BY Ian Dunn | May 9 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Mammoth task for Scot, 81, to visit ‘miracle’ monastery in China

Not many people in their 80s would consider traveling from Scotland to China for the opening of new a ‘monastery’ but Veronica Campbell did not let that stand in her way.

The 81-year-old parishioner from St Aidan’s Parish in Johnstone is in China right now, visiting her friend Sr Mary Niu, the nun who has almost single-handedly built a new contemplative monastery in China.

“I just have an adventurous spirit,” Ms Campbell told the SCO before she left. “Of course, lots of my friends would never dream of doing anything like this, but I like a challenge.”


Sr Mary, who has visited Scotland, is these days well known for her work to build up the Faith in China, but Ms Campbell’s friendship with her goes back a long way.

“Until I was 60 or so, I looked after an elderly aunt,” she said. “And when she died, a priest suggested I check out the contemplative community of the Canoness of St Augustine in Sussex. I went down for a while and I loved it but wasn’t for me. I am too independent. But I go back every year to visit them, and it’s very nice, very peaceful.”

On one of those visits she was present when Sr Mary first came to England.

“She was with another young Chinese girl Rosa, whose uncle was a priest and he had arranged for them both to come and do their religious formation with the canoness, because obviously they couldn’t do it China,” she recalled.

Just after they had arrived, one of the Sisters asked Ms Campbell to take them out into town for some errands.

“It was hard for them at that point, they were quite withdrawn, their English was not very good at that time, our cutlery was difficult for them, but I took them into Hayward Heath, and to a Chinese place for lunch,” she said. “And they were delighted with that, they talked to the waitress in Chinese, and really enjoyed the meal. And so whenever I was down visiting, I would try and take them out for a Chinese meal.”

Sr Mary later went on to Dublin to continue her studies, but the two women stayed in touch.

“She has come to stay with me here, and I went to see her in Dublin,” Ms Campbell said. “And she always said I should go to China and with the monastery opening, now seemed like the perfect time.”

Return to China

Ms Campbell has visited China before but anticipated that this trip would be a very different experience.

“When I went it was a SAGA tour, staying in nice hotels, and going to all the tourist places, like the Great Wall and the Summer Palace,” she said. “Whereas I think this will be real China. Although when I was there, we did see some of the poverty. I will always remember seeing a very elderly woman digging through the bins for plastic bottles, to claim the deposit back.”

Although she said she was looking forward to the trip, Ms Campbell was expecting to rough it.

“I’ve been told to take lots of paper hankies because the toilets are very primitive,” she said. “Also I’m celiac, so I can’t eat wheat, but Mary will look after me, and she knows what Europeans eat. Although obviously there’s lots of rice, I think they do grow wheat as well, but I’ll just have to live by Faith.”

She was headed for a remote location, about five hours from Bejing.

“It’s amazing what Sr Mary has managed to achieve [there],” she said. “She has had support from local people, support of her bishop but it’s a very poor diocese out in the wilds. Her whole family has helped her to build the monastery.”


As China remains hostile to the Church, Sr Mary is not able to refer to the new monastery simply as a monastery.

“It’s a nursing home with monastery attached,” Ms Campbell said. “You’ve got to get it the right way round because of the authorities will only accept it if they think it’s doing good for the community. Christians are still persecuted there. It varies from area to area, and her area is not bad, but there are still pressures.”

Last year Sr Mary told the SCO that finishing the monastery would feel like a ‘miracle.’

“We have overcome so much, it feels very much like God’s plan, which is greater than anything we know,” she said.

The Sister remembers her grandmother being taken by officers and beaten, her grandfather had to attend re-education classes each day and her mother burnt all the religious books the family had in its possession because they were known to be Catholics.

“My father lost his job because of his beliefs, and I was always put down by the teachers in the school though my exam results were top of the class,” she said.

“We were strictly watched, but we never stopped praying at home and never denied our Faith. Every night the whole family gathered together to pray with very low voices, and we would stop when there was a sound outside, because someone might listen from the roof or under the window, and report us to the local leaders.”

Though such things are largely in the past, they are remembered, and few women who are 82 this year would be diving into such a situation.

“The thing is year before last, I wasn’t well, I have two bouts of bronchitis, and it was just a miserable year,” she recalls. “And when the Spring came, I had to move myself, so I got in the car and drove to Bruge, where I have friends. I just want to keep going as long as I can being independent and you know I’m quite looking forward to China.”

Her other motivation, is her dedication to her friend, Sr Mary.

“Well this is the re establishment of a church in China, it’s the seed of something to come,” she said. “And Sr Mary has tremendous determination, even though she’s really quite unassuming, you wouldn’t realise she has got all this behind her but, if she wants to do something, she will do it.”

– To support Sr Mary Niu via the Cultural Exchange with China call: 020 8202 2555 or e-mail:


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