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Many hundreds came to Chinatown’s Transfiguration Church last Sunday for Mass and to celebrate the “Golden Jubilee” for Sister Joanna Chan, who is retiring after 50 years of service in many different ways.
Playwright, educator, arts leader and prisoner counselor are all apt words to describe Chan.
Born in Hong Kong 74 years ago, Chan enterred the Maryknoll Sisters’ residence in Quezon City, Philippines, 50 years ago on June 1, 1964, and took her final vows in 1975.
In 1970, she co-founded and was artistic director of Four Seas Players out of the basement of Transfiguration on Mott St. It is the first and longest running Chinatown Cantonese language theater on the East Coast. After a brief stint as artistic director of the Hong Kong Repertory, she returned to the New York to co-found the Yangtze Repertory Theatre.
One notable alum of Yangtze is Brian Yang, who plays Charlie Fong on “Hawaii Five-O”.
Sister Joanna, as she is known, served many roles at Transfiguration from 1969-1986, including as an English teacher, religious education coordinator,director of youth services and choir conductor.
She also directed plays and taught acting at “Sing Sing” maximum security prison in Ossining, N.Y.
One of her former students who attended the June 29 ceremony, was Raymond Yu, who went on to volunteer with Chan at the prison program.
The ever-humble nun said she was “deeply gratified” by all of the attention.