Vocation transports her overseas for decades of missionary work in the Land of the Rising Sun
By Alistair Burns
The B.C. Catholic
Sister Jean Mary Michalec, MM, has spent decades in Japan preaching the Good News. Born in New Westminster, she celebrated a half-century as a Maryknoll Sister of St. Dominic June 17.
To "put it in a nutshell, I originally wanted to be a missionary," she said in a telephone interview from Japan. "Instead, I went to become a sister."
The Maryknoll Sisters, based in New York, were the first group of Catholic Sisters in the United States to devote their lives to overseas service. They are celebrating their centennial.
Sister Michalec graduated from the University of B.C. with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry, and then joined the order in 1962.
"I was sent to Japan in 1966, and I had to learn to speak Japanese," she recalled. Her duties ranged from teaching middle-school students to parish work. By 1979 she had earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Sophia University, a Jesuit-run school in Tokyo.
"It was a hard, uprooting experience for me, but it was made gentler by my friends, and by the Maryknoll Sisters in Tokyo," she explained.
From 1994 until she retired in 2008 she taught students at Sophia U. about environmental issues. At the same time she visited and worked with non-Japanese prisoners, and was an advisory board member for a women's shelter.
"The Church here is growing up, in the sense of to serve and minister beyond boundaries wherever there is need," she reported.
She highlighted two particular examples: the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis in 2011, and the constant threat of powerful earthquakes, since Japan's main islands are near the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Citizens come together for prayerful support, "to strengthen the bonds with each other and with the divine mystery at the heart of creation."
Sister Michalec now teaches Environmental English to small groups for the Japan Lay Mission Program.
"I learn with my students to love our earth with all its mystery and history; I've learned a lot, how God speaks to different people."