On a recent visit to Australia to celebrate her golden jubilee as a Sister of the Good Samaritan, Sister Yoshi Suzukawa, from Japan, said she clearly remembered the first time she ever saw a Catholic religious sister.
“I was at university with a Catholic friend from Okinawa, and very early one morning I saw a woman in a long skirt walk by the gate,” she said.
“My friend said, ‘They are the Australian sisters and we see them going to church every morning’. It was the first time I ever saw a Catholic nun.”
Fast forward a little over half a century and Yoshi, together with Sister Theresia Hiranabe, was among 17 Good Samaritan Sisters to celebrate jubilees of 50, 60 and 70 years over the weekend of December 10-11 last year.
Yoshi and Theresia, who were both raised in non-Christian traditions and baptised as young adults, made their religious profession in Japan, having been the first of the Japanese Good Samaritan Sisters to have completed their novitiate in their home country.
Yoshi, who is now based in the Good Sams’ community in Nara, taught at Seiwa Girls’ Middle and High School in Sasebo City, Nagasaki Ken, for many years, and also served as provincial superior for six years. After retiring from Seiwa in 2006, she spent nine years in the Good Sams’ community at Bacolod in the Philippines.
“When I arrived in the Philippines, I thought I could do nothing there. I didn’t even know the language. But I became a good friend of the poor people, which I loved, and my heart is still there,” she said.
Theresia, who endured a traumatic post-war experience in occupied Manchuria, was left an orphan at age 13 when her parents died of typhus. Later, she met a Catholic teacher who made a big impression on her and at age 20, she was baptised. Theresia entered the novitiate at 30, after encountering the Sisters of the Good Samaritan while teaching at Seiwa.
“I saw the way the Sisters were helping and I felt a vocation very strongly,” she recalled.
Following many years of teaching at Seiwa, Theresia spent three years working in a Tokyo hostel for students, after which she was appointed superior at Sasebo for six years. Over the years, she also studied scripture in Jerusalem and Benedictine studies in Rome, as did Yoshi, although at different times.
Both sisters said they were excited to be taking part in the jubilee celebrations, which included a gathering of all the golden jubilarians at the Mount St Benedict Centre at Pennant Hills, followed by a celebration at St Scholastica’s, Glebe, for all sisters marking their jubilees.
Sister Sonia Wagner, who was among the golden jubilarians, said it was wonderful for those celebrating 50 years to be able to spend time together at Mount St Benedict.
“Of course, for most of us, that was where we entered in 1964,” she said. “So, it was a time to reconnect and be together. There was a lot of sharing of memories, stories and photos.
“We were also joined by six of the women who entered with us and who left at various points to pursue different paths, so that was wonderful too.”
Those celebrating their golden jubilee also included Sisters Kathleen Bourke, Patricia Biddle, Geraldine Boylan, Marion Firth, Patricia Hickey, Patricia Moore, Yvonne Parker, and Mary Smith.
Sonia said the gathering at Mount St Benedict included morning prayer with the resident Good Sam community, as well as Mass, celebrated by Father Paul Durkin, parish priest of nearby St Agatha’s at Pennant Hills.
At the St Scholastica’s celebration, all sisters marking their jubilees enjoyed afternoon tea and evening prayer during which they renewed their vows. Those celebrating 60 years were Sisters Clement Baseden, Katherine Larkey and Rita Reilly, while Sisters Mary Gregory, Helen Maund and Joyce Tippett were commemorating 70 years.
“It was a joyful and affirming and encouraging occasion,” Sonia said. “There was a real sense of the journey that brought us to this point, but also, of course, of the path ahead, because there’s still lots of energy amongst us!”
Reflecting on their 50 years as Sisters of the Good Samaritan, and on the celebration in Sydney of their jubilees, Theresia and Yoshi said they were filled with gratitude.
“I’m so grateful to God and for the Sisters’ generosity,” said Theresia. “I’ve enjoyed my life as a Good Samaritan, but grace has saved me many times. I have big gratitude to the Australian Sisters because they showed us the way, through their daily lives, and always Jesus was walking with us.”