APRIL 2002: SISTER JOSEPH WU
Born in China
On December 12, 1920, in a small village of Hopei in rural China, a baby girl was born. Three years later a brother joined her. Agnes Wu grew up in this small village with a population of around 750. She attended Catholic schools but never encountered any religious sisters until she went to high school. When she met the Notre Dame Sisters, she experienced deep love and admiration for them and their life style.
After several years, one of the sisters asked her if she might be interested in religious life. She responded that she did have the desire but did not like to teach. Soon she was in contact with the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis. After a visit to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tsinanfu and a talk with Sister Gabrielis Hu, Agnes knew that she would spend the rest of her life with the Hospital Sisters. However, the journey that followed was not what she had thought it would be.
Leaving Her Home Country: China
She began her postulancy in Chauchen in 1946 and entered the novitiate on September 17, 1947 receiving the religious name Sister Joseph (after her father Joseph). Soon the Communists came, and the Sisters were forced to take refuge in Tsinanfu at St. Joseph’s Hospital, then later in another abandoned hospital. In these places, the Sisters continued their religious formation. Within the year, however, the journey from rural China to other cities in China took yet another direction. With further political unrest, the Sisters were compelled to leave their homeland and travel to the USA. For three long weeks they were on the ship; then several days of train travel ensued before they arrived at the Motherhouse in Springfield, Illinois.
Troubled Start in a New Country: America
Soon after coming to Springfield, Sister Joseph became ill with tuberculosis. This necessitated another journey--to Angel’s Rest (the Sister’s division of St. John’s Tuberculosis Sanitarium). For one year, young Sister Joseph was in strict isolation at a time when she could not speak English nor understand any of the American customs. She believed this was the end of her journey because she thought the illness was terminal. She suffered intensely in believing that she had done something wrong and having left her beloved China would soon die in this foreign place. On October 4, 1948, Sister Joseph was taken to St. Francis of Assisi Church in a wheelchair to make her first profession of vows. Soon thereafter, to her amazement, she was dismissed from Angel’s Rest and began to work in the vestment room for about 9 years.
On October 4, 1953 Sister made her final vows. Shortly thereafter, her pilgrimage took a detour back to Angel’s Rest. She developed a recurrence of tuberculosis and spent a year and a half in the tuberculosis sanitarium. After leaving Angel’s Rest, Sister was fortunate to journey to St. John’s Hospital where she enrolled in the School of Nursing. In July 1962, she proudly walked down the aisle at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield to accept her nursing diploma.
Service in the Hospitals
For the next 12 years, Sister Joseph served as a registered nurse in the pediatric and orthopedic departments at St. John’s Hospital. Following further education as a respiratory therapist, she journeyed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur. For the next 14 years, she ministered there as a respiratory therapist, a caregiver in the maternity department and a receptionist in the surgical waiting room. In 1989, she traveled back to Springfield and began to volunteer at St. John’s Hospital where she continues to serve today.
A Journey Home: China
In 1980, Sister Joseph made one of the most significant journeys on her pilgrimage. She called this the “return from Egypt”--reminiscent of the travels of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Nazareth. With the changes in the political situation in China, travel was permitted there and she returned to Hopei to visit with her family. It had been 32 years since she left her beloved China; now this trip was filled with anxiety, excitement and gratitude. Being reunited with her family for several weeks was a most precious time for Sister Joseph. She has had the opportunity to travel to China for 3 additional visits in the following years.
Sister Joseph has had a long and interesting pilgrimage in her 80 years. What does the road ahead hold for her? What unexpected turns and twists await this courageous and trusting Sister in the days and years to come?