Chinese Women: Stars in the Sisters of Charity

One of the exciting pages of my community’s history is the welcoming of Chinese women as members to the community a generation ago. During this current time of roiling prejudice against Asians in America, I immediately thought of the contributions of Asian and Pacific Islanders to our American culture. So, let’s acknowledge our daily American benefits from this talented, kind and winsome people. We are healed by Asian-American doctors, taught by Asian-American professors, counseled by Asian-American financiers, fed by Asian-American restaurateurs. Asians helped build our city infrastructures as engineers and venture capitalists. On and on it goes. And, yes, Asian-Americans have cleaned our hotels and public buildings and schools. In short, Asian-Americans have helped us build a stronger America!

And, in my community, Chinese-American Sisters helped build healing and compassionate ministries to the marginalized. How did this start?

In 1928, six American sisters were sent to China from Cincinnati—probably from listening to the Holy Spirit and feeling the call to go beyond America – because this is what Sisters of Charity do – pray and discern and act. Six American sisters arrived in Wuchang, 750 miles up the Yangtze River from Shanghai. They immediately set about building a hospital and dispensary. They cared for the aged and orphans. They started a school for young children and a training program for nurses. (I cannot imagine they became fluent in the Chinese language, but they succeeded.)

By the 1930s young Chinese women began asking to join the Sisters and so a novitiate was opened and it flourished. The Sisters worked through the Japanese invasion of World War II and the Chinese Civil War but were forced to leave in 1949 when communism took over. The Chinese Sisters were commanded to leave their parents and families if they practiced their ministries. Several started leaving for America in 1949 never to see their families again.

Sister Rose Cheng is the lone survivor of seven Sisters who came to Cincinnati. She had entered the community in 1946 in China and arrived in America in 1948 to begin her life as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. Now get this: After several years of working in Cincinnati and New Mexico, she became a missionary to Peru and a medical practitioner after that for three years in Vietnam before retiring in 1994!! And then she came out of retirement to help immigrants at the U.S. border in restorative Eastern health benefits! Later, she applied Eastern methods to restorative foot health care at our infirmary in Cincinnati. All our Chinese Sisters were nurses, pathologists, hospital pastoral ministers, and technicians. They did this under the strain of an unfamiliar language and American customs. They went out west to minister in hospitals in Colorado and New Mexico in addition to Cincinnati, Dayton, and Michigan. The hospital ministry of my community would have been less rich without these remarkable women. In their retirements, they shared their remarkable gifts of Chinese arts and crafts which we sold in our gift shop or presented to friends as gifts.


Americans are facing a reality check about the tide of migration. Anthropologists have long taught and written that migration is a fact of evolution. We are a perfect example of this: Most Americans came from the tidal waves of ships bearing different races and nationalities; some of us are the result of ancestors who walked through northern lands or sailed through foreign lands just to reach the place of promise and new life. Like the change in continents of the early Middle Ages and earlier, America is changing quickly and significantly in its ethnic populations.   

The world is in a flux of welcoming and settling the foreigner who is not a foreigner once he or she reaches our shores. We, too, were foreigners to Native Americans. Think about that. Hard and long. We, too, were foreigners. Like our Chinese Sisters who ministered to thousands of people adrift in poor health, or in need of comfort and love. I thank God these women were there to offer this.

(The information above can be found on the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati website:

Think about our responsibility to the person who comes to us for refuge. Pray that we as a nation can be open to the world knocking at our door.

Reflect on: Lev.19:33-34; Deut.10:18-20; Heb.13:2. These are only a few of the many scriptural commandments to accept the person seeking refuge among us. 

I’m praying for all of you, my friends and my Anonymous Angels. I am so blest to know you.

2 thoughts on “Chinese Women: Stars in the Sisters of Charity

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  1. Mary Ann, thank you for blogging about our Chinese heritage Sisters. I loved how you wrote sometimes in first person, owning the relationship with these wonderful women. As young sisters we worked closely with many of them, including those who have already gone to heaven. Unique, wonderful women!
    Love you, too, a unique, wonderful woman!
    Your sister, Noreen Ellison SC


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