In this monthly blog series, we share tales of faith, ingenuity, and derring-do unearthed from the Medical Mission Sisters North American Archives. Please join us in re-living the expression of our charism in the early days of our organization.
There’s a phrase that almost all Medical Mission Sisters can be heard to utter from time to time. When faced with a difficult situation, the sisters often shrug and say, “What to do?” before diving headfirst into problem-solving. This good-natured acceptance of life’s trials is a trademark characteristic of Medical Mission Sisters. Today, we share the story of an MMS who embraced this grace while interned in a German prison camp during World War II.
Sr. Madeleine Sophie, born Louise DuVally, entered the Society in 1936. The 36-year-old from Providence, Rhode Island, worked as a boarding school nurse and housemother before joining the Medical Mission Sisters. With this background, she was assigned to be postulant mistress in the MMS house in Osterly, England in 1938. Within a year of moving to England, she was sent to Heerlen, Netherlands, to assist with the foundation of the Society there.
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Life in an occupied country grew increasingly tenuous for Sr. Madeleine Sophie. At one point, she was given the opportunity to return to the United States through the services of the American consulate. She turned down the chance, unwilling to leave Sr. Eleonore Lippits, who was the only other professed sister in the house. In September 1942, Sr. Madeleine Sophie found herself interned as an enemy alien in a concentration camp in Amersfoort.
Amersfoort served as a transit camp, and Sr. Madeleine Sophie was interned there for six weeks. In her letters, Sister was optimistic and reassuring, even going so far as to make jokes about her circumstances. In a letter from October 23 she quipped, “We can do our laundry now. You would laugh if you could see the array of hankies and underwear spread out over the barbed wire.”
In early November, Sister learned that she would be transferred to an internment camp in Liebenau, Germany. “I am so glad we are leaving here,” she confided to Sr. Eleonore. “This is a place of horrors. One sees much, hears much and feels it all around one and one really learns the wretchedness of hate and fear but horrible stories and talking about it doesn’t help, one can only hold on in faith knowing God sees and it will all come to an end sometime.”
At Liebenau, Sister was relieved to find a much different camp. Whereas she was one of the only Catholic sisters in Amersfoort, in Liebenau she was surrounded by religious men and women, with a chapel and the opportunity to celebrate mass twice a day. She tended the sick, helped serve meals, and taught English to the other internees. “I offer this for all good things for you and our Society,” she wrote to Sr. Eleonore. “I can be a real missionary here with God’s help and only pray that I am and keep close to God in any circumstances.”
Sr. Madeleine Sophie was released from Liebenau in a prisoner exchange with Germany in January 1945. She sailed home on the Swedish ship M.S. Gripsholm, arriving on February 21. The sisters in Philadelphia were happy to see her again – but not as thrilled as she was to be home!
Sr. Madeleine Sophie DuVally’s experience during World War II is an example of how the MMS spirit can be expressed in even the most trying situations. As she wrote to Sr. Eleanor in November 1942:
“I find everything can be put to good use for God…I do not know when I may be able to come home, but if everyone prays for me, I shall try to be a good Medical Mission Sister.”
Submitted by Jenna Olszak, Archivist