Memory Etched in Stone

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by Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P.

Fr. Rob accompanied by local Chinese
visits the gravesite of the Catholic missionaries

China remains a living myth. In a concrete way we shape it as members of the world economy. Religious people sustain the myth as well. In particular Christians and precisely Catholics—through the life of scripture, the sacraments, and time-honored devotions—uphold ongoing efforts of evangelization. Reading the following short biographies of the deceased Catholics whose names are memorialized on the new Yuanling grave stone allows us to pause and reflect on the historic legitimacy inherent in preaching.

These men and women lived their lives in lively fashion. Born in China, the United States, Canada, Ireland, and Germany their etched names awaken us to remember that when we mourn at a grave site to honor our ancestors—Chinese, Christians, and those in numerous religions reverence this ritual in solemn and sometimes casual ways—the most challenging dimension may be rekindling our own heartbeat.

A close read of these biographies shows that they died from natural causes, shocking and brutal murder, and from disease that might have been treated if better medicine was available. Look at their age. We are reminded that youth is no antidote to death when it decides to call.

All important when we go to the site of an unmarked grave, pass by grave yards, or go to the site of a specific grave is that we see before us a choice to reinvigorate our life. Knowledge of death does offer us to feel the pulse of life. Subtly, life and death are partners in a sacred dance. Some of us love to learn the new steps that come our way. Some of us refuse to participate and become like wall flowers at a dance social.

Recent events in west Hunan have allowed us the opportunity to learn again about these seventeen deceased missionaries. In doing so we accept the invitation to respect how the Chinese have kept their religious faith. May their steadfast faith assist ours. The new grave stone built in the Yuanling countryside is a symbol of reconciliation peace in Yuanling, Hunan.

Father Edmund Campbell, C.P.

Born Donald Edmund Campbell in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania on January 5, 1889, he professed his vows on September 6, 1908 and was ordained on May 26, 1915. It was in the early 1920s that Father Edmund Campbell expressed his desire to go to China. On August 25, 1923 they arrived in Shanghai. After a short time in west Hunan, in February 1924 he moved to Hankou where he set up as the Passionist mission procurator. He proved to be a capable administrator. He died on April 13, 1925 after a short illness. He was the first Passionist to die in China.

Father Walter Coveyou, C.P.

Born October 17, 1894 in Petoskey, Michigan, he professed his vows on February 13, 1912 and was ordained on May 29, 1920 for Holy Cross Province—western United States. He quickly offered his ministry to the China missions, but it was decided that the time was not right. Instead he was assigned to Cincinnati, Ohio where he was a preacher who raised monies for the Passionist missions in China. In 1927 the western province decided to send more missionaries. Arriving in west Hunan in late 1928 he began to adjust to mission life. Fathers Coveyou, Clement Seybold, and Godfrey Holbein were killed by Chinese bandits on April 24, 1929. They were the first three American Catholic missionaries to be killed in China.

Father Godfrey Holbein, C.P.

Born Claude Holbein on February 4, 1899 in Baltimore, Maryland, he professed his vows on May 16, 1917 and was ordained a priest on October 28, 1923. China was his first assignment. By mid-1924 he was in west Hunan. He found the mission life difficult and expressed some desire to return to the United States. Fathers Holbein, Coveyou and Seybold were killed by Chinese bandits on April 24, 1929. The Catholic press in the United States proclaimed them to be martyrs.

Father Clement Seybold, C.P.

Born Lawrence Seybold on April 18, 1896 in Dunkirk, New York, he professed his vows on September 17, 1918 and was ordained on October 28, 1923. In July 1924 he went to China. He found the mission life to be a challenge, but he had quite good success. Fathers Seybold, Coveyou and Holbein were killed by Chinese bandits on April 24, 1929. Their death was an international incident to which the United States Department of State had to respond.

Father Constantine Leech, C.P.

Born January 17, 1892, he professed his vows on May 5, 1914 and was ordained on February 4, 1923. He died of typhoid on April 25, 1929 in Yongshunfu, Hunan, China the day after the three missionaries were murdered by bandits. He was proclaimed a “martyr to duty.”

Father Edward Joseph McCarthy, C.P.

Born Patrick on July 9, 1903 in South Boston, Massachusetts, he professed his vows on October 12, 1922 and was ordained on May 25, 1929. In 1929 he was assigned to the China mission. His mission was Yuanzhou [later known as Zhijiang]. He died on August 12, 1935 due to dysentary in Zhijiang, China.

Father Justin Moore, C.P.

Born Francis Moore on January 27, 1903 in Fall River, Massachusetts he went to parochial school and then went to work. He eventually entered the Passionists and on October 19, 1930 professed his vows. His religious name was Justin. On April 28, 1931 he was ordained a priest. Prior to his time with the Passionists he had visited Asia. As a result he volunteered for China. He arrived in China November 19, 1935. He had set sail from Vancouver, Canada on November 2, 1935. He studied the Chinese language in Yuanling. He was fine until about a week before his death from typhoid. He was buried in Yuanling, China. Date of Death: May 10, 1936

Father Flavian Mullins, C.P.

Born Edward Mullins on September 16, 1893 in Athens, Pennsylvania, he professed his vows on May 26, 1912 and was ordained on June 14, 1919. To the surprise of many, he was chosen to be in the first group of Passionist missionaries to China. He and five others set sail on Christmas Eve 1921 from Seattle, Washington. By summer 1922 they were in west Hunan studying the Chinese language. Xupu was his primary mission assignment until his United States furlough—1930 to 1931. Assigned to Fenghuang on his return, in 1935 he went to Yuanling, and in 1936 moved to Chexi where he died on June 19, 1936 from natural causes.

Father Denis Mary Fogarty, C.P.

Born November 3, 1904 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, he professed his vows on September 15, 1923 and was ordained March 14, 1930. For thirteen years in Hunan, China he was a builder, engineer and architect. He built thirteen refugee camps, two large hospitals and many dispensaries. The Chinese people called him “The Strong Man.” However, dysentery eventually was the cause of his death at Our Lady’s Orphanage, Baojing Hunan, China on June 12, 1944.

Sister Mary Joseph Chang, S.C.

Born Nov. 21, 1909 in Shanghai,China, she was adopted by the Chang family—a long time Chinese Catholic family in Shanghai. In 1920 the family moved to Changde, Hunan. In 1924 she met the Sisters of Charity who stayed with the family on their way to west Hunan. Mary decided to enter the Sisters of Charity in 1929. She entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity in Yuanling on March 19, 1933, received habit on June 23, 1933 and professed her vows on June 28, 1935. She died from tuberculosis on April 25, 1939 in Yuanling.

Sister Marie Thérèse Tuan, S.C.

Sister Marie Thérèse Tuan, S.C. was the second Chinese member of the Sisters of Charity. Born in 1896 in Beijing she eventually moved to Wuchang, Hubei where she was a teacher. In 1924 family connections led her to Passionist procurator Father Edmund Campbell in Hankou. She told him of her desire to enter religious life. He suggested the newly arrived Sisters of Charity. From 1925 until 1927 she assisted them in west Hunan when political chaos regretfully forced her to part company with the sisters in Hankou. She reconnected with them in Shanghai. Political chaos over, all were back in Hunan in 1928. She entered the novitiate on January 6, 1929 and professed her vows on June 4, 1931. She died from intestinal disease on May 18, 1944.

Sister Marie Devota Ross, S.C.

Born Beatrice Ross on September 27, 1896 in Brooklyn she entered the Sisters of Charity on September 6, 1921 and professed her vows on July 19, 1924. She was one of the first five sisters to go to China on September 22, 1924. Her facility with Chinese led to her appointment as mistress of novices to Sister Tuan. She died from cholera on July 29, 1932 in Chexi and was buried in Yuanling.

Sister Maria Electa McDermott, S.C.

Born Josephine W. on January 6, 1888 in Jersey City, NJ, she professed her vows on July 15, 1915. She was one of the first five sisters to go to China on September 22, 1924. In 1932 she returned for furlough and went back to China in 1933. Almost her whole missionary service was in Yuanling. She died March 12, 1941 from typhoid while caring for sick soldiers.

Sister Catherine Gabriel Whittaker, S.C.

Born May 26, 1912 in North Bergen, NJ., she sailed for China in 1939 and worked at the Yuanling hospital as a nurse. In spring 1941 she came down with typhus. She died on July 8, 1941.

Sister Marie Sebastian Curley, S.C.

Born June 29, 1890 in Galway, Ireland, she entered the Sisters of Charity March 25, 1908 and professed her vows July 8, 1912. She was selected to go to China and left Convent Station in January 1933. After medical training in Hankou in 1934 she returned to the United States for more training at St. Joseph Hospital, Patterson, New Jersey and an eventual B.S. in Nursing from Seton Hall University. She returned to Yuanling, Hunan to be night supervisor for the Catholic Hospital. She died on August 8, 1950 after complications from a fall.

Sister Mary Daniel O’Connor, G.S.I.C.

Born in Canada on January 22, 1886, Sister O’Connor went to the China missions in 1931. She and other Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Canada were assigned to minister in the Lishui diocese (formerly known as Chuchow) located in Zhejiang province. From 1932 until 1942 the Grey Sisters worked with the sick poor, operated a dispensary, and worked with orphans. Political turmoil remained a constant threat. In May 1942 Japanese armies made Lishui unsafe. As a result the sisters moved to Yuanling, Hunan. Sister O’Connor died on May 10, 1943 from typhus.

Miss Ilse R. Lauder, M.D.

Born in Landau, Palatinium, Germany—we are unsure of the date—she was educated at the Latin School of Mannheim. This led her to pursue a medical career at the University of Heidelberg. After she passed her State boards she was an intern at Berlin City Hospital and at Mannheim where her area of specialization was psychiatry. In 1925 she gave up her practice and came to the United States to work at St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota. There she entered the Catholic Church. She went on to practice at Boston and Metropolitan State Hospitals. In August 1933 she decided to go to China in order to assist the mission in west Hunan. After one week in Chenzhou she died from an acute attack of nephritis on September 25, 1933.

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