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Loretto Builds Bridges in Service Worldwide

Posted on May 17, 2021, by Loretto Community

A true understanding of community necessitates a looking outward, “a going forth to meet our neighbors near and far in their human needs and aspirations. We seek to reach out beyond boundaries” — to live on the frontiers of a global world.  (“I Am the Way,” Loretto’s Constitutions, #35) 

A large bell hangs outside on a wooden beam held up by two wooden posts. A cross sits atop the beam.
The mission bell waits to be rung on the grounds of Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky.

The first members of Loretto had no road maps. As the Sisters began their mission to states, territories and countries they had never been, their guide was the Spirit of God, calling them to meet the needs of the people they would serve. After early foundations in the United States, their next venture was to China in 1923.

Loretto Sisters went to China filled with the Church’s call to mission. The Church hoped that religious, both women and men, Catholic and Protestant, would respond to their baptismal call and the needs of the Chinese people. Six Sisters began the first overseas mission of Loretto: Nicholas Egging, Justa Justyn, Mary Jane McDonald, Maureen O’Connell, Stella Thompkins and Patricia Hughes. The Loretto Sisters, known by many in the States as having the missionary spirit, were invited to China by Bishop Edward Galvin, a member of the Society of St. Columban, director of the Chinese Mission to Hubei province and the first bishop of Hanyang, China. The Sisters worked tirelessly for and with the Chinese people for more than 30 years. When the Communists came in 1949 and founded the People’s Republic of China, some of the Sisters had to leave. More Loretto Sisters would follow into a sea of international tension and crises that would bring forth incredible strength and faith, the same faith that brought them to China and kept them there. 

Archival class photo from China, with Sisters of Loretto, in habit, in the center.
Shown here is the Wen Te graduation class in Hanyang, China, with 24 students, 10 of whom were Catholic. Peter Chang, principal, is in front of Loretto Sister Clementia Rogner. To her right is Sister Justa Justyn. To the left are Loretto Sisters Isobel Huang and Nerinckx Marie HangYang.
Photo courtesy of Loretto Archives

The Sisters took charge of an embroidery school in Hanyang, and in 1933 they opened a school in Shanghai that served the daughters of the city’s international population. The Sisters continued teaching and doing other service work through multiple crises, wars and, in Hanyang, catastrophic floods and epidemics. How many times in the first 10 years had military threats pushed the Sisters to decide whether to leave or stay. But stay they did. Opening a new school in Shanghai would hold promise for Loretto in China. Other Sisters arrived from Kentucky to staff the schools. Truly the work of the Gospel.

As the years went by, the Sisters responded to the calls from other bishops to open new schools, worked with Catholic War relief, all while experiencing the Sino-Japanese War. As one of the missionary Sisters then said, “We have much to deal with and to worry about; the future will have to wait.” They stayed together and trusted in God throughout all the bombing.

A sister in habit turns the handle of a stone grinder.
Loretto Sister M. Nicholas Egging grinds wheat for breakfast food in this undated photo. Notice the native stone grinder.
Photo courtesy of Loretto Archives

As the Sisters’ work in education continued, teachers turned into nurses, nurses turned into food preparers, and mentors of orphans. These Sisters of Loretto were missionaries. They did what they were called upon to do. They welcomed new Chinese members to join Loretto. They began a novitiate in China. All the while dealing with the effects of World War II breaking out on four continents. Correspondence was difficult between China and the Motherhouse in Kentucky. Pressure from the Japanese authorities to expel the Sisters was looming. Word soon came from Tokyo that all Sisters, priests, members of all faiths were expelled from the south.

Those Sisters of Loretto who remained in China continued opening new schools especially in Shanghai, working with the postulants, ministering to the people. All the while writing to Kentucky saying, “Poor China, her misery is great. We are staying here to do the work of God.” 

Archival photo of sisters in habit in a punt boat in canal traffic.
Loretto Sisters go to visit the sick during the flood in this photo, taken sometime between 1941 and 1950.
Photo courtesy of Loretto Archives

The years 1951 and 1952 saw the Sisters of Loretto leave China. The hardships were over for them; yet Loretto would remain tied to China. Sister Isobel Huang, the first Loretto Chinese Sister, was there, and so were our hearts.

This week, in addition to Loretto’s mission in China, Loretto’s Facebook page will focus on other areas around the world where Loretto has served. 

(References for the China mission are from “Venture Into The Unknown: Loretto in China  1923-1998” by Patricia Jean Manion SL, Independent Publishing Corp., St. Louis, 2006.)

Book cover reading "Venture into the Unknown."

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