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Oldest living Maryknoll Sister, who survived Chinese imprisonment and earthquakes, dies at 104


Maryknoll Sisters

John Burger - published on 03/19/19 - updated on 03/19/19

Sister Mary Paulita Hoffman was a nun for 85 years and spent her adult life in China and Taiwan

The oldest living Maryknoll Sister, who spent her adult life evangelizing the Chinese people, in spite of being imprisoned by the communist regime in China, has died at the age of 104.

Sister Mary Paulita Hoffman, who was a Maryknoll sister for 85 years, died on March 14 at the Maryknoll Sisters Center near Ossining, New York.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on August 13, 1914 Mary Rose Hoffmann was the youngest child in a family of eight children. After attending the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati, a Catholic institution for the formation of priests and laity, she entered the Maryknoll Sisters Novitiate in 1933, receiving the religious name Mary Paulita. In 1938, she received her first overseas mission assignment—to China—and made her Final Vows on January 6, 1939 in Kaying, China.

There, her duties included evangelization, catechesis, pastoral visiting and native novitiates. But in 1950, a year after Mao Zedong’s communists won the Chinese Civil War and established the People’s Republic of China, she was placed under house arrest. She was freed after two years, when Maryknoll Bishop Francis Xavier Ford died in the Guangdong prison. But like all foreign missionaries, she was expelled from China. She went to Hong Kong for a short period and then returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center for medical attention. The lack of food during her period of confinement required an emergency operation and treatment, according to Maryknoll.

After her recovery in 1954, Sister Paulita was one of the first Sisters assigned work in the Republic of China on Taiwan. Because she already knew the Hakka language, she ministered in the Miaoli Deanery, traveling back and forth from the convent to the parish on her motorcycle. She worked for more than 50 years with the Hakka and Aboriginal peoples in Taiwan. From 1954 until 2004, Sr. Paulita lived and worked in Taiwan doing a variety of pastoral-catechetical works in a number of parishes in Toufen in Miaoli County, Fenglin in Hualien County and Tungshih in Taichung County

“She was rewarded for this long and faithful service with a certificate of Permanent Residency making her a citizen of Taiwan,” Maryknoll said.

Sister Paulita also was an artist with a keen eye for unique pieces of wood. Despite the fact that her right hand had been crushed in a laundry mangle while she was still a novice, over the years she carved beautiful wood crucifixes from interesting branches she collected on her many mission trips into the mountains of the Miaoli area.

She also survived a number of earthquakes, like the one that claimed some 2,000 lives in September of 1999. She was at the epicenter of the quake in Tungshih. For three days the Sisters in Taiwan did not know if she had survived. When they finally made contact with her, she chose to remain for several weeks with the people in Tungshih, sleeping with them on the floor of the parish church—one of the few buildings in town that had remained undamaged.

Returning to Maryknoll in 2004, Sister Paulita retired in 2012, at the age of 98.

Her funeral Mass is today, the feast of St. Joseph, followed by burial in the Maryknoll Sisters Cemetery.

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