MARY SHELDON RSCJ 1876 – 1954
Mary came from New South Wales, Australia, and, aged eleven, went to a Sacred Heart boarding school in Sydney. She began to consider religious life in her early teens, but in deference to her parents didn’t enter until she was twenty-one. This meant a long sea voyage to the noviceship in England, where she remained for two years, making her first vows in December 1900. Mary then stayed in Australia until 1913, when she was sent to Auckland, New Zealand, as superior and head of a new community and school. Three years later came the summons to Japan, where she remained for the rest of her life.
In 1908 some Australian RSCJ had made a first Japanese foundation in Tokyo, establishing a flourishing school. However, in 1916 both the superior and her assistant died very suddenly within a few weeks of each other, and Mary was seen as the ideal replacement. Ten years later she was given o verall responsibility for two Japanese communities and a new foundation in Shanghai, China – she held this responsibility until her death 28 years later, following a short illness.
The schools and communities suffered many setbacks, the first being an earthquake in 1923 which devastated the Tokyo convent. Growing militarism and conflicts affected the Shanghai community at various times during the 1920s and 30s. Then, after Japan entered the War all British, Australian and American residents were interned: Mary was allowed to remain in the convent, but her movements were restricted, as was contact with the other communities, while food, fuel and all necessities were scarce. A few years later the Communist takeover in China forced the closure and dispersal of the community there.
Throughout these difficulties Mary, a strong, capable, quietly courageous woman provided calm, efficient, unstinting and loving leadership and care and showed immense trust in God. A deeply prayerful woman, her constant advice was pray, get a grip on prayer, make prayer the soul of your life.
Today there are over 130 RSCJ in Japan, and 100 sisters in Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia – all founded since Mary’s death, often with Japanese or Chinese sisters.