St. Julie Corner at Church in Higashi Hiroshima, Japan
By Sisters Nobuko Iwata and Mary Corripio, SNDdeN
In a quiet neighborhood with rice fields and cherry trees, a cross towers on a church steeple, east of Hiroshima City. Beneath this cross, a Catholic faith community gathers in this church dedicated to St. Julie Billiart, our smiling saint from the wheat fields of Cuvilly, France. To tell our story about this site, we have to go back to 1973 when Mazda Motor Corporation opened a Catholic Kindergarten for the children of the young workers at Takaya in Higashi Hiroshima City. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) accepted the invitation to be the administrators and teachers in this school.
Story of the Ministry and Community
Gradually, a Catholic group began gathering for Sunday Mass in the Kindergarten chapel. After thirty years, Sister Keiko Suzuki, SNDdeN (formerly Sr. Mary Angelina Suzuki), Provincial, planned to build a new convent and bought land in a residential area, not far from Takaya. She visited Bishop Misue of Hiroshima and asked about the possibility for the Hiroshima Diocese to buy a part of the land for a church to serve the local Catholic community and international students at the near-by universities. The Diocese was unable to invest in such a project at the time. Sister Keiko, however, saw the need for the SNDdeN Japan Province to assume all expenses and include a large chapel in the building project.
Community at Takaya ~ Seated: Sisters Marie Fidelis Kikegawa, Mitsuko Shoji, and Assumpta Sato. Standing: Sisters Maria Yamada, Misuko Tone, Martina Kyoko Kotani, Julie Immaculata Nobuko Iwata and Teresa Maria Inoue. (Sr. Marianna Kunimasa is also a member of this community.)
On May 11, 2003 the new buildings were blessed in this beautiful location with a pond surrounded by cherry trees, and a breathtaking view from the convent. The garden, filled also with fruit-bearing trees of cherries, apples and blueberries, is particularly for the enjoyment of the children. We chose St. Julie, our Foundress, as the patron saint of this home. Hiroshima Diocese promised to send priests for Sunday Mass for the people and weekday Masses for the Sisters. The SNDdeN pioneers were four, with one Sister who had to commute to the Kindergarten. Three Sisters took on many responsibilities in the new foundation. Faithful parishioners who had been worshipping in Takaya came to the new location, which gave a familiar and friendly atmosphere in this second stage of our story. With the support of the pastor of the Hiroshima Cathedral, the cooperation of lay leaders and the dedication of the Sisters, the foundation was firmly established.
The parishioners at this church are Christians who belong to many cultures and countries: Brazil, Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, USA and some countries in Africa. Some individuals have been long-term residents of Japan; others came to find work in Japan and have been here for some time. In the parish, there are also university students, visiting professors, participants in an international work training center and government projects. The people have different purposes for being in this city, but their presence makes the church lively and multi-cultural. This community of parishioners is blessed with many artistically talented members whose creativity enriches the liturgy and various activities in the parish.
In St. Julie Corner, parishioners join Sisters Assumpta Sato (left of the statue), Mistuko Shoji, Teresa Maria Inoue and the pastor, Fr. John Nguyen Quang Thuan (right of the statue).
In 2018, Bishop Shirahama reorganized the churches in the Hiroshima Diocese. On May 27, he named our chapel in Higashi Hiroshima as a diocesan parish church; he appointed Father John Nguyen Quang Thuan, a Vietnamese priest, as the first pastor. This is the third phase of our story, with larger SNDdeN community. Ten Sisters are living in the community residence and are active members of the parish. Two Sisters serve in ministry in Takaya, an official Notre Dame ministry, begun in 2013 when Mazda transferred ownership to SNDdeN. There are now 335 children in the school.
St. Julie Corner
The Sisters have a good support role now as members of new ministry groups, different from our earlier role as initiators and leaders in education. Yet in thinking about some possible ways to serve the Church, we decided to open a St. Julie Corner in the front lobby. The statue, originally sent from Namur, Belgium, has been standing in the convent from the opening days of this building. Every year on May 13, we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Julie, by singing hymns in her honor and listening to reflections and talks. We would like to have similar celebrations throughout the entire year. Also, we hope to teach our parishioners and visitors more about our saint and foundress. Our Julie Project is just beginning; we are taking our first steps and St. Julie is constantly guiding us in a new way. We hope that this St. Julie Corner may become a new center of activity among our international group of parishioners.
May St. Julie touch and inspire each person, families and parishioners with the faith and courage of A Saint for Our Times