Franciscan Missionaries of Mary
martyrs in Shanxi
In 1898, at the request of auxiliary Bishop, Francisco Fogolla of Shanxi, Mother Mary of the Passion, founders of the Institute, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, nominated seven sisters to go to that diocese in China to serve the poor in hospitals, and care for the unwanted or other
destitutes in orphanages and other various ways, so that their presence would proclaim God is unconditional love, and that He loves all without distinction of race or rank. For many, it seemed folly to send Sisters from
Europe to such a far-away place as China, when long voyages and
transportation were tedious, dangerous and uncomfortable, when living conditions were precarious and health-threatening.
Marie-Hermine de Jésus (Irma Grivot)
She was born on 28 April in Beaune (France). A modest family: her father was
a cooper and her mother looked after the house.
Irma, of fragile health, was a simple child, upright, lively, affectionate,
sensitive by nature and open to God. Intelligent and studious, she completed
her studies in 1883, with an elementary certificate.
Her religious vocation was neither understood nor accepted by her parents
and this made her position very difficult for her. She tried to become more
independent by giving private tuition.
In 1894, she went to Vanves, on the outskirts of Paris, where she began her
pre-novitiate. Her fragile appearance made it necessary for her to spend
some time in this community; it was necessary to make sure that her strength
would permit her to commit herself to a missionary life. But behind her
fragile appearance was hidden an iron will which overcame all difficulties.
She began her novitiate in Les Châtelets, near Saint Brieuc (France), in
July of that same year, and received the name of Marie Hermine de Jésus. The
hermine is an animal which prefers death to being tarnished - so goes the
saying - and this would be one of Hermine's resolutions. Such was her life,
such was her death.
A woman full of tenderness and firmness ... A humble woman. Her patience and
her charity could create a homely atmosphere wherever she went: in the
novitiate, then in Vanves where she took care of the accounts of the house
and later in Marseilles where she was trained in the care of the sick;
finally as superior of the group in Taiyuanfu. She knew how to win hearts:
bishops, priests, lay consecrated people, children, the sick ... And for her
own sisters, she was mother, support, animator ... till the end.
From where did she draw this strength? Her words unfold part of her secret :
"Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is half my life. The other half consists
in loving Jesus and winning souls for Him."
An ardent missionary, adorer, a single-hearted woman. Marie-Hermine did not
flee in face of the danger of death. She knew how to live the Master's words
"There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for those one loves"
Maria della Pace (Marianna Giuliani)
She was born in Aquila in Italy on 13 December 1875. A poor home, a father
with a difficult character, who easily got into a rage and did not tolerate
any religious practice - to go to Church one had to do it stealthily - and
the mother worked, suffered, taught her daughters to love Mary. But illness
took her away all too soon, and at the age of ten Marianna experienced the
deep sorrow of losing her mother.
The father abandoned them; some other parents adopted the orphans. Marianna
who was intelligent and fervent was directed by an uncle to the Franciscan
Missionaries of Mary.
Mary of the Passion received her as a "probationer", that is to say, among
the young girls who aspired to being missionaries. She completed her studies
and strengthened her vocation in France.
She began her novitiate in 1892. She had various experiences in Paris where
she was given the responsibility of a group of young, very difficult girls ...
Marie de la Paix, with her serene kindness, succeeded in calming them down
and gave them the opportunity to continue their growth in maturity ... Then,
she went to Vanves where she made her First Vows. Later she shared in the
foundation of a community in Austria: another language, other customs ...
All this prepared her for a departure further away, towards China. There,
she was given the responsibility of organising the orphanage, the material
work of the community and also the music and singing, for she was gifted
with a beautiful voice.
Silent, Marie de la Paix drew her strength from union with God, in constant
prayer. The youngest of the seven, in the face of death, she had her hour of
anguish, of agony like Jesus, but like Him also, she knew how to say "Yes"
and gave herself up totally. She was only 25 years old.
Maria Chiara (Clelia Nanetti)
She was boron on 9 January 1872 at Santa Maria Maddalena, the province of
Rovigo, in Italy. Her parents received her with joy: she was lively,
precocious, ardent ... loved by all - her family and the people of the village
- of an impulsive nature, exuberant, intelligent and joyful, she grasped
everything very quickly. In school, her teachers tried to discipline her.
After Primary School, she helped in the house. She was charming, everybody
waited for her, but very soon Clelia felt attracted to another ideal.
What was the first indication of her religious vocation?
Her parents obliged her to go the Ball, but the choice was already made in
her heart. Barnabé, her Franciscan brother, helped her on her journey of
offering herself to God. At eighteen years of age, she asked her parents to
allow her to be a religious, but they thought this was just an idealism of
youth. Clelia knew what she wanted and the struggle began. She experienced
suffering, bitterness, hatred, despair ... every kind of misery of this world.
The desire to give herself, to serve, to live and proclaim the Gospel grew
She came to know the Institute of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary
through her brother and the missionary horizon opened out before her.
Her strong personality urged her towards to a firm decision and, on 24
January 1892, she entered the pre-novitiate; then, in April she began her
novitiate and received the name of Maria Chiara. "Clare" (clear) and such
was her life and her offering; a frank nature, transparent, ardent, Chiara
personified missionary joy, being generous and self-forgetful, often too
hasty but always ready to sacrifice for others.
In China, confronted with the bishop's suggestion to leave because of the
danger, Chiara exclaimed:
"Monsignor, flee? No. We came to give our lives for God if needs be!"
However, since the orphans, too, were in danger, Monsignor was preparing two
cars to take them away to a Christian village, and Chiara was to accompany
the group. But the gates of the town were already blocked and they had to
come back ... Having accomplished her duty, she returned happy ...
In the final trial, Chiara was the first, they say, to receive the mortal
blow ... Perhaps her height attracted attention ... Was it, perhaps, that she
always went forward too quickly towards what she thought was God's will? ...
Her last words were doubtless those she so often repeated: "Onward always!"
Marie de Sainte Nathalie (Jeanne-Marie Kerguin)
She was born on 5th May 1864 in Belle-Isle en Terre, in Brittany. Daughter
of humble and poor peasants she knew the simple games of the village
children: to run through hills and vales, to carry flowers to the statue of
the Blessed Virgin. She learned to read in the village school and at the
same time to weave, to cook, to look after domestic animals ... She went for
Catechism classes and carefully prepared herself for her profession of
Shortly afterwards, while still a child, she lost her mother and had to face
the housework, but already the desire to give herself totally to God was
making a path in her heart. In 1887 she knocked at the door of the novitiate
in France, which was close to her village and the young Breton whose blue
eyes revealed her transparent soul to its depths, was received there.
She worked on the farm, looked after the cows, did the laundry ... Her joy was
born of a deep conviction that "everything is big for one who accomplishes
it with a large heart". Two things sufficed for her: to be intimately united
to God and to love while accomplishing the smallest services of each day ...
After her novitiate she was sent to Paris where poverty was very acute.
Marie de Sainte Nathalie accepted it joyfully. Her sisters called her
"Brother Leo" in remembrance of Leo the beloved companion of Francis of
Her first departure was for Carthage in North Africa, but she fell ill and
had to return to Italy. Little by little she discovered the secret of the
cross and she wrote:
... "I am happy to have to suffer. When one suffers one is detached from the
world. God wishes that I love more than all else; He has been so generous to
me and has done so much for me since I came into this world."
In March 1899 she was destined for the new foundation of Taiyuanfu. Shortly
after her arrival in China, her health became a great concern for the
community. She spent several months in bed with typhus. She suffered
unceasingly with unbelievable patience and finally recovered some of her
strength little by little.
Work was not wanting to her ... but on 9th July, with all her companions, the
young Breton with blue eyes was beheaded.
"Do not be afraid ... Death is only God who is passing by ... " she had said
several times ...
Marie de Saint Just (Anne Moreau)
She was born on 9 April 1866 in the little village of la Faye, in
Atlantic-Loire. Her father, a well-to-do farmer, was known in the village
for his charity, his help towards those in need. Anne inherited these family
virtues. She was sensitive and courageous though sometimes a bit silent,
aloof and serious. She preferred to stay with her mother rather than play
with the other children, being also the 'spoilt child' of the house.
While still young she lost her father and had to assume the responsibilities
of selling the agricultural produce. But she already felt the call to leave
the house. "It seems to me", she confided one day to a cousin who remembered
this, "that God is asking something big of me. I want to go to China and
give my life for the Chinese."
Then came the trial: she doubted her vocation which did not seem so
attractive now and she did not feel that same apostolic zeal. The simple
work without any show, seemed unbearable to her ...
The future made her afraid, she suffered from scruples, doubted the presence
of Jesus in the Eucharist ... What to do: give up this road? Return home? That
would be so easy.
Marie de Saint Just was suffering. She prayed and opened her heart to Mary
of the Passion, her superior general. In all loyalty, she revealed to her
the torture she was going through and said: "I am nothing and did not know
The words that Mary of the Passion asked her to pray constantly were those
of Jesus: "Father, may your will, not mine, be done".
For several years the young sister who did not know the way of the great
mystics, continued to suffer ... clay kneaded by the potter. Helped by Mary of
the Passion, she did not recoil but learned to stand firm by the cross with
all her faith and all her strength. Little by little she overcame temptation
and peace reigned in the depths of her being.
Her mother's death added to her sorrow, but God's will became her
strength. In Vanves she learned how to use the printing machines, to make
shoes for her sisters and to perform a thousand other little tasks to help
and sustain the community.
After her Perpetual Vows, she was sent to China. She described the voyage
humorously and on her arrival put all her talents at the service of the
community and the orphans.
She wrote: "I feel I have always lived here. I thank the Blessed Virgin to
whom I have always prayed, and it is a consolation for me to tell you,
Mother, that my trials have ended."
God gave peace to this missionary. Soon she would bear the supreme witness
Marie Adolphine (Anna Dierkx)
She was born on 8 March 1866 in Holland. Daughter of a poor family, she lost
her mother very early and the six orphan children were taken in by
neighbours. Anne went to live with a family of labourers who were richer in
love than in money ... In school, attentive to her study and faithful to
prayer, she was also the first in games and was very joyful and
After Primary School, she understood that she had to help her adopted family
and worked as a labourer in the village factory, where she packed coffee.
Later she was employed by a well-to-do family and then went to Antwerp for
the same work.
The young Anne matured, her personality and her faith grew; she understood
that true joy comes from a spring which never dries up, and that this joy is
bought at the price of suffering.
She began to perceive an immense love that calls and found peace in the
desire to serve within a bigger family without frontiers.
In 1893 she entered the novitiate of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in
Antwerp. To the question: "Why do you desire religious life?" she replied:
"Because of a desire to serve Our Lord."
Like the strong woman of the Scriptures, Marie Adolphine gave herself
without any useless complaints, without any noise, to the humblest and most
Adolphine did not think herself worthy to shed her blood for her faith. But
she set out. "Marie Adolphine is a sister of whom we can ask anything" said
Hermine, her superior. And she herself wrote: "May Jesus give me the grace
to draw my Chinese helpers to His love, but for this I must fulfil my
mission as a true victim, given up totally to God and souls." God heard her
desire. Marie Adolphine did not miss the rendez-vous. She witnessed by her
total gift of her life for her faith in Jesus.
Maria Amandina (Pauline Jeuris)
She was born on 28 December 1872 at Herk-la-Ville, in Belgium. Daughter of
simple parents and courageous Christians who worked hard to bring up a boy
and six girls of whom four dedicated themselves to God.
At seven years of age she lost her mother and her father was obliged to
leave for a neighbouring village. There, a woman took the two youngest girls
to her home and Pauline found affection and protection in this home.
Affectionate and gay, the child very soon won the hearts of her protectors.
At fifteen she entered the Secular Third Order of St Francis of Assisi. Her
sister Rosalie was the first to enter the novitiate of the Franciscan
Missionaries of Mary in Antwerp where she received the name of Marie
Honorine. It was only after the departure of Marie Honorine for Sri Lanka
that Pauline decided to enter the novitiate, followed by her sister
Marie Amandine was simple, joyful, generous, truly Franciscan. Her good
humour and easily relationships attracted and created around her a homely
atmosphere of joyous serenity.
She was first sent to Marseilles to be trained in the service of the sick in
the future hospital of Taiyuanfu.
From there she left for the mission. The boat passed through Sri Lanka and
its port, Colombo where she had the joy of meeting her sister Marie
Honorine. The joy was mutual and then there was the 'good-bye':
"Good-bye ... till heaven!"
In the mission she gave the best of herself to the dispensary. She describes
her task in these words to her superior general:
"There are two hundred orphans, among whom are many sick ones whom we care
for as best we can. The sick from outside also come to be cared for. If you
saw these patients, you would be horrified. You can't imagine their wounds,
aggravated by a lack of hygiene. How fortunate I am to have learned a little
of everything in Marseilles. I do all I can to relieve them."
In fact, the task was enormous: a life of sacrifice without a break,
accepted with joyful endurance.
"Sister Amandine is, by age and by nature, the youngest among us", wrote
Marie Hermine. "She sings and laughs all day. That is not bad; on the
contrary. The cross of a missionary must be borne joyfully". The Chinese
called her "The European sister who is always laughing".
She passed nights and days watching over and caring for Marie de Sainte
Nathalie during her illness, and continued her usual work with the sick, so
much so that in the end she fell seriously ill ... There are no great means,
but little by little her robust nature overcame everything ... She resumed her
In one of her last letters, Marie Hermine relates: "Marie Amandine said this
morning that she was praying to God not to preserve the martyrs but to
And in fact, she herself continued to prepare remedies, singing as usual.
Her joy was the admiration of those who were imprisoned with her. Certainly,
she to whom God had given Franciscan joy, will have sung the "Te Deum" till
the end, that hymn of praise of the Lord God, "Total Good, Unique Good, all
Good" according to the prayer of Francis of Assisi.