When I knocked on the Maryknoll Language School door in Taichung, Taiwan, in 1974, I was applying for a job. I had no idea this would be the beginning of a friendship with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers that continues today.
At that time, I was a freshman at Tunghai University in Taichung and heard that the Maryknoll Language School was looking for a Mandarin teacher. When I went for the interview, Father James A. Collignon told me, “We do not need Mandarin teachers, but if you’re interested in teaching Taiwanese, can you learn Taiwanese romanization (Taiwanese written in our Roman script)?”
I said “yes.” After six months of study, I passed the test.
I became a part-time teacher at the Maryknoll Language School until I graduated from college in 1978. That’s when Father John Moran hired me to teach Mandarin and Taiwanese full time.
Over the years I taught many Maryknollers. My long-term student was Father Eugene Murray. From 1997-2000 he would spend four hours every Monday studying the New Catechism of the Catholic Church in Chinese characters.
Father Richard Devoe had a four-wheel-drive jeep and liked to listen to tapes while driving. I recorded the Sunday Scripture readings in Mandarin for him. Meanwhile I had the chance to read the Scriptures myself.
My second principal at the language school in Taichung, Father Frank O’Donnell, asked me to translate the Ordinary parts of the Mass from Chinese to Taiwanese. The other teachers could not understand why he would ask me, a non-Catholic, to do this job. Eventually I realized he was giving me a chance to know the Catholic religion better.
I began studying Catholic doctrine with a Taiwanese sister and was baptized. My husband, Zhe-Feng Lin, followed me after studying Catholicism with Father Murray.
It wasn’t just studying doctrine that drew us to the Catholic Church, but the example of the Maryknoll missioners. They were so kind and dedicated to their mission, and they persevered in learning the difficult Taiwanese language so they could better serve the people.
I remember Father O’Donnell immediately writing down a word the first time he heard it and asking me to help him understand what it meant. He was concerned about hearing-impaired people and learned to communicate with them in sign language.
He also invited five Taiwanese priests to come to the Maryknoll center house to translate the Sunday Mass books from Chinese to Taiwanese. Even now, most of the Taiwanese parishes use these books.
I was pleased when Father Clarence Engler set up the Maryknoll Information Service Center in Taichung and asked me to record the Lectionary with the Sunday Mass readings in Taiwanese and Mandarin for the website.
One of the happiest moments of my life came in 2011 when Father Alfonso Kim, then the Maryknoll Society’s Asia regional superior, invited me to attend the Maryknoll Centennial Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and to read one of the petitions in the Prayer of the Faithful. “Is it really true?” I asked myself. “Am I dreaming?”
I wanted to bring a special gift to Maryknoll. My husband said, “Let me engrave the founders’ names and photos on stones.” The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers put them on display at their center in New York.
The day of the Centennial Mass, I was very nervous to stand before so many people and recite my prayer. But God helped me.
I thank God for giving me the grace I needed that day and for the abundant graces I have received for over 40 years with Maryknoll.
Yu-Mei Lee (flowered blouse) sits next to Maryknoll Sister Shu-Chen Wu, a native of Taiwan, in the congregation at the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers’ Centennial Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in 2011. (Courtesy of Yu-Mei Lee/U.S.)