BEAVERTON — Franciscan Missionary Sister Cecilia Lee, the oldest living member of her congregation, died March 20 at the Convent of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows in Beaverton. There was a rosary and funeral Mass at Our Lady of Peace Retreat and burial at Mount Calvary Cemetery.

Sister Cecilia was born Aug. 19, 1920, in the city of Ling Ling in the province of Hunan, China. Her parents, Philip and Maria Lee, had 10 children, two of whom died in infancy and three in early childhood. Sister Cecilia was the second eldest of the surviving children. Her brother Philip drowned at age of 26 in a river, trapped in quicksand. Joseph and Thomasus, her remaining siblings, predeceased Sister Cecilia some years ago.

Sister Cecilia attended Sacred Heart School in Hunan, Heng Yang. She had six years of formal education. When not at school, she helped her father by wrapping the soap that he made and sold. She also helped her father’s friend make toothbrushes out of pigs’ hair, by threading the hairs through a bone handle.

In 1939, Sister Cecilia, then 19, entered the newly formed Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Sorrowful Mother (later changed to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows). Some of her school friends later entered religious life with her: Sister Clara, Sister Theresa and Sister Agnes. Franciscan Sisters from Egypt instructed the novices in their formation, and Bishop Raffaele Angelo Palazzi, the founder of their new congregation, often visited to give instruction.

Sister Cecilia professed first vows March 19, 1943, in Heng Yang. From 1944 until 1946, she and the other sisters dispersed as they fled the Japanese invasion. Sister Cecilia and Sister Angela Lee fled to Ling Ling, to Sister Cecilia’s father’s house. Three days later, Sister Cecilia, her family and Sister Angela fled to the mountains (Dao Hsien) miles away. They walked for 21 days through the mountains and around three towns to get there, eating food, mostly sugar cane, from abandoned fields. When they arrived, they stayed with her father’s friends.

About a year and a half later, in 1946, the pastor in Heng Yang sent a letter telling them that all the sisters had returned but them. (Sister Cecilia was amazed that the letter reached her, since the country’s mail system wasn’t functional.) They walked 21 days back to Ling Ling and then took a car to Heng Yang.

Although the convent was all but ruined, Sister Cecilia professed vows April 17, 1947.

In 1949 communism began to take hold in mainland China, and once again the sisters fled, this time to Hong Kong for three months and then to Macau. (Some sisters went ahead to the United States.) In Macau, they cooked for seminarians. In 1951 Sister Cecilia with the others went to Santa Cruz, California. There, at St. Clare’s Retreat house, Sister Cecilia cooked and cleaned retreatants’ rooms. She also was sacristan. During this time she taught herself English.

In 1958, Sister Cecilia moved to Our Lady of Peace Retreat Convent where she worked next door at St. Mary’s Home for Boys. Leaving in 1972 for Taiwan, Sister Cecilia did catechetical work, returning to Beaverton in 1986. She also ministered in the congregation’s convents in Canada and Gallup, New Mexico.

In recent years, she traveled on her motorized scooter doing odd jobs around the house. She enjoyed reading the Chinese newspapers, working on her stamp collection and tending plants at her indoor houseplant hospital, where she would revive drooping ones and then return them to grateful owners. Sister Cecilia, a jack of all trades, “liked to do everything.” She was a selfless pioneer in faith, the last of the congregation’s original founding members.

Donations in memory of Sister Cecilia are destined for the congregation’s missions in China and Hong Kong, and may be sent to Our Lady of Peace Retreat, 3600 SW 170th Ave., Beaverton, OR 97007 or online at