets.
First Assignments to Korea ~ 1924
Before leaving Korea, MMJ had promised Fr. Patrick Byrne she would send Sisters for the work there. The first assignments to Korea took place on June 23, 1924. The following were selected: Srs. Lucy Leduc, Juliana Bedier, Eugenia Gorman, Sylvester Collins, Andrew Smith and Augustine Kuper. They arrived in Gishu on October 21, 1924, a city of mud huts with straw roofs, or tile, if the owner was affluent. There was so much to get used to: the icy cold winter, difficulty of obtaining water, bread "imported" once a week, meat available every fifth day. The Sisters also found the good that gave them joy in little events. Their language teacher was Mrs. Helen Chang, wife of artist Louis Chang. His brother, John Chang, became South Korea's first Ambassador to Washington, and later the Premier of Korea.
His sister, Mary, was already in the Maryknoll Novitiate, and would become Sr. M. Agneta Chang. With her was Magdalena Kim, who became Sr. Margaret Kim. Nakamura San, a former Buddhist and a teacher of Japanese to one of the Sisters, was converted and four years later entered Maryknoll to become Sr. M. Sabina Nakamura.
Purchase of Bethany
At the Sisters Corporation Meeting on June 16, 1924, the purchase of the James Clarke Property in Ossining for $20,000 was approved. This was the first property bought by the Sisters. Fr. Walsh gave the name "Bethany" to the property. Building began on July 17, 1924, eventually to be used as a Guest House. Our Sisters administered Bethany beginning November 21, 1925, when JAW celebrated the first Mass there.
Preparations for the Motherhouse
During the middle twenties, MMJ began planning for a Motherhouse. Soon the last little frame buildings on the property would be full!
She watched on a February day in 1926 the Sisters plowing through snow drifts to Mass and prayers in one house, to work in another, to meals in another. She saw their sopping skirts while they stood outside the different houses knocking the snow off their rubbers.
She thought of their crowded dormitories where one could just stand between the beds—and of the beds that had taken over the community room in St. Joseph's, as well as beds being put at the end of the hallways and at the head of staircases.
She thought of the young women writing to her by the score to inquire about becoming Maryknoll Sisters, and she felt that the time had come to do something more.
She set herself to increase the income in every way compatible with the life and purpose of the Community—selling Sisters' handiwork, setting up a stamp department, making greeting cards, initiating an electro-plating department and other initiatives.
These efforts helped but did not suffice. MMJ made an appeal to the Catholic Daughters of America who pledged themselves generously to assist us. However, the results of their action could not approximate what was required.
New Initiatives for Securing Funds
With a sense of urgency, Mother picked up her pen and wrote to Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia. "…Where pastors were willing, might her Sisters stand at the door of the churches of his Archdiocese and receive the offerings of the parishioners?" Promptly, and to many surprisingly, Cardinal Dougherty answered, "Yes." Later, when approached, Archbishop Glennon of St. Louis and Cardinal Hayes of New York gave the same permission. This was the beginning of our Development Department! Mission circles were formed by women friends of the Sisters, and every month they sent small checks to help support the missioners and finance the Motherhouse.
Although the well-to-do and famous helped, including Shirley Temple who turned up at a Tea Party, most contributors were working-class Catholics who went without lunch or walked to work for a week to send a few dollars. Children saved pennies and nickels to give to the Maryknoll mite boxes, and many families sent bags of cancelled stamps to be sold. The Field Afar frequently solicited funds for the construction of the Motherhouse.
Building a Community
For MMJ and her Sisters, mission constituted every aspect of their lives together. Mission was the way of life. While engaged in the long-range planning demanded for the building of a Motherhouse, MMJ was forming in another and more important way a community, which reflected a family spirit. She arranged a series of classes entitled, "Morning Talks for Benjamins," directed to the new members; she gave conferences to her Sisters at home and mailed them overseas; her own accessibility was constant—all leading the Community to a greater and deeper sense of family and mission.
MMJ was open to adaptations in community life and in prayer, leading to the formation of her Sisters as true religious and missioners. She was making choices, too, among the many fields and works now held out to her Sisters that benefited the most needy in our world.
Education of the Sisters
MMJ had begun to continue the education of at least some of her Sisters for various needs in the missions, as early as she could and with the generous help of such communities as the Religious of the Sacred Heart at Manhattanville, the Mount St. Vincent Sisters of Charity, and the Seattle Sisters of Providence. In 1926 she was able to open a house near the Catholic University of America until, the Motherhouse being built, a training school for teachers could be initiated there for her Sisters.
The Philippines and Hawaii
In January 1926, the first group of Sisters arrived in Manila, and in June began a school in Malabon, Philippines: Srs. Teresita O'Donnell, Philip Bergeron, Mary de Sales Mullen, de Chantal Galligan and Assumpta Duffy. In July, Srs. Theodore Farley, Angela Dalton and Caritas McCabe arrived. When on her visitation to the Orient in 1926-1927, MMJ committed more Sisters to work in the Philippines. Writing to JAW in 1927 from Kowloon, China, after visiting the Philippines, she first outlined the circumstances of the new work. By 1927, the Maryknoll Sisters were in Manila taking over St. Paul's Hospital and St. Mary's Residence Hall. Sr. Columba Tarpey was assigned the Mission Superior in the Philippines, arriving there in 1928.
In September 1927, our Sisters arrived in Hawaii. Those assigned to Punahou were: Srs. Veronica Hartman, Berchmans Flynn, Immaculata Brennan, Matthias Lickteig, Robert Rust and Tarcisius Doherty. Those missioned to Heeia were: Srs. Alphonsa Bergeron, Gregory Mackey, Pieta Kirby and Adrienne Mundy.
The Tompkins Property
In June 1927, The Maryknoll Society purchased the Tompkins' Estate across the way from their present property, which extended from the highest point in Westchester to Brookside Lane. On August 15, JAW blessed the family dwelling on the highest point naming it Regina Coeli. This became part of the Sisters' Novitiate. On November 7, 1928, the Maryknoll Sisters purchased from the Society 53 acres of the former Tompkins' property, including Regina Coeli hilltop, and the land on which the Sisters Center would be built. The Society retained the southern portion of 8.86 acres. In July 1945, on our inquiry of the Society to purchase this remaining portion, they made a gift of it to us, in lieu of the work of the Sisters through the years. In the 1970s, the Society bought from us the small piece of land and house on Brookside Lane and Ryder Road.
In October 1929, the nation's economy suddenly crashed. In less than a month stocks declined 40 percent, and as the new year wore on, banks and factories closed, businesses failed, mills and mines shut down all over the country. At Maryknoll, as elsewhere, the sharp pinch was felt. Bills stacked up. "What are we going to do, Mother?," one of the Sisters asked. "Don't worry, Sister," Mother said in her most equable tones, "This is God's work. God will take care of us."
A Reflective Moment
Wisdom is trusting God unconditionally!
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The above Reflections were adapted from Maryknoll's First Lady by Jeanne Marie Lyons, MM; To the Uttermost Parts of the Earth by Camilla Kennedy, MM; Hearts on Fire by Penny Lernoux; Maryknoll Sisters, A Pictorial History, by Sr. Mary Francis Louise; 1925 Distaff (Sisters Diary) by Srs. Eunice Tolan and Incarnata Farrelly at Archives.
Maryknoll Contemplative Community and the SistersCentennial Retreats-Reflection Committee
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