The Incredible Story of Four Nuns Trapped in the South Pacific during World War II. There only means of Escape—via Submarine

Trapped in Paradise–true story from WWII in the Pacific
Sisters of St. Joesph of Orange

By Larry Peterson

There is a touch of irony to this story. On July 8, 2018,  Aleteia ran a story about Our Lady of Puy. This is the site of the Blessed Mother’s very first apparition after her Assumption into Heaven. The irony is in what follows.

The Sisters of St. Joesph are a worldwide organization representing more than 14,000 Sisters around the world. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange is the congregation based in California and was established in 1912 by Mother Bernard Gosselin. It is one of many congregations worldwide. In 1966 The Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which comprise all the congregations in the United Staes, was formed; all having their origin in LePuy.

This is about four nuns from California who somehow became stranded behind Japanese enemy lines during World War II.  They happened to be members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange. The foundation for this order was set in place in LePuy, France, in 1650. As the Feast of the Assumption approaches, it is an honor to mention them.

Two of the Sisters were teachers, and two were nurses. They had arrived in the Solomon Islands in December, 1940. These young women were new to missionary life, confronting an unknown culture for the first time, and did not speak the languages spoken on the different islands. Also, they had to learn how to get around the jungle. One year after they arrived, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese quickly occupied many of the islands in the South Pacific. The nuns had been deeply involved in a village on the island of Buka. They had no idea that the Japanese wanted Buka for an airfield. Sister Hedda Jager was the nun in charge of journaling their experiences. No matter what kind of day she was having, she always managed to record the day’s happenings.

As the Japanese get closer and closer Sister Hedda records how their lives morphed from working as missionaries to being filled with sheer terror as the invading Japanese got closer and closer. They made it to Bougainville where they learned  how other missionaries in the Solomons had been tortured and executed.

There were Marist missionary priests on the island and, knowing what the fate of the nuns would be if captured, managed to hide the Sisters for months in the jungle. On New Year’s Eve, 1942, the priests managed to get the Sisters and twenty-five others, to the beach in Teop Harbor. It was then they all learned that a submarine would be their means of rescue.

On New Year’s Day,1943, in the early morning darkness, the submarine Nautilus, pulled to within 100 feet of the beach and the terrified passengers were safely taken on board and brought to safety. Sister Hedda wrote in her journal: “You cannot put into words the feeling that one has for those of one’s own country, especially when one is miles from home and running away from the Japanese.”

When the war ended the four Sisters returned to Buka to continue their work. The last of them passed away in 1999. These Sister of St. Joseph of Orange will forever remain a true inspiration to us all.

The book by Sister Hedda; Trapped in Paradise, is previewed below.

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