September 2010: SISTER GABRIELIS HU (entered eternal life on February 11, 2017)
When someone says “11-11-11” we know it’s a reference to our Sister Gabrielis Hu who was born on that day. This month, we are honored to share her story with you. Soon to celebrate her 99th birthday, Sister Gabrielis embodies Franciscan joy and has an appreciation of all God’s creation. Furthermore, her life in our Community spans the globe: from China to Taiwan, Chippewa Falls to Springfield, she has devoted her life in service to the poor, sick and needy...always with a smile.
Her story with our Community begins shortly after the Chinese New Year of 1929. Mary Hu and her father traveled every year from their Chinese village, Hu-Kai-Chuang, to the Franciscan school where she was a student. But the journey this year was different. Deciding to stop for the night and rest, they approached the gate of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Jinan, and inquired about spending the night. They were welcomed by Sister Clementia Dasenbrock, a native of a small town near Effingham, IL, who talked of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis who had arrived in Jinan in 1925 as missionaries and had already sent six Chinese girls to Springfield, IL to be educated in nursing and receive their religious instruction.
The next morning, they continued on their journey to the school. Six months later, while continually being reminded of Sister Clementia’s hospitality, Mary went home and asked her pastor for permission to enter the convent. She went back to Jinan around the New Year 1930 with the blessing of her father, mother, and three brothers.
Commitment to serve
“The Sisters welcomed me right away and there were already three candidates. On June 24, we and our Mistress of Novices got on a big ship, and after a 45 day trip arrived in San Francisco, California. Two days and one night later, we were at our Motherhouse here in Springfield, IL,” she said. Three years later, Sister Gabrielis made her First Vows and sent to St. John’s Hospital School of Nursing for training. Learning English and nursing surely was a challenge but she graduated in 1936. She returned to China in October.
St. Joseph’s Hospital was thought to have been the first modern hospital built by an American religious congregation in China (Cooke, pg. 371). It was three-story brick structure with running water, electric lights, and modern facilities. A 100 bed hospital with a clinic, the Sisters took care of more than 100 patients a day there. Over time, the number of American missionaries from Springfield to China grew to 26 while 14 Chinese girls were sent to the Motherhouse for formation and training.
Faith amid uncertainty
Political tensions began to arise between the Chinese and the Japanese and due to the Japanese occupation of China, all American missionaries were interned in concentration camps from 1942 to 1945, leaving two German Sisters and the native Chinese Sisters in care of the health care ministry that included the hospital and other clinics. However, this did not deter the Hospital Sisters from welcoming other Chinese girls interested in religious life. In 1942, the Vatican requested permission to open a novitiate in China and Sister Gabrielis was appointed Novice Mistress. She traveled to the concentration camp to get instructions from Sister Clementia for establishing the Novitiate in Chowtsun and from 1943-1948, 15 Chinese girls entered the Novitiate under Sister Gabrielis’ guidance. “Through it all, God was always with us - the civil, Japanese and Communist wars. Often we moved our patients from the hospital’s second floor to the basement several times a day as the bombing was less than two miles from us,” Sister Gabrielis said.
“In 1945, we had peace and the American Sisters returned to the hospital. But then in 1947, China was disturbed by the Communists and our Novitiate was moved to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Jinan. Times grew worse and our superiors in Springfield called all our Sisters to the US, including the Chinese Sisters. I arrived on June 5, 1948 along with 15 others (postulants, novices, and temporarily professed Sisters). We were hopeful to return to China in three years.” Sadly, conditions did not improve and no contact was possible. Sister Gabrielis made her first and only visit to China in 1991 to see her family. Fortunately, there were many nieces and nephews there to greet her.
Over the years, she has served in the lab at St. John’s TB Sanatorium, Springfield, St. Mary’s, Streator, and St. Clara’s, Lincoln. In 1960, she went to St. Vincent Hospital, Green Bay, and was a graduate of its first Histology class. She began her work as a histologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chippewa Falls, where her tiny hands made her skilled at preparing tissues for the pathologist. In 1980, she was asked to help her Chinese Sisters who had established a clinic in Kaoshiung, Taiwan. She served there for seven years.
During her second assignment in Chippewa Falls, there were 20 Sisters in the convent and Sister Gabrielis was skilled at preparing what she called ‘foreign food’ – hamburgers, and fried chicken. “She was able to cook our evening meal on Sundays while watching the Green Bay Packer game – climbing downstairs to the TV and up to the kitchen every quarter to check the oven,” recalls Sister Frances Elizabeth Schmitz.
In 2008, she stated “When I decided to become a Hospital Sister, I gave thanks to God for giving me the wisdom to follow Him. Even amid the challenges I’ve faced, I remember what my father always told me: never worry - because worrying does not change anything. God will take care of things as He ordained. Whatever you do be cheerful, happy, and satisfied. Always remember that the Lord has ordained His plan for all eternity, and therefore be resigned to it. Be faithful to where you work and take whatever comes…always trust in God because He will help you.”