By Marjorie Ann Bush, MM
At ten a.m. on September 16, 2014, Francis Lu Xinping, Archbishop of Nanjing Archdiocese in China, and seven companions arrived at the Maryknoll Sisters Center. Archbishop Francis was on a ten-day visit to the United States. His journey included Dayton University in Ohio, Caritas in Washington, D.C., and Maryknoll in New York. In an earlier letter, Archbishop Francis stated that the purpose of his visit was to personally thank the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation and Maryknoll Society for the many services we had generously given to the Archdiocese of Nanjing.
It was a thrilling experience to once again meet Archbishop Francis Lu, Sister Maria Zheng and Fr. Anthony Guo, all of whom I worked closely with during the four and a half years that I lived in Nanjing. During that time, Sister Maria Zheng and Father Thomas Goa were granted scholarships through Maryknoll Society’s China Project to study in the United States. Also during that time, Father Larry Lewis volunteered to give a retreat to the clergy in Nanjing Archdiocese.
With the gracious assistance of Sister Betty Ann Maheu, we welcomed Archbishop Francis and his entourage with refreshments in Molly’s Suite. After introductions and a presentation of gifts by Archbishop Francis to the Community, Sister Betty Ann gave the group a tour of the Heritage Museum, especially stressing our beginnings in China. We prayed together for world peace in the Main Chapel, after which we wended our way to Maryknoll Sisters’ Residential Chapel on the fourth floor where Archbishop Francis, Father Anthony Guo and Father Joseph Gu concelebrated the Eucharist in Chinese. After Mass both Archbishop Francis and the Sisters in wheelchairs could not get enough of each other. While shaking his hand, they all wanted to tell him where and how long they were in mission, especially the old China hands.
Finally, we were able to enter the elevator and descend to the first-floor main dining room, where Sister Betty Ann and Laura had lovingly decorated two tables with white tablecloths, flowers, place marks and gifts. The group was in awe of the size and beauty of the dining room with its side views of flowering shrubs both in the courtyard and street side. It was probably a first for the seven men to pick up their plates and food on the serving line, but for the three women it was not too unusual. During the meal, the Maryknoll Fathers Superior General Edward Dougherty and Father Timothy Kilkelly, director of the Maryknoll China Project, joined the group for dinner. There was a small reunion, as a few of the Sisters in the dining room recognized Sister Maria Zheng from the time she was at the Center studying English.
After the meal, just as we were beginning to say our goodbyes and turn the group over to Father Tim for a tour of the Maryknoll Society Seminary, Archbishop Francis asked to see the statues of Mother Mary! Since they had already seen the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Maryknoll in the front foyer, I had to think which other statues had he in mind. Then, I remember he probably wanted to see the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Almost every Catholic Church in China has a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes outside the Church. Immediately on arriving at the grotto, Archbishop Francis gathered the group around him to pray.
Next we moved to the Maryknoll Sisters Cemetery. Everyone was enthralled with the grounds and the graves, reading the tombstones! Finally one member of the group asked why one grave was still open. I told them we were preparing to bury Sister Helen Gleason, who just died. She would be in the same grave as Sister Marge Kulage, who recently passed away at 107 years of age. They were utterly astounded, since earlier I had told them their host, Sister Betty Ann, was 91 years old. After praying to Our Lady of the Thorn Crowned Head at Mother Mary Joseph’s grave, the group was ready to head over to the Seminary. I said goodbye to Archbishop Francis Lu, Sister Maria Zheng and Father Anthony Guo and the other members of the group, thanking them for coming to express their gratitude for Maryknoll’s service to China, especially Nanjing Archdiocese. We then turned the group over to Father Timothy Kilkelly who would give them a tour of the Seminary.