Maryknoll Sr. Janet Carroll, founder of U.S. Catholic China Bureau, dies at 85

Maryknoll Sr. Janet Carroll receives Communion on Aug. 12, 2017, at St. John's University in Jamaica, New York. (CNS / Gregory A. Shemitz)

Maryknoll Sr. Janet Carroll, who founded and led the U.S. Catholic China Bureau for 20 years and worked with Chinese priests and nuns studying in the United States, died May 28 in Ossining. She was 85.

A wake will be held June 3 at the Maryknoll Sisters Chapel in Ossining. Her funeral Mass will be celebrated the morning of June 4 in the chapel.

"I speak on behalf of many when I say that she was a dear friend and a mentor in service to the church and to China," Jesuit Fr. Michael Agliardo, the bureau's executive director, said in a May 30 statement. He said he was announcing her death with "sadness," "admiration" and "thanksgiving" for her life and ministry.

"For over a decade, Sister Janet ably brought American Catholics to China, gathered those concerned for the Chinese Church at national conferences, and published a newsletter to keep all informed of events in China," he said. "At the same time, she did more than administer programs. She was constantly engaged with people and events — a stalwart advocate of justice, of women and of China."

Agliardo added, "Let us pray for Janet Carroll. And let us pray with her for the Maryknoll community, for the people of China whom she strove to serve until her last days, and for the church in China."

In August 2017, Carroll was honored with the U.S. Catholic China Bureau's Matteo Ricci Award, which is bestowed upon people who best exemplify the bureau's mission to build a bridge of friendship and service between the Catholic Church in the United States and China.

The award, named for the 16th-century Jesuit missionary to China, was presented to her at a banquet held during the China bureau's 27th biennial national conference at St. John's University.

In his remarks at the banquet, Tom McGuire, chairman of the board for the bureau, cited Carroll's "faithful work as a missionary disciple" and lauded her efforts in establishing the bureau in 1989.

"Her knowledge of the Chinese language, culture and history, joined with her education in international relations, created a dynamic United States Catholic China Bureau," McGuire said. "It has provided strong initiatives to the programs for educating people in the United States and building bridges of friendship with the people in China."

During the banquet, Carroll told Catholic News Service she was driven to create the bureau so Catholics in the United States would have a better understanding and respect for the Chinese and their culture.

"From the very beginning, I wanted to open people's minds to a broader vision of the church in China," said Carroll, who worked for Maryknoll in China and Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s.

Stories of extreme religious persecution and torture in that country in the early to mid-20th century cultivated a negative view of the Chinese, even among a few members of her community, Carroll said.

"We had our martyrs, we had Bishop Francis Ford," she said, referring to the Brooklyn, New York-born Maryknoll missioner who endured torture by the communists and died in prison in 1952.

"Some of my biggest supporters when I was assigned to this work were some of the sisters who had suffered a lot in China, yet they knew it was important for us to forgive and forget and to move on," she said.

"I tried to say to people we're not relating to the Communist Party in China, we're relating to the people of God, the people of faith."

Born July 22, 1933, in New York City, she was a member of the Maryknoll order almost 70 years. She entered religious life Sept. 2, 1952.

In her early years as a sister, she served in China and Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s. She served on a Vatican delegation to the United Nations from 1979 to 1986, chairing the advisory board for a project to write the history of Maryknoll in China. In May 1989, she earned a master's degree in international relations from Yale University.

She led 11 bureau-sponsored study tours to China. She also was an adviser and mentor with Maryknoll's Chinese Seminary Teachers and Formators Project, a program that helps train Chinese priests and women religious for leadership roles.

"Characteristic of all her mission work is the effort to integrate her encounter and friendship with Jesus Christ with her knowledge of human affairs," McGuire said at the 2017 Mateo Ricci Award banquet. "She is a woman of prayer, contemplation and work. She recognized that friendship enables human beings to render aid to one another."

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