Opening of First Contemplative Monastery in China since 1949

The following press release was published in May and has been slightly edited. Columban Fr Eamonn O’Brien, Director of Cultural Exchange with China (CEC) is from Ireland and spent his early years as a priest in the Philippines.

On 1 May the feast of St Joseph the Worker, the monastery of St Augustine was opened in Lintou, in the Shan Xi Province of China. This is the first contemplative monastery to be opened in China since1949.The monastery and associated nursing home will be known as St Augustine's Garden.

St Augustine's Garden was opened by Bishop Paul Meng (Diocese of Taiyuan). The opening Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Wu Jin Wei (Diocese of Yun Cheng) and approximately 50 priests, with over 1,700 Catholic lay faithful in attendance. The two-hour Chinese Mass was full of joy and thanksgiving. The monastery chapel was opened and consecrated by Bishop Wu Jin Wei the previous evening.

Bishop John Baptist Wang Jin, Diocese of Yutze (seated) with Sr Mary Niu Shufen and her father, the architect of the new monastery.

The Mother Foundress of the monastery, Sr Mary Niu Shufen, commented that the monastery is ‘Not my work but God's work as He looks after both the small and big work’. The celebrations included an open air Mass with four bands providing musical accompaniment to the liturgical celebration. At least eight dioceses were represented at the opening of the monastery. Both the local county's Head of the Government Religious Affairs Bureau and the Secretary of the Communist Party in the local village attended the Mass and gave speeches of support during the reception.

Fr Eamonn O’Brien and Sr Mary Niu Shufen.

The building of the monastery was mainly financed by supporters of Cultural Exchange with China (CEC), a UK charity the specific aim of which is to ‘build bridges between the Catholic Churches of China and of Britain’.

The local bishop, Bishop John Baptist Wang Jin of the Diocese of Yutze, was unable to attend the opening of the monastery, as the 90-year-old prelate was critically ill in intensive care. However Bishop Wang Jin gratefully received an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis and imparted his blessing to those who attended the opening of the monastery from his sick bed. The Director of CEC, Fr Eamonn O'Brien SSC, gave thanks to Bishop John Baptist Wang Jin during the opening of St Augustine's Garden, ‘From the very beginning Bishop Wang Jin was able to see the value of this project and support it’. Bishop Wang Jin who as a priest spent twenty years in prison, ten of which were in solitary confinement, agreed to Sr Mary Niu Shufen's request to open the monastery because of his experience of prayer and contemplation while in prison.

Sr Mary, who received her religious formation in an Augustinian community in England, stated that she was, ‘Very grateful for all the support she has received in China and internationally, in particularly from CEC - as without their help this would not have happened’. Following the official opening Fr O'Brien recalled that, ‘The opening of the monastery has taken eight years to complete. I remember standing on the site when there was only earth beneath and sky above. I would like to thank all the supporters of CEC for providing financial and prayerful support throughout this period’.

The monastery will follow the rule of St Augustine and in addition to housing a contemplative order of nuns will be a catechetical and retreat centre for local Christians, a place of reflection for all and a nursing home for the elderly and infirm.

As the community of nuns begin their mission as active contemplatives, they still require funds to support the running costs of their monastery and to complete the nursing home. Donations can be gratefully received on the CEC website.

Newly professed Sister Shi with her father from Inner Mongolia, China.

The World Day of Prayer for China occurred on Saturday 24 May. Please hold the work of St Augustine's Garden and CEC in your prayers; as the Director of CEC commented at the opening of the monastery, ‘Let us ask God to give his love to the future of the project and bless it with many vocations’.

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI dedicated the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, 24 May, as a day of prayer for Chinese Catholics. That date is associated with Our Lady of Sheshan venerated at the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christian, Shanghai.

Our Lady of Sheshan

‘Chinese Catholics in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York City, celebrate Our Lady of Sheshan.’

Devotion to Our Lady Help of Christians was promoted by St John Bosco. Under that title Mary our Mother is the Patron of Australia. The Spanish title is Nuestra Señora María Auxiliadora and that in Tagalog is Maria, Mapag-ampon sa mga Kristiyano.

The situation of the Church in China is complex, as this video shows.


Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians",
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said ‘yes’ in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously cooperated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross.
Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.

In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!