Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis

Sr. Joseph Wu

I was born on December 12, 1920, in the rural village of Hopei, China, to Joseph and Franziska (Chang Shih) Wu. As a child, I knew that I wanted to be a nurse and thought about entering a religious community. I heard about St. Joseph’s Hospital, Jinan, which belonged to the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, and a friend suggested that I write to Sister Gabrielis Hu at the hospital. A few days later, I received her answer, and she invited me to visit.

This was the first time I left home to take a long train ride alone – having never seen a train before. Despite all the fear, I put my trust in St. Joseph to lead me. Six hours later, I arrived in Jinan, and I took a rickshaw to the hospital. After a visit with the Sisters, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life with them. I was invited to return in January 1944.

During this time, there was unrest in China with ongoing fighting. Meanwhile, in July 1945, permission was granted to open a Novitiate in Chowtsun, but seven months later, while we were doing our laundry, Father Lee said, ‘Sisters, hurry, we’ve got to catch the last train to Jinan because the Communists are coming.’ We quickly gathered some of our belongings and immediately got to the train station.

After arriving in Jinan, we stayed at St. Joseph’s Hospital for a short time and then found an abandoned clinic where we continued our Novitiate for one year. However, the news on March 27, 1948, forever changed our lives: a telegram arrived from Mother Magdalene, American Province Superior, who said that we had to come to America immediately for our safety due to the rising political tensions in China. Hopefully, she said, we could return in three years. It was a sad moment as we began this pilgrimage – leaving our homeland and not being able to say goodbye to our families. On May 12, we tearfully said goodbye to Sister Clementia, and we washed our faces with our tears as our ship, S.S. General Meigs, moved slowly away.

We continued our religious training in Springfield, IL – all while learning English and American customs. There were 35 native Chinese Sisters now living at the Motherhouse and we adjusted to our new life. I was not used to eating American food or drinking cold water. And I wasn’t familiar with drinking animal milk. When I was diagnosed with tuberculosis, I asked the Lord why this was happening to me. ‘Is this a punishment for my sins – first leaving China and now being sick?’ But God was with me. On October 4, 1948, seated in a wheelchair, I attended the Profession Ceremony and Mass in St. Francis of Assisi Church. Sister Geraldine helped me walk up to the altar, at which time I pronounced my vows.
Since China was closed, communication with our families didn’t begin until years later as letters were smuggled in and out of China. I cried when I received my first letter from my brother in 1957 after writing to my family through a Franciscan Priest in Hong Kong.

On January 1, 1979, China opened its doors to other countries, and on June 25, I received a letter from my family inviting me to come home for a visit. On May 9, 1980, a few of my Chinese Sisters and I flew to Beijing. It had been 32 years since I left home, and when I arrived in my village, people lined the streets to greet me. Among the crowd, I could see an old woman seated at the end of the crowd and upon approaching her, I recognized her: my mother. Being reunited with my family for several weeks was a most precious time for me. Since then, I have had the opportunity to return three times.

I am a graduate of St. John’s Hospital School of Nursing (Springfield), and I completed training in Inhalation Therapy from St. John’s Hospital (Springfield). Over the years, I have served at St. Mary’s Hospital (Decatur, IL) and St. John’s, where I presently volunteer.

My life’s journey has been challenging at times. But through it all, God was walking with me – leading me on the path that was ordained by Him. I pray that in sharing my story, you will recognize God’s gentle hand that is always with you…especially in those times of need.

The American Province of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis founded St. Joseph’s Hospital, Jinan, on April 16, 1926. It was thought to have been the first modern hospital built by an American religious congregation in China. The Sisters also opened several dispensaries in nearby villages. Before the Sisters left China in 1948, the local Bishop Jarre, a native of Germany who was a Franciscan, asked that three native Sisters (Sisters Assunta, Evangelista, and Odorika) remain at St. Joseph’s, now under control of the Communists, to continue the work with the other employees.
Jinan was heavily bombed and many bullets landed in the hospital compound but with the exception of one patient who was killed, no one was harmed in the hospital and it was not damaged. Despite enduring many difficulties including being identified as criminals, forced to set aside their religious garb, and being urged to join the new Church of China, the three Sisters remained faithful to God until their death in Jinan (Sister Assunta-1969, Sister Evangelista-1987, and Sister Odorika-1987) – thus ending the Sisters’ presence in China. The property where St. Joseph’s Hospital once stood became People’s Hospital Number 2 (Eye Hospital of Jinan) and today has an excellent reputation for sophisticated medical treatment. In addition, Jinan has 15 other medical facilities.