Born in Gloucestershire, England, to a noble family, Agnes Mary Berkeley was inspired from youth to “save Chinese babies.” In 1882 she entered the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and received the religious name Xavier. She spent 54 years in China, first in Kiangsi (Jiangxi) Province, and then at Ningpo (Ningbo), Chekiang (Zhejiang) Province, drawn especially to the sick and poor. She rescued countless abandoned babies and organized young Chinese to design and weave silk and satin, thereby making them financially independent.
In 1911, on Chou-shan (Zhoushan) Island, she developed House of Mercy, a model mission of charity, and she became known throughout the area as the Mother of the Orphans and the Poor. This mission, adjacent to the island where Chinese pilgrims visited the shrine of Kwan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, contained an orphanage, homes for old and infirm, and hospitals for the sick poor. With difficulty, she kept the mission open when the Japanese overran the area in World War II. She was buried in the mission garden.
James A. Walsh referred to her as Maryknoll’s cofounder, as she urged him to send women to China. Her manner of living and working with the poor was the pattern he desired the Maryknoll Sisters to assume.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Mary Louise Hinton, Sister Xavier Berkeley, Sister of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (1949);
- Mark Leo Kent and Mary Just, The Glory of Christ: A Pageant of Two Hundred Missionary Lives from Apostolic Times to the Present Age (1955).
- James A. Walsh narrates her story in Field Afar 2, no. 5 (1908), and 5, no. 5 (1911).