Brief history of the Maryknoll Sisters

In 1912, the Maryknoll Sisters were the first group of Catholic Sisters in the United States founded for overseas mission. Ten years later in 1922, a group of six Sisters in sweeping grey habits arrived by steamer in Hong Kong to begin their mission. They had few resources other than their own faith, dedication, and what can only be described as a divinely-inspired ingenuity. Over the next nine decades, the Maryknoll Sisters established six thriving schools and a hospital in Hong Kong, and basically laid the foundation for Hong Kong’s social welfare system.

The Maryknoll Sisters also worked with minority communities in the United States. In 1914, while they were waiting for the Vatican’s approval to go to China, the first group of Sisters went to Los Angeles and Seattle, working with Japanese American children. At the outbreak of World War II, when Japanese Americans in the west coast were ordered to move into internment camps, two Japanese Maryknoll Sisters accompanied them voluntarily to one of the biggest camps, Manzanar, in Independence, California, offering vital encouragement and pastoral care for the duration of the internment.


Then in 1955, the Sisters founded Queen of the World Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, the first integrated hospital in America where African-American doctors and nurses worked side-by-side with white doctors and nurses to care for patients of all races. This was almost a decade before passage of the Civil Rights Act.


The 1960s were turbulent years and Vatican II, 1962-1964, opening the windows of the Church to the world, enlarged the whole concept of mission. Social justice surfaced as a major component of evangelization, and the Maryknoll Sisters, together with other religious communities, adopted the “preferential option for the poor”.


Today, the Maryknoll Sisters have approximately 500 members from 18 nations serving in 25 countries worldwide. They represent a variety of professions: nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, catechists, theologians, agronomists, artists, journalists and community development specialists. They try to be sensitive to local needs and customs, by searching out with local people what has to be done as their response to God’s Spirit.

In Asia, they join with others to prevent human trafficking and to assist victims with counseling and skills training so that they may recover and restart their lives. They also respond to the needs of refugees throughout the world. In Africa and Latin America, Maryknoll Sisters participate in programs that support those suffering from HIV and AIDS as well as the many orphans that are left behind. Everywhere throughout the world, but especially in the Philippines, they promote care and protection of the environment so that future generations may inherit a world that can sustain life. In North America, Maryknoll Sisters work with various marginalized groups, especially migrants and immigrants.

Maryknoll Sisters now serve in Albania, American Samoa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Japan, Kenya, Myanmar, Namibia, Panama, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, United States, and Zimbabwe.

You can also visit the Maryknoll Sisters website for more information about them.

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Sister Rose Duchesne Debrecht

A native of St. Peters, Missouri, Sister Rose joined the Maryknoll Sisters on December 8, 1940. Her first mission to China in 1946 was to work with young people, a cause that was dear to her heart and which continued for 60 years. She started as a teacher in the Maryknoll schools in Kowloon and Hong Kong and later became their principal.
When she retired, she stayed in Hong Kong, managing a hostel housing disadvantaged youths whom she also tutored, and volunteering at the Samaritans Hong Kong, a suicide prevention group.
In 2012, Sr. Rose returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in New York where she was often visited by her former students and colleagues. She passed away peacefully on February 22, 2014, surrounded by her beloved Sisters.

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Sister Joanne Doi

Sister Joanne (Jaruko) Doi was born in Los Angeles, CA. During World War II, her father and grandfather were sent to Manzanar Relocation Camp in the California desert. Also interned there at the time were Japanese-American Catholics belonging to the St. Francis Xavier (Maryknoll) parish. Her mother was sent to an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
After the war, Sister Jaruko went to the Maryknoll parish grade school, which had reopened in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of California at Davis with a bachelor’s degree in environmental planning and management. Before she entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1981, Sister Jaruko worked as a graphic artist and did administrative work at the Newman Center.
In 1983, she served in the southern Andes Mountains of Peru doing pastoral work among indigenous people. She was also involved with economic development projects. With other groups in the diocese and Aymara artists, she developed a grassroots silk-screening studio, a response to the need for popular education materials representative of the Andean and rural environment.
The Aymara people inspired Sister Jaruko to study and understand her own Japanese-American faith history so in 1997, she returned to school and earned
a Master of Theology degree from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. Her thesis explored the “Dance of a Thousand Cranes: A Legacy of Suffering and Hope from the Maryknoll Japanese- American Catholic Community.”

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Sister Madeline Maria Dorsey

Sister Maddie, as her friends fondly call her, was born in Brooklyn, New York. She joined the Maryknoll Sisters on December 8, 1936. With her training as a nurse, she served in Bolivia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Peru, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador.
In the 1950s, with a team of Maryknoll Sisters, she started the first integrated hospital in Kansas City, a decade before the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Her most difficult mission was working in El Salvador, when, in 1980, at the height of the civil war, she and Sister Terry Alexander had to identify two Maryknoll Sisters, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, and two other missionaries who had been massacred by National Guardsmen.
Returning to Maryknoll Sisters Center in New York in 1992, Sister Maddie served the elderly Sisters there and ministered to the poor in Ossining. She celebrated her 75th Anniversary as a Maryknoll Sister in 2011.

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Sister Rose Bernadette Gallagher

Sister Rose was born in Providence, Rhode Island. She entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1943. For over 60 years, she served on the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Thailand, and for a short period in the Sudan. Her ministries have been in education, community development and women’s issues. In Bangkok, Thailand, she was the Director of the Women’s Desk for ten years. Sister Rose Bernadette has retired to the Maryknoll Sisters Center and works in their Global Concerns Office. She keeps up-to-date with the problem of the trafficking of women throughout the world, and attends meetings on Women’s Advocacy at the United Nations.

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Sister Paulita Hoffmann

Sister Paulita was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1914. Her desire to work with the Chinese was what brought her to Maryknoll in 1933. Five years later, she set out for China where she did pastoral, catechetical and vocational work in the villages. But in 1949, under the Communist regime, she and Sister Edith Rietz were placed under house arrest together. During the next two years, mobs would come to search and ransack their cloister. At times, they were taken out and marched onto the streets, with crowds shouting accusations and throwing mud and stones at them.
Finally in 1951, Sisters Paulita and Edith were released to Hong Kong. After spending two years in the Maryknoll Sisters Center, where she recuperated from severe physical and mental strain, Sister Paulita wrote her memoir, Red China Days.
She renewed her energy and determination, and spent the next 50 years living and working in Taiwan. There she formed the Christian Communities and did apostolate, catechetical, social and pastoral work. Before her return to the Sisters Center in 2004, the Government honored her with a Taiwan Permanent Residency in recognition of her years of dedication and hard work.

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Sister Jeanne Houlihan

After completing her bachelor’s degree in St. Louis, Missouri, Sister Jeanne joined the Maryknoll Sisters in September 1952. Her first assignment three years later was to teach English, Scripture, and Home Economics at the Maryknoll Convent School in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Except for two extended leaves when she returned to the Sisters Center, Sr. Jeanne remained in Hong Kong for over 50 years, serving as principal of the school and as a member of the Management Committee for Vietnamese refugee children; teaching at Hong Kong University, teaching English at the Mar Tau Wei Home for paroled girls, and much more.
Sr. Jeanne retired in 2011 and is now at Maryknoll, NY where she works as the Sacristan and as the Planned Giving Officer.

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Sister Claudette LaVerdiére

From 1990 to 1997, Sister Claudette was the President of the Maryknoll Sisters congregation. Sister Claudette wrote the “Afterward” of Penny Lernoux’s book, Hearts On Fire, The Story Of The Maryknoll Sisters. Her latest book is On The Threshold Of The Future: The Life and Spirituality of Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, Founder of the Maryknoll Sisters.
Sister Claudette received her first mission assignment to East Africa in 1967 after earning her teaching degree. In Tanzania, she taught in the Maryknoll Sisters Secondary School for Girls and in Nakuru and Mombasa, Kenya, she taught religion in several secondary schools and helped to prepare teachers for catechetical ministry in primary schools.
In 1986, Sister Claudette earned a Master of Theological Studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois. She returned to Nairobi to teach at Tangaza, a major seminary and prepared candidates for priesthood and missionary work in Africa.
In 2000, Sister Claudette earned a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts followed by another tour in Nairobi, teaching seminarians, sisters and novices. In 2009, she spent three months in Myanmar (Burma) giving scripture courses at a religious institute.
Though she is based at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, Sr. Claudette travels all over, conducting retreats, teaching and writing. She continues to do research on the foundress, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers.

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Sister Teresa Leung

Sister Teresa, born and raised in Hong Kong, was herself a graduate of Maryknoll Convent School. She entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1956 and returned to Hong Kong in 1960. For the next fifteen years, she worked with refugees, did parish work, held retreats and did counseling. One unusual ministry was to prepare homilies with Catholic priests and ministers of other denominations — putting in a woman’s perspective of interpreting the gospel. She also did pastoral and administrative work at Our Lady of Maryknoll Hospital.
After her mission in the resettlement areas, she “taught happily” at Maryknoll Convent School for thirteen years in both its primary and secondary schools.
Since 1987, Sister Teresa has worked in the Alumnae Office at the Maryknoll Sisters Center. She communicates with former students of the Maryknoll Schools in Hong Kong and assists the alumnae associations worldwide in their fundraising efforts to support the Maryknoll Sisters. She continues to be inspired by their care, concern, and generosity.
In addition to her role as liaison with alumnae, Sr. Teresa also teaches English and computer skills to Chinese priests and sisters, employees and others who need help, and visits inmates at Sing Sing prison. A highlight of her prison ministry was seeking the release of a Chinese immigrant who had been wrongly incarcerated for more than thirteen years. He went back to Hong Kong where she helped to secure housing and a job for him. He is now married and has a son.

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Sister Betty Ann Maheu

Sister Betty Ann Maheu was born in Beauceville, Quebec and grew up in Maine. A graduate of Emmanuel College, she entered Maryknoll in 1949. Her first assignment was to teach high school in Maui, Hawaii. For eighteen years, she worked as Supervisor of the Maryknoll Schools in Hawaii and the Marshall Islands and as Administrative Assistant to the Diocese of Honolulu.
Sr. Betty Ann returned to serve eight years on the Maryknoll Sisters governing board, after which she went to Rome to work with the International Union of Superiors General. For six years, she lived out her mission in diverse ways, including coordinating publications for Major Superiors of the world, and ministering to Ethiopian refugees during their sojourn in Rome.
In 1990, after teaching in Xiamen, China, Sister Betty Ann was assigned to the Maryknoll mission in Hong Kong. There, Sister Betty Ann was appointed editor of the bilingual journal Tripod where she researched and wrote about the situation of the Catholic Church in China. Sister Betty Ann lived and worked in China for more than sixteen years, aiding the poor and marginalized, and actively promoting goals from Church unity to gender equality.
She is currently living at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, where she continues to document the missionary story of the Maryknoll Sisters in Hong Kong, Macau, and China.

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Sister Janice McLaughlin

Sister Janice, current President of the Maryknoll Sisters, was elected in 2008. She holds a doctorate in Religious Studies from the University of Zimbabwe and her latest book, Ostriches, Dung Beetles and Other Spiritual Masters, details the wisdom she gained while living in Africa for more than 30 years.
In 1979, she worked in Rhodesia and was in charge of the Zimbabwe Project, set up by a consortium of Catholic donors to assist refugees from the war in Rhodesia. After Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, Sister Janice was invited to work as education consultant in the President’s Office there and during her tenure, nine schools were built for former refugees and war veterans, and a new educational system was established which linked academic subjects with technical training.
In 1985, she helped to establish the Zimbabwe Mozambique Friendship Association to assist dis- placed people in Mozambique who were caught up in the civil war between the government and rebels. After fulfilling her duties at the Sisters Center for six years, she returned to Zimbabwe in 1997 to become the training coordinator for Silveira House, a leadership training and development education center. She also set up a scholarship fund for girls to attend school.
She chairs the African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching, an association of justice and peace prac- titioners throughout Africa, and also the Counseling Services Unit, a group of doctors and counsel- ors who assist the victims of violence in Zimbabwe. She has authored many articles and books over the years, including On The Frontline: Rural Catholic Missions in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War.

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Sister Miriam Xavier Mug

Sister Miriam Xavier Mug entered the Maryknoll Sisters on September 7, 1943. She was assigned to Hong Kong in 1946, where she taught and later served as Principal in the two Hong Kong schools (Maryknoll Convent School and Maryknoll Sisters School) until 1979.
She also served in regional governance and as the Finance Officer/Regional Bookkeeper for 11 years. Sister Miriam Xavier now resides at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, where she makes daily visits to Sisters who are bed-bound. Her Prayer Ministry is for the needs of China.
Sister Miriam Xavier celebrated her 99th birthday in September with her former students coming from all over the United States, Canada and Hong Kong.

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Sister Maria Rieckelman

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sister Maria Rieckelman entered Maryknoll in 1945.
Sister Maria has always worked in the healing ministry and for fifteen years was a medical doctor in Korea and Hong Kong. After returning and working in the leadership position at Maryknoll, she went to Hawaii and specialized in cross-cultural psychiatry at the University of Hawaii, intending to return to either Korea or Hong Kong to establish mental health services, which were non-existent in those countries. However, after Vatican II, she was asked to change her focus and partnered with Father Jack Sullivan, M.M. to work with groups and individuals.
Specifically, they assisted women and men in mission deal with conflict and diversity in creative ways; they helped people adapt to change both in their life journeys and in their careers. They taught them how to live in a multi-cultural world as well as how to deal with the special challenges of aging and health. When leading retreats, the focus was on psycho-spiritual integration. Sister Maria reflects, “I have become more and more grateful for the rich opportunity I have had to engage and learn from the people of many cultures throughout our world.”
Sister Maria lives in the Washington D.C. area and continues to respond to requests from cross- cultural groups and individuals who wish to consult with her. She also has more time these months to participate with the larger Maryknoll Community in their ministries.

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Sister Catherine Rowe

Originally from Stamford, CT, Sister Catherine (Kathie) Rowe moved to Tampa, FL as a teenager. After graduating from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Jacksonville, FL, she entered the Maryknoll Sisters in October 1963.
As a child she had visited Maryknoll, NY and remembered vividly that her geography book was written by Maryknoll Sisters. “I remember thinking about those Maryknoll Sisters who seemed to go anywhere and do anything that would share God’s love – it seemed the very best way to implement my nursing abilities.”
Assigned to Hong Kong in 1968, Sister Kathie studied Cantonese and began doing bedside nursing at Our Lady of Maryknoll Hospital. Those she helped greatly appreciated her efforts to reach out to them in their own language and this made the challenge of learning Chinese a little easier.
In 1981 she joined the newly formed Pastoral Ministry Team, established by Dr. Conrad Lam to provide comfort and support to both patients and families during the patient’s hospital stay. The Chinese name is translated as Cherish the People team!
In 2000, Sister Kathie returned to the United States and is now working in the Maryknoll Residential Care facility at the Maryknoll Sisters Center.

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