Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis
This story was compiled from conversations that Brian Blasco, Director of Communications/Provincial Archivist, had with Sister Gabrielis over the years.
I was born on 11/11/11 in Wuchen, Shandong Province, China, and my story with the American Province begins shortly after the Chinese New Year of 1929. My father and I traveled every year from our village, Hu-Kai-Chuang, to the Franciscan school where I was a student. But the journey this year was different. Deciding to stop for the night and rest, we approached the gate of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Jinan, and inquired about spending the night. We were welcomed by Sister Clementia Dasenbrock, who talked of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis who had arrived in Jinan in 1925, built a hospital, and had sent six Chinese girls to Springfield, IL, to be educated in nursing and receive their religious instruction. The next morning, my father and I continued on our journey to the school, but six months later, while continually being reminded of Sister Clementia’s hospitality, I went home and asked my pastor for permission to enter the convent.
I returned to Jinan around the New Year 1930 with the blessing of my father, mother, and three brothers.
The Sisters welcomed me and stated that there were already three candidates. On June 24, I traveled by boat with other Sisters for a 45 day trip to San Francisco, CA, and ultimately to Springfield, IL. Three years later, I professed First Vows and enrolled in St. John’s Hospital School of Nursing for training. Following graduation in 1936, I returned to China in October.
Political tensions began to arise between the Chinese and the Japanese, and due to the Japanese occupation of China, all American missionaries were placed in concentration camps from 1942-45, leaving two German Sisters and the Chinese Sisters in charge of the hospital and clinics. Often we moved the patients from the hospital’s second floor to the basement several times a day as the bombing was less than two miles from us. In 1942, the Vatican requested permission to open a novitiate in China and I was appointed Novice Mistress.
I traveled to the camp to get instructions from Sister Clementia for establishing the Novitiate in Chowtsun, and from 1943-48, 15 Chinese girls entered. In 1945, there was peace, and the American Sisters returned to the hospital. In 1947, China was disturbed by the Communists, and our Novitiate was moved to Jinan. Times grew worse, and our superiors in Springfield called all our Sisters to America, including the Chinese Sisters. I arrived on June 5, 1948, along with 15 others (postulants, novices, and temporary professed Sisters). We were hopeful to return to China in three years. Sadly, conditions did not improve, and no contact was possible for many years. I made my first and only visit to China in 1991 to see my family.
My ministry in America included the laboratory at St. John’s TB Sanatorium, Springfield; St. Mary’s, Streator, IL; and St. Clara’s, Lincoln, IL. In 1960, I went to St. Vincent Hospital, Green Bay, WI, and was a graduate of its first Histology class. I began my work as a histologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chippewa Falls, WI. In 1980, I was asked to help my Chinese Sisters who had established a clinic in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I served there for seven years. Since 1995, I have resided at St. Francis Convent, Springfield, where I devote daily time to prayer and adoration.
In 2008, she stated: “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.”
God willing, on November 11, 2015, Sister Gabrielis will celebrate her 104th birthday. Presently, she is the oldest living member of the American Province.