This year's exhibit at the Haehn Museum, "Mission to China and Taiwan," has opened up so many connections, including many special visitors to the exhibit.
But nothing as extraordinary and unexpected as the e-mails that began arriving about two months ago from Father Franco Mella in Kaifeng, China. Father Franco is a PIME missionary from Italy (comparable to the U.S. Maryknoll priests). He has served in China for 35 years and has been in Kaifeng for three years. While there, he has made a surprising discovery.
The first e-mail informed us that the Kaifeng diocese is in possession of some of our Sisters' books. What? We were amazed to learn that the Sisters' books were preserved and survived the Cultural Revolution after the Sisters fled Kaifeng during the communist takeover in 1948. The books eventually made their way to the Cathedral in Kaifeng, where they remain.
Then Fr. Franco began sending photos, including this modern photo (above) of the Kaifeng Hotel (called so approrpiately, the Kaifeng Hotel Guest House), formerly the Sisters' monastery. We were stunned to see the building, nearly the same as when the Sisters built it in 1940-41 (see photo below). There is a commemorative plaque identifying the building as the Sisters' monastery. The monastery was built under the direction of Sister Wibora Muhlenbein, who even oversaw the production of the bricks on site from raw materials. The Sisters moved in just before the attack on Pearl Harbor and spent their first year under house arrest there, before they were transferred to a concentration camp. They returned after the war to find it trashed and still occupied by soldiers, who S. Wibora ordered to move. After a few tense, uncertain years, they moved again, fleeing to Taiwan and leaving their belongings -- including their books -- behind. The building is owned by the Catholic church and leased to the hotel.
It is truly a gift to be reconnected to Kaifeng and to see the Sisters' presence there so vibrantly recorded and in fact, producing income for the Catholic church in China! We do not know yet where this relationship will lead, but we wanted to share it with you.
If you have not had a chance to see the exhibit, make your plans now! It closes on Thursday, December 23, although we know the story is still unfolding. For more on the exhibit, click here.