Sister Teresa Miriam Beschel, S.C. Oral History




Date edited:

Sister Mary Teresa Orbegozo, SC
Sister Teresa Miriam Beschel, SC
January 1980
Sister Noreen Neary, SC
November 30, 2020

Sr. Mary Teresa:
So, Sister, what year did you enter in the community?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
I entered on September 8th, 1922.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
Now, what was the community doing at that time?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
Well, I had been all through grammar school with the Sisters of Charity. And then I was with the
Dominicans at St. Mary's Academy for high school.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
What name do you take as a religious name? What name do you...
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
Well, my name isn't much different from my baptismal name. I was baptized Teresa Maria, but I
asked for the name of Sister Teresa Miriam and it was given to me on Christmas night. At
midnight Mass we received the habit in 1922.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
I understand that you went to China, can you explain a little bit of the mission of China in the
year that you left the United States?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
The call came for volunteers for China through the Passionist priests in [Union City, New
Jersey], who had a mission there at the time, and [Mother Mary Alexandrine Jackson] sent a
letter to all the missions asking for volunteers and telling them what the situation was because
the Sisters of Charity hadn't gone into foreign missions at that time. I was a novice at that time,
so that was 1924. So I had no intention of being interested in going to China. But Sister Marie
Devota Ross, who had been in the novitiate a year before me, had just been professed that year;
she always had the desire of going to the foreign missions. One time I asked her, "How do you
ever expect to get to the foreign missions from the Sisters of Charity?" And she says, "Well, I
always hoped that they'd expand." Then here, right after she was professed, she applied and was
one of the 200 that made the application and she was accepted, that was just a month after she
was professed.

Sr. Mary Teresa:
So it caught my attention when you said 200 sisters volunteered to go to China…
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
That's right.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
That was a beautiful spirit that they show.
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
And five were accepted. I believe then when they brought the number down some, their names
were put in the chalice before the final selection. And then the selection was Sister Mary Finan
Griffin, who was the supervisor of the operating room in [Saint Elizabeth Hospital in Elizabeth,
New Jersey] and she was the superior. And [Sister Maria Electa McDermott] and Sister Maria
Loretta Halligan, Sister Patricia Rose Hurley, and Sister Marie Devota Ross, they were the first
band that went to China.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
So when do you go, Sister? When do you leave?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
I was in the second band. I was at Convent the summer that word come that Sister Marie Devota
Ross had died of cholera. That was July 29th, 1932. And we had been corresponding and she'd
say, "When are you coming to China?" And I would just say, "Oh, sometime." When she died, I
said, "Well, I better at least make an effort." So right while I was at Convent that summer, I
wrote a letter volunteering to go to China, but there was no answer. And in October a letter went
out again, asking for volunteers. I knew I had volunteered earlier, so I did nothing about it. But
the week before Christmas, I got a special delivery letter that said I was accepted, and we went in
January, the end of January we left Convent.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
How many of you went?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
Five of us went then, and that was Sister Agnes Paula Conefrey, Sister Marie Sebastian Curley,
Sister Alma Maria Gilmartin, Sister Mary Carita Pendergast and myself. Sister Electa had been
home recuperating from an illness and she was made the sixth sister on our trip to China. It was
her second trip.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
What kind of ministry you had in China?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:

Well, they were already established by the first group of sisters. There had been an orphanage,
and a catechumenate, and a dispensary. Of course, Sister Finan cared for the dispensary and the
visiting of the sick and dispensing of medicine. Sister Patricia Rose was the housekeeper. She
overlooked all the needs of the sisters and Sister Devota was the first novice mistress when they
had the novice. It was [Sister Marie Therese Tuan].
Sr. Mary Teresa:
How would you say that was the experience as a whole, for the community to be in China, to
open a new convent for the Sisters of Charity – what that meant for the sisters, for the
community as a whole?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
Well, I think it was a very wonderful step, I think, and I consider those the best years of my life,
when I was in China, both from the work and from the spiritual advantages.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
So tell me more about that growth that you experienced while you were there.
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
I have the tape upstairs of the progression of the years, what happened during the years I was...
When we were first there, Sister Agnes Paula told me to take care of the financial end, and it was
quite an experience to work with the currency, Chinese [unintelligible] and the coppers and all
their money, and then transfer it into American amounts. I know that they had an old woman
who did the buying with the lot on the street, and doing the buying, she would come back and I’d
try to find out how she used the money and then not knowing the Chinese myself, it took me a
long time to understand that she was getting that [unintelligible] were eggs and [unintelligible]
was chicken and [unintelligible] was pork, and [unintelligible] was a vegetable, but it took some
time to find out how that one Chinese dollar was spent, and keep a record of it.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
Were you challenged, the community over there, to follow the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul?
Like by being so far away from the Motherhouse here in the United States?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
Oh, we were very conscious of our heritage and the works of Saint Vincent. Our works were
very similar certainly to what he performed with the Ladies of Charity over in France. We had
the poorest of the poor; we had the beggars at the gate; we had the infants dying of malnutrition.
And then of course, we had the education end, between the two different evacuations. Because of
the communists the plan was disrupted. There was quite a time of more or less peace, where we
weren't hampered with war, but that lasted... Well, we went in [1933] and we, too, were
evacuated to Hankou because of communist aggression.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
When did you come home after…

Sr. Teresa Miriam:
We all came home on June 1st, 1951 after the communists had taken over the hospital, the
school, and our own convent. We told them we had no place to go, and they said, "Oh, yes, you
do. The Catholic church is down on the main street." That was the bishop's house. So that was
the only place. So the bishop gave us five rooms upstairs, and we went there. Our own meals
were served upstairs and theirs were downstairs. We had our cook, and they had their cook, so it
was quite an experience to live.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
How was the return of the sisters to the community in United States? Do you feel that you had to
adjust yourself again to the type of life that the sisters were having here?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
When we came back, we were a few days in San Francisco and a Jesuit priest came and visited
us on a few occasions. But before we got on the train to come east, he had a talk with all of us
there. And he says, "I know, your hearts are all in China." Now he says, "You're going back to
your community. You can either worry all about China, or you can put yourself right into the
other works that are waiting for you, and you can either make your life happy or else you can just
fade away." So I never forgot that. It was so true.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
How do you find the years in the community, after you just came from China? Was it hard for
you and the other sisters to participate in the works of the community?
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
Mmmm, no. No, no, they gave us a big reception when we came back and we were given the
house that's now the novitiate [Harper House, adjacent to Saint Anne Villa]. We were given that
from the 1st of June ‘til September. The nine of us were there and we had the whole run of the
house. We could either have our meals there and could prepare them ourselves or we could go
over to [Saint Anne Villa], which we did many times, went over and had meals at the Villa. And
we had freedom for three months to get back into the swing. And then after three months, we
were all missioned somewhere, and I was sent here [Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson, New
Jersey] and I've been here ever since.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
It was the 1st of September, 1951.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
'51. That's wonderful, Sister. What do you do now over here in St. Joseph? What kind of…
Sr. Teresa Miriam:

Well, I started out as a teacher. I taught for nine years, ten years before I went to China at
[Sacred Heart School in the Vailsburg section of Newark, New Jersey]. Because in the school
when it was started again after we got there, and I studied a little Chinese first. And then we also
tried to absorb some of the medical work in the dispensary and visiting the sick, Sister Finan
bringing us and showing us what you do when you visit the sick and how to meet the people.
And I didn't get into hospital work until I was home after the bombings.
Sister Finan had asked me to ask [Mother Mary Elenita Barry] for sisters for the hospital for xray and laboratory. I didn't even know what either of them meant, but I didn't – after a year or so
because the war had broken out then – I didn't see or hear of anyone being prepared. And I was
going to the schools and taking collections up on Sundays. I told Mother that school was
departmental work and if I learned something about the laboratory or x-ray, maybe I could help
out in the hospital if I went back. So she agreed that would be good. Then she let me go to the
Hospital of Saint Raphael [in New Haven, Connecticut]. I went to school at St. John's in New
Haven, and I stayed at the convent in St. John's and went over every day to the hospital into their
laboratory. Now they didn't have a program for medical technologists there, but I was there for
about a year and a half, just going from one section to another, with the different technologists.
And then as soon as V-J Day came, Sister Carita and I got permission to go to Washington and
apply for a visa. And there was a very good friend of Sister Finan's, a Jewish doctor, Dr. Charles
Ryan, and he was an officer in the army, too. So through his help in Washington, we made all
our applications there. And in October, our passports and visas were issued with special permits
from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
So all we had to do then was to look for transportation. We had the permit, but we didn't have the
transportation. We looked and we got passage on the Marine Fox, a troop ship that had just come
in from France with 5,000 soldiers and it was leaving for Shanghai, where it was going to pick
up 3,000 and bring them to Seattle. So we got passage on that ship on the trip to Shanghai, and it
left on Thanksgiving eve of 1945. So we had Thanksgiving, the Feast of the Immaculate
Conception, Christmas, and New Years on the water. There weren't that many on the ship going
back, going from New York, from the Brooklyn navy yards. There were about 40 of the UNRRA
people, the U-N-R-R-A, [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration] group. And
there were the wives of a couple of U.S. diplomats from Peking and Tientsin, I think.
And there were the three of us [Sisters Teresa Miriam, Mary Carita and Alma Maria]0. It was
quite an experience. We were given one cabin that had two tiers of three bunk beds and nothing
else. That was all that was there, that and our baggage. And the whole ship was geared, of
course, to men. There wasn't a chair. There wasn't anything on the deck. It was all the steel deck.
So you would want to take a blanket and try to find a place that you could sit down in the
daytime. There were some Protestant ministers, families, a couple of families of missionaries and
some of the UNRRA people, they would take mattresses and bring them out, and leave them on
the deck. And when it rained, they'd get soaked, so they'd just throw them overboard. The ship
was set up for 5,000 soldiers and there was less than 100 on it, on this trip. And we went all the
way down the Atlantic through the Panama Canal.
And when we got to Honolulu, the ship was detained there day after day because there was no
degaussing on it, and the waters were still very dangerous for mines. So the ship would not be
permitted to leave until it had the mine-repelling works in operation.
So that was the time we were cared for so beautifully by the Sisters of St. Joseph [of Carondelet]
from St. Louis. They had a mission in Honolulu. They met us at the ship and insisted on bringing

us up to their place, their convent. And when they found out that, day after day, we were still
there, the work wasn't finished, they made us go and stay with them for a couple of nights. They
gave us new underwear so we could take baths in their convent because we never saw a bathtub
in the whole ship. But they were very kind to us. And if they found out that we were still in port,
they were right down to take us and bring us up.
One day, we were brought by a Maryknoll priest, Father Hughes, to see the bishop. The bishop
said, "Well, that's the answer to the problem!” He said someone came and told him there were
three American sisters on the island, and he didn't know whether it was true or what about it, so
he was glad when he found out who we were. And he would have been glad for us to stay there,
but we weren't interested in staying there. We wanted to get back to our own mission. They were
very nice. And another day the director of the Propagation of the Faith came to see us and gave
us a check for $250 for foreign mission work. I remembered that because I'm just writing it
Sr. Mary Teresa:
Oh, I see. I see, I see. Yes, yes. Well, that's wonderful, Sister, that you are writing all these things
down so the sisters…
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
Well, I had lot of help in this way that my family kept all the letters I sent. So I took them all
back. And in that way I can recall a great many things that you wouldn't otherwise.
Sr. Mary Teresa:
Yes, yes. Well, Sister, I appreciate all this, just to have the chance to talk to you and share your
Sr. Teresa Miriam:
Yeah, I was glad to hear all about you, too.

Dublin Core


Sister Teresa Miriam Beschel, S.C. Oral History


Beschel, Sister Teresa Miriam, S.C.; China; Sister M. Carita Pendergast; spirit of St. Vincent de Paul; expulsion from China by communist government; Hawaii; Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet; Marine Fox; Saint Joseph Hospital, Paterson, NJ


Description of Sister's years as a missioner in China; her expulsion by the communist government of China; her return trip to China


Beschel, Sister Teresa Miriam, S.C.; Orbegozo, Sister Mary Teresa , S.C.


Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth


January 1980


Neary, Sister Noreen, S.C. (Editor)


Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth






Oral History


Sister Teresa Miriam Beschel desribes her years as a missioner in China; her expulsion by the communist government of China; her return trip to China


January 1980

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Original Format

cassette tape




Orbegozo, Sister Mary Teresa , S.C.


Beschel, Sister Teresa Miriam, S.C.


Beschel, Sister Teresa Miriam, S.C.; Orbegozo, Sister Mary Teresa , S.C., “Sister Teresa Miriam Beschel, S.C. Oral History,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed October 2, 2023,


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