Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kaifeng, China

In our three weeks in China in June there were many special moments; for me personally one of those moments was driving into the court yard of the building in the picture above which is part of a rather large compound in the city of Kaifeng. The building is in the center of the compound; around it and behind it are other buildings, all part of the Kaifeng Hotel. When we drove through the gate of the hotel late one afternoon my eyes were riveted on the building in the picture. Seeing it with my own eyes was without a doubt a highlight of my trip. The reason? The building was built as a convent by our Sisters, the six Sisters who went to China in 1930. There is even a stone monument at the foot of the steps to the front door with these words in Chinese: "(Built by the Benedictine Sisters)". Our community found out that the convent was in use and that it had been returned to the Catholic Church in Kaifeng only one year before our recent trip.

During our two days in Kaifeng we visited many places that would have been special to our Sisters. One was the university where S. Ronayne taught English, another was the seminary which is today just a shell of what it was back in the 1930s. However, the architect was a Benedictine monk from Belgium who lived in China at the time; the seminary has now been returned to the Catholic Church of Kaifeng by the government who promised to restore it. We also walked to the area where our only sister to die in China (S. Rachel) is buried. We also saw the building where the monks of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, IL lived while in Kaifeng - they replaced the monks from St. Vincent Archabbey who were in Peking/Beijing with our Sisters.

Since our Sisters intended to teach in China they had a collection of books in English with them. Of course no one knew what happened to the books after all the foreign missionaries were expelled from China but, miracle of miracles, one day a few years ago boxes of books with the stamp inside the front cover indicating that they belonged to "Saint Benedict's Convent, St. Joseph, MN", were returned to the Cathedral in Kaifeng. S. Baulu Kuan, S. Christian Morris and I were able to see some of the books with our own eyes and to take pictures. Where the books have spent the last 70 years is a mystery.

I close with an expression of gratitude to the PIME Italian missionary, Fr. Franco, who contacted the community over a year ago to inform us about the Kaifeng Hotel and the books. Without his many, many e-mails to S. Dolores Super over a period of several months we might never have visited Kaifeng and walked the ground our Sisters walked 80 years ago.

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