The first mission trip to China began when Mother General Stephanie Mohun, O.P., received a letter from Father Paul Curran, O.P., the Ecclesiastical Superior of the Independent Mission of Kienow (known today as Jian’ou), Fukien (now called Fujian), China. Father Curran stated that the time was finally right for Sisters to come to China for mission work, with the Mission Council unanimously requesting St. Mary of the Springs. Five Sisters made up the first group of missionaries: Sr. Virginia Gordon (the superior), Sr. Felicia Schick, Sr. Leocadia Moore, Sr. Rosaire Rall, and Sr. Hildegarde Sapp. These pioneering women departed Columbus, Ohio to China in March 1935.
While waiting for the completion of their own compound in Kienow, the five Sisters stayed with their Dominican brothers where they took lessons to learn Chinese in the local Kienow dialect, translated books and dictionaries into the local dialect for future missionaries, and took in five Chinese girls (four of them orphans) who helped them with sewing and cooking. In the spring of 1936, the Sisters, along with the Chinese girls, two priests, and local laborers, traveled by boat up the Min River to reach their new compound.
The Women’s Compound had a convent, dispensary, primary school, dormitory for older orphans and school boarders, the Holy Rosary Orphanage, and the Old Ladies’ Infirmary. The dispensary opened the day after the Sisters’ arrival; with that first day seeing Sr. Rosaire vaccinate fifty schoolboys against smallpox. The Holy Rosary Dispensary would continue to serve more than fifty patients a day.
The mission lived through two wars. First, the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), which broke out when the Chinese began fully resisting Japan’s encroachment of their territory. Kienow experienced multiple bombings and air raids during this time, especially from 1939 to 1941, which is also when the Japanese captured the province’s capital city, Foochow (AKA Fuzhou today). Many locals fled the area and those of the mission also went to other cities and country missions to avoid the raids. The American Consul ordered all British and American citizens to evacuate the area in 1944—this included the Sisters.
The Sisters returned to the Kienow compound in 1946, where they continued the mission until they were recalled again in 1949—this time due to the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949), the conflict between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists for control of the country. Communist victory was imminent at that point, with the Communists constantly marching towards Fukien (Fujian) province. The Mother General ordered the Sisters to return to America again.
Orphans from the mission were placed in Christian homes or in outlying Catholic missions. Two of the older orphaned girls traveled with the Sisters to the U.S. Of the elderly women, all were also sent to live in Christian homes except for three who remained at the compound. Twelve native Chinese women, who had become Beatae, also stayed at the compound to continue aiding their countrymen. Many locals ran away during this war too—those with money fled to Foochow (Fuzhou) while those without fled to the hills and country.
A total of eleven Sisters worked as missionaries in China. In addition to the original five were: Sr. Dorita Basbagill, Sr. Carlos Dolan, Sr. M. Bernard Lyons, Sr. Consilio McNamara, Sr. Rosamond Maritz, and Sr. Rose Agnes Murray. Mother Stephanie and Sr. Adele Heffley visited the mission as well.
**This exhibit is divided into two parts. The Kienow Mission shows the everyday lives and work of the Sisters and those who lived at or visited their mission in Kienow. Surrounded by Conflict examines how the politics and wars of the period affected the Sisters and their mission. Click on the images in the galleries to see them in their entirety and to find out even more details about each one.
Dominican Sisters of Peace Archives, Donna Taja