Before she was given the name Veronica, she was Tang Wai Ying, born in Hong Kong and raised in a generations-old Buddhist family. She could not have known what God had planned for her and how she would make the difficult journey to God and the Catholic faith.
When she was only 15 years old, Wai Ying was walking by Good Hope School, and her attention was captured by a painting on the school walls: a picture of a beautiful lady dressed in white with a blue sash. This painting was of Mary, mother of Jesus. Wai Ying was so impressed by the picture that on returning home, she asked her father if she could transfer to Good Hope School.
Now Good Hope School was not Buddhist, it was run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. Mr. Tang was reluctant to let his daughter study in a Catholic school. Wai Ying attended a Buddhist school; her family had been Buddhists for five generations. Somehow, in the end, Mr. Tang agreed to let his daughter change schools.
Later, Wai Ying volunteered at the Maryknoll Catholic Early Childhood Education Centre in the district of Wong Tai Sin in Kowloon. Her work was to look after the staff room for the daycare teachers, and it was there that she met a novitiate who taught her to recite the prayers of the Rosary. As Wai Ying and the novitiate worked together each day, she was impressed by her friend’s spirituality and good examples.
After some time, Wai Ying decided that she wanted to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. She brought up the subject with her father. When he was a young man, taught by Jesuit priests, he also wanted to receive Baptism, but his parents - Wai Ying’s grandparents - did not allow him. At first he would not approve. In the end, Wai Ying was baptized at St. Teresa’s Church in Kowloon.
Wai Ying continued working at the Maryknoll Catholic Early Childhood Education Centre. She told one of the novitiates of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that she wished to fulfill a religious vocation. She was advised to visit the Novitiate Mistress, Sister Rose Chan, who taught Wai Ying to pray to Mary, Mother of God and ask for guidance.
When Wai Ying made up her mind to enter the convent, she was only 18 and she required her father’s signed permission to enter the convent. She knelt in front of her little statue of St. Joseph, praying from morning until her father returned home in the late afternoon when she asked for his consent to enter the Convent of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. There was much disagreement from her family, going as far as Wai Ying’s mother threatening aloud to kill herself. Mr. Tang relented towards his daughter and signed the forms.
When time came for Wai Ying to enter the convent, there was one more hurdle. She had to find a way to raise $600, a dowry or contribution to the general funds of the convent. Her oldest brother, a firefighter, supported her and provided the substantial sum she needed.
On the day she was to leave her home, Wai Ying’s mother tried to hang herself from the balcony of the house. The quick action of her brother saved Mrs. Tang, averting tragedy on what would be the first day of Wai Ying’s new spiritual life. Years later, Wai Ying’s brother was also brought into the church by baptism.
Now that Wai Ying’s family hurdles were behind her, she could finally focus on her calling which she had yearned for: a vocation to the religious life. She spent her novitiate days in a peaceful, joyful environment at the Sisters’ residence in the Mount Davis area with the ocean as the foreground and the mountain as the background.
After hard work and daily prayers, training and discernment, Sr. Veronica Tang, as she became known, took her Professional Vow on August 15, 1963, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Two years later, in front of God’s altar, she made her Final Vow, joining His religious flock so that she could dedicate her entire life to His service.
In the following 15 years, Sr. Tang became a daycare teacher in Hong Kong and studied in England. While she was abroad, her Mother Superior in Hong Kong told Sr. Tang of an invitation from Fr. Aloysius Lou to travel to his parish, St. Francis Xavier, in Vancouver, Canada to help with pastoral ministry and advocate for a daycare centre. Sr. Tang prayed to Mother Mary, to lead her to the right decision. So in July 1983, she flew from London to Vancouver. The airline lost her luggage and her flight was three hours late, but waiting patiently at the airport was Fr. Lou.
That fall, Sr. Tang started work on planning a new daycare and consulted with City Hall on the design of the St. Francis Xavier Daycare Centre in Vancouver’s Chinatown. In order to be able to teach in Vancouver, Sr. Tang went to night school to get additional BC certification. With the heavy course load and the housekeeping chores at the parish rectory, it was a very busy time for her. When the St. Francis Xavier Montessori Pre-School Daycare Centre was finally completed, Sr. Tang became the first principal and held the position for 17 years.
As the city of Vancouver developed and grew, many young families moved out of the city. And to better serve these families in her mission, Sr. Tang thought of establishing a daycare in the urban area of Coquitlam. Over many years and with the support of many, including the Mother House in Hong Kong, parishioners, government ministries and private donations, land and buildings were purchased. The Mayor of Coquitlam issued the license, and on August 13, 1994 the Coquitlam Daycare was blessed by Fr. Lou and officially opened by the Coquitlam Mayor Louis Sekora.
When the Daycare in Coquitlam was completed, Sr. Tang again became the principal. Three Sisters from the Hong Kong congregation arrived in Canada to help.
In addition to her responsibilities as a daycare administrator, Sr. Tang instructs in the Rites of Catechism Initiation for Adults (RCIA). She also oversees some of the activities at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Coquitlam such as organizing a Cantonese Mass twice a month and serving the converts who help with the ground maintenance of the property.
Li Rong Peng’s family is traditionally Buddhist, from Guangdong province. So how did she come to the Catholic faith? In their family’s village, before the Communist revolution, a Catholic priest from Europe came to evangelize and serve the village. Grandfather Peng greatly admired the priest’s medical skill and knowledge and the two became good friends. He spent so much time with the priest that Grandfather became his medical assistant. Grandfather Peng and his wife were baptized, and he helped the priest’s efforts to evangelize in the village.
Then came the Cultural Revolution and the Chinese government restricted church activities, claimed church properties, and closed churches. Grandfather Peng could not go out to evangelize in the village, and so he prayed and meditated at home. Li Rong recalls seeing her grandfather kneeling and mumbling to himself. She was curious and asked her grandfather who was he speaking to but he only replied that she was too young to understand. Grandfather Peng was retired and spent his time taking care of Li Rong and her two siblings. He would tell his young granddaughter the stories of the gospel many, many times.
When Li Rong was a high school student, in 1986, the Chinese government returned some property it had confiscated from the Church and the people were allowed again to go to church. Grandfather Peng took his three grandchildren, but he would not call it “going to church”. Instead he said that they were going to visit a distant relative. They travelled to a city far from the village. So long was the walking distance to the Church that they only able to attend the major feast days. The Church mass was conducted in the Latin language, and Grandfather still remembered what he had learned from years before. He passed along his knowledge to young Li Rong.
Also at this time, the former parish priest was released from imprisonment by the government and he returned to the parish. Two Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary were also released from prison and returned to work in the parish with the priest. There was also a group of single, unmarried women who helped to evangelize before the revolution. These women were aging and the parish priest felt the responsibility to care for these women. When a residential building was later returned to the church, the priest decided to rent the apartments to the women. These elderly women needed help and Li Rong became a high school volunteer during school breaks.
While volunteering, Li Rong got to know these women and their history of evangelization, persecution, and suffering for their faith. Their amazing and heroic accounts moved her to think deeply about their faith, about their strength to holdfast in such difficult circumstances. Her first step was to attend catechism classes at the age of fifteen. After three years, Li Rong was baptized. (In fact, she was the old grandchild in her family to receive baptism. And it wasn’t until years later, after Li Rong became a Sister, that her own mother would be baptized in 2003.)
In the year after her baptism, Li Rong volunteered for the church. The more time she spent with the religious in her community, the more her curiosity grew about religion and she started to think about a religious vocation. She was impressed by the elderly evangelizers, and she was impressed by the actions and readiness to serve of the religious Sisters that she met. Li Rong befriended one of the older Sisters who shared her life story of faith and vocation journey. When Li Rong expressed a wish to answer a call to vocations, her friend supported her and recommended her to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Li Rong’s decision to enter the convent at the age of 19 met with no opposition from her family. Her parents were open-minded and gave her permission. A few of her friends from Catholic families were also allowed to join at the same time. Altogether there were twenty young women who became students of the Congregation.
As a first year student at the convent, Li Rong had to concentrate on her studies, but she also had time to do volunteer work in the community. The Bishop of the diocese at that time felt there was a need to extend the service beyond the church. His intention was to reach out to the community by training workers to provide social and medical services. In her second year, Li Rong took her first vow and took the name Sr. Maria Peng as her professed name. It was also during her second year at the convent that the Bishop chose Sr. Peng and another Sister to pursue medical studies at the Wuhan Tonji Hospital under the support of the diocese. At the age of 22, Sr. Peng completed her three years of medical studies at the University and while simultaneously completing three years of vocational studies at the convent as a novitiate. This was followed by a year of internship at the city hospital where she took an examination to obtain her license as an assistant doctor.
Following the internship, Sr. Peng returned to the convent. There she began community work with four other Catholic organizations to look after leprosy patients who had been cured but who continued to need daily assistance. These patients were cared for mostly by foreign medical experts who were priests and nuns who came to China with the intention of evangelization but were not allowed to do so openly under the Chinese government laws. For about six years, Sr. Peng acted as an intermediary between the religious community and the patients so that the latter could benefit from the medical experts as a precursor to evangelization. Because of her previous hospital work, Sr. Peng came to know some doctors and leaders in the community, so it was easy for her to introduce the leprosy patients to the medical staff. It was because of Sister Peng’s connection that those leprosy patients were not turned away, but treated with kindness.
Also at this time, Sr. Peng was introduced by a priest to a Protestant charity organization that ran a mobile eye care truck. Knowing that Sr. Peng had experience in eye care, the priest trained her to be an assistant. For a whole year, Sr. Peng performed simple eye surgeries in eight different provinces in China.
Then Sr. Peng was given two choices: to serve the leprosy patients or to serve the church diocese. She chose the latter. When Sr. Tang from Canada wrote to Sr. Poon, Mother Superior in Hong Kong asking for help and Sr. Peng was recommended. Sr. Peng left China to assist Sr. Tang in Coquitlam, B.C, Canada. Two years after she had taken her final vow, Sr. Peng came to Vancouver, Canada in 2007 and offered her services at the Holy Rosary Cathedral, St. Francis Xavier Church, Immaculate Heart Early Childhood Education Centre, and the Senior Home in Coquitlam.
Currently, Sr. Peng is the spiritual director to the St. Cecilia Choir at St. Francis Xavier Parish, and to the Catholic Women’s League at Corpus Christi Parish.
Sr. Peng is completing the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Training Program Level 1. She is prepared to develop and facilitate in an atrium or integrate the methodology in the existing religious education programs for elementary schools and PREP. This enables Sr. Peng to work as a Religious Worker at the Immaculate Heart Early Childhood Education Centre in Coquitlam.
Come by to visit us at our Convent located in Coquitlam.
Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
747 Alderson Avenue
Coquitlam, British Columbia V3K 1T9