October 25, 1914 — September 1, 2012
Sae Chin Therese was born on October 25, 1914 in Sayang, Hupeh, China, the daughter of Benedict and Agnes (nee Hsu) Peng. She was baptized on October 28, 1914 and confirmed on August 7, 1919 both in Sayang, Hupeh, China. Her First Holy Communion took place on December 25, 1920 in Ichang, China.
At the age of five, Therese became a boarder at the St. Mary Mission Elementary School on Hilltop in Sayang, Hupeh. Sister Pauline later shared how she studied French as a student there for 10 years. It was taught as the second language instead of English.
In April, 1931, she became a student at Good Counsel Girls’ Middle School in Wuchang, China known in Chinese as San Tao. It was there that she met the sisters of Notre Dame de Namur for the first time. In 1936, when Therese graduated in the first senior class of San Tao, she had already decided to enter with the sisters of Notre Dame.
When her granduncle Father Paul, probably the greatest influence in her life, learned of her decision to do so, he wrote encouraging her," to be a good religious, loyal to church, family and country."A prophetic wish and prayer to be sure!
On September 2, 1936, Therese left China for the United States. The CHINESE CERTIFICATE, an ID card of sorts, gave her permission to leave. The card listed the usual descriptive facts. Her height was 4 feet nine inches. The diminutive nineteen year old could not have envisioned how tall she would have to stand in the face of the challenges that she would meet throughout her life.
Therese arrived in Seattle, Oregon, on September 3, 1936 and after a long train ride reached Cincinnati, Ohio. Three days later on September 5, 1936, she became a postulant with the Sisters in Reading. On August 14, 1937, she received the habit. When she became a novice she took the name of Sister Agnes Pauline, but later changed her name to Sister Pauline. Her first vows were taken on August 13, 1939, at Mount Notre Dame in Reading, Ohio.
As Sister Pauline she professed her final vows in Wuchang, China on August 13, 1945. It must have been a bittersweet moment for her devoid as it was of the usual joy of such an event. Sister had returned to China where she had been teaching. The other seven sisters of Notre Dame had been sent to an internment camp in Japan, only she and Sister Marie St. Edward remained behind as their names were not on the list of the Japanese soldiers. Her vows were pronounced in the hospital chapel of the Sisters of Charity from Mount St. Joseph, Ohio, her only witness Sister Marie St. Edward.
Sister Pauline had previously interrupted her studies in 1939 when she returned to China. In 1949 at the time of her return to the states, she continued her studies at the Athenaeum of Ohio and graduated from there in June of 1953. Until 1967 in order to maintain her status as a" alien student", sister Pauline continued to study at the College of Belmont in California, Our Lady of Cincinnati and Notre Dame University in Indiana.
The courses she followed in all the schools were very focused on what would become her professional ministry for the rest of her life. Those she pursued included: ceramics; lettering; design and water color. But it was her concentration on those courses which dealt with Montessori training which became important to her, enabling her to become a very creative kindergarten teacher.
Sister Pauline’s professional years found her at The Summit, Cincinnati, 1959 – 1963; Most Holy Trinity, Phoenix, Arizona, 1963 – 1965 and Mount Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio, 1965 – 1977. During her years at Mount Notre Dame she and her sister, Sister Mary Paula Peng, a skilful carpenter, collaborated in creating all sorts of unique wooden materials for the Montessori program.
Sister Pauline for her part produced two volumes which she entitled" Mount Notre Dame Kindergarten in Action." She wrote them “to give a brief account of how the Sisters of Notre Dame endeavoured to apply the principles of the Montessori Method in their teaching." Sister dedicated the book to St. Julie Billiart using one of the Saint’s quotes describing her appreciation of teaching. To her young sisters she wrote, “When I see you occupied in teaching, you seem to me greater than all the potentates on Earth.”
Devotion to and trust in St. Julie was a thread of love woven throughout her life. It was the same devotion and trust she expressed when she and the two Sisters were left behind in China in 1943. They had to wonder what would happen to them. Would they remain in the convent? Who would know about their future and what was in store for him? They were sure of one thing however! Julie would have advised them “To go on as little blind women, their hand in the hand of the good God their Father."
In 2010, Sister Pauline retired at Mount Notre Dame, sort of. Her days were dedicated to a life of community service and a ministry of prayer. She became known as a fixer of small things. Her toolkit was among her small collection of personal memorabilia at the time of her death. But it was above all her ministry of prayer that most touched her Sisters. That prayer life could be traced in the small collection of statues, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Joseph, the Guardian Angel, and one of Jesus of Divine Mercy which were prominently displayed where she was able to see them.
Sister’s devotion to Mary was tender. For a number of years a Sister prepared many note books for her which were placed in the rear of the Chapel where anyone could write petitions they wished the Sisters to pray for. While the odd pages were meant for the petitions, the even numbered pages always contained some picture of Our Lady. She also began a Saturday Night Rosary club. Sisters who wished gathered at 6:45 to pray the rosary for the needs of the world. Her sisters were not surprised that Sister Pauline died peacefully in her sleep on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
To adequately sum up Sister Pauline's life of 98 years would require a book of its own. Sister Peggy Loftus, SNDdeN in her recent book “Call and Response: Sisters of Notre Dame in China, 1926 1951.” details not only the story of Notre Dame in China, but traces Sister Pauline's life in great detail, much of it obtained from personal interviews with Sister.
For all Sister accomplished in her long life, she left behind a very detailed description of what she wished for at the time of her death. She wanted “no memorial cards, no reflections, or any talk about me at all.” It would be OK if the archivist wanted to write a Memorial. And the archivist did.
Sister Pauline wanted no praise for what her presence among us had meant. Instead, she chose to tell us what all those who had been in her life meant to her in her own words.
With sincere gratitude and deep appreciation to ALL the Sisters past and present who have inspired, fostered and helped me to fulfil my religious life as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.I wish also to thank especially EACH person - Priests, Sisters, Nurses and Friends who in any way helped me spiritually and physically to my final day, for all the services given to me in a most devoted, faithful and unselfish manner. I will continue to pray before the Throne of God, that He will bless and reward you abundantly now and forever in eternity. The Good God is indeed very good! I shall wait and welcome you when you will enter heaven where together with our holy Foundress, St. Julie, we will sing and praise and glorify our TRIUNE GOD for His infinite love and mercy for ever and ever.
All the Sisters extend their prayerful sympathy to the members of Sister Pauline’s Family especially to her dear sister Margaret.
Sister Louanna Orth, SNDdeN