September 2006: SISTER MAGDALENE WANG (entered eternal life on May 25, 2007)
“Throughout my life I knew it was important to have faith and to believe in the power of God,” said Sister Magdalene Wang, OSF. For many people this is a guiding force in their life and for Sister Magdalene it has also been her strength during difficult times.
Sister Magdalene was born on May 2, 1921 in Poping, Shantung, China. Her father was a farmer who grew beans that were later processed into oil that he sold. Her mother cared for the six children in the family and Sister Magdalene also helped with the raising of her siblings and the upkeep of their home.
When she was 20 years old, she traveled two hours from home to work with the Immaculate Conception Sisters but she was not interested in pursuing a future with them. However, this experience gave her wisdom to consider a life of service.
“My parish pastor invited me to visit St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tsinan, China, and I agreed to make the trip,” Sister Magdalene said. The American Province of the Hospital Sisters began the mission in China in 1925 in celebration of their 50th anniversary in America.
“I remember how friendly and happy all the Sisters were at the hospital and the convent. It made a positive impression on me,” Sister Magdalene said.
After meeting with Sister Elise, the Superior, Sister Magdalene began her journey as a Franciscan Sister. “As each day passed, I realized that I wanted to join this Community and felt that my vocation was here with these Sisters. I thanked God for bringing me to these Sisters,” she added.
God gave her the strength she needed to make this important step. “My parents were religious and respected their children’s wishes but it was still sad to say goodbye to them,” Sister Magdalene said. When she made the decision to enter in 1945 at the age of 24, she could not return home for one year.
With the other Sisters, Sister Magdalene reached out to the patients and families at St. Joseph’s Hospital and brought happiness and joy to them in their despair. However, there was political problems escalating in China and the Sisters were challenged to remain strong in their faith and trust in God.
Facing the Communists
On March 27, 1948 a telegram came to the mission in Tsinanfu, China that stated the Sisters, novices, and postulants had to evacuate China immediately for the United States. The Communists were invading their homeland.
The Sisters were already aware that the invasion was happening because their Provincial in Springfield had sent a letter to the Superior in China. In her book “The Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in China” Sister Frances Elizabeth Schmitz, OSF documented this history from 1925-1987. In it she shared some details of the Communist invasion:
“At Changtien, Sister Damascene had brought the children from the compound into the house where they stood trembling and exhausted from the noise of bursting bombs and machine guns. When the troops came into the compound, the Sisters and children fled to the basement. Meanwhile the Communists rushed up and down the stairs, taking what they could and burning the rest, saying that it was their duty to destroy (page 73).”
Saying goodbye to China
In fleeing their homeland, the Chinese Sisters did not have the time to say goodbye to their family. In addition, they were told they would only be in America for three years. Sister Magdalene and 12 other Chinese Sisters arrived at the Motherhouse in Springfield on June 5, 1948 after a journey on a boat from China to San Francisco and then by train to Springfield. They knew nothing of the United States and did not speak English.
“I was told to always say yes in America,” Sister Magdalene said with a smile. “It always seemed to help when I was asked a question even though it might not have been the response I would have given. For example, I was not used to drinking water with ice nor was I familiar with drinking animal milk. The children in China only drank their mother’s milk or goat’s milk.”
Sister Magdalene learned English and received her nursing training at St. John’s School of Nursing in 1950. Following this, she served at St. John’s Hospital, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital (Belleville, IL) and St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital (Effingham, IL). She served the sick and needy while learning English and American customs.
Because China was closed, communication between Sister Magdalene and her family was nonexistent for more than 30 years. She sent letters through a priest in Hong Kong but her family did not realize that she was in America. They presumed she was in Hong Kong.
In 1967 Sister Magdalene received a letter from her brother that her mother had died and that her father and five siblings were alive. She first returned home in 1979 and faced her family and country that she had not seen for 31 years. “I got off the train and was told that my brother had waited two days for me and now returned home. So I sat in the back of a bicycle with a Communist as my driver and he took me to my home. It looked so different and everyone had changed so much,” Sister Magdalene said.
Since this time, she has visited China and her family and writes letters to them frequently. She, along with the other Chinese Sisters, are together at the Motherhouse in Springfield and keep many of their traditions alive including cooking, gardening, and speaking their language.
A message of forgiveness
Her message of forgiveness, faith, and believing in the power of God is the example that can inspire all who read this story. “I am reminded of what Jesus said as he was dying on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’ and have also prayed this in my life for the Communists,” she concluded.