In November, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods community begins a year of celebration highlighting the 100th anniversary of the Congregation’s mission to China. As a first step, sisters, staff, associates and others began reading “Against All Odds,” a biography of the sisters’ mission written by Sister Ann Colette Wolf. A summer retreat is also being planned. The Congregation is also featuring blog posts that spotlight each of the founding sisters who undertook the mission and will also highlight what the sisters are continuing to do with our mission in Asia.

Get a feel for the beginnings of the Sisters of Providence mission to China with this story taken from “Against All Odds,” by Sister Ann Colette Wolf.

In the summer of 1919, Bishop Tacconi of Kaifeng, China, approached Mother Mary Cleophas Foley, general superior, and asked if the Congregation would send sisters to start a school for young women in Kaifeng. Mother Mary Cleophas announced to the sisters that they were going to take on their first foreign mission. She asked for volunteers, reminding the sisters that if they accepted this mission, they would probably never return to the Woods “…except on their way to heaven… .”

Mother Marie Gratia Luking
Mother Marie Gratia Luking

The response of the Congregation was phenomenal. Almost 300 of the 1,000 sisters offered themselves for the mission in China. The Council sent Sister Marie Gratia Luking, superior of the group, and Sisters Mary Elise Renauldt, Clare Mitchell, Eugene Marie Howard, Marie Patricia Shortall, and Winifred Patrice O’Donovan.

The sisters left the Woods on Oct. 29, 1920, and arrived in Kaifeng on Nov. 24. The Sisters of Providence were the first American women’s religious Congregation to start a mission in China. Mother Theodore Guerin, the foundress of the SPs, had always wanted to start a mission in China and the six sisters who were chosen made her dream a reality.

If anyone is interested in reading “Against All Odds,” please send your address information to Diane Weidenbenner at and we’ll send you a free copy.

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