As with every congregation, the Missionary Sisters of St. John the Evangelist was not formed by a single person. It was built by the dedication and prayers of many people and their interactions led by grace.
In the case of the St. John’s Congregation, Father Bunkei Totsuka sowed, Mother Fuku Okamura watered and through the blessings of Monsignor Vladimir Ghika, the congregation has flourished in many areas of service.
After graduating from the medical school of Tokyo University with honors, the young Dr. Totsuka went to the Pasteur Institute in Paris for further studies in medicine in 1921. While in Paris, he was led to become a Catholic priest. Soon after he returned to Japan, he started medical and pastoral care, particularly for tuberculosis patients, the typical epidemic in Japan around that time. So many people were driven to misery by the disease and the associated stigma and poverty.
The Life Story of Mother Fuku Okamura
On June 3, 1899, Fuku Okamura was born to Takeshiro (a businessman) and Masako (an artist) Okamura. They were Orthodox. One week after her birth, Fuku was baptised at the St. Nicholas Church in Kanda, Tokyo.
Fuku was educated at St. Hilda’s School, established by Anglican missionaries. After she graduated, she made a campus visit with her friends to the Sacred Heart School in Tokyo and was “mistakenly” led to a classroom where an admission exam was taking place. She took the exam and several days later got a letter of admission from the school, which is now the University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo.
The “mistake” was actually made by a mother, newly arrived in Japan from Australia with little Japanese language skills. But she, along with other mothers, was the one who later inspired the young Fuku and led her to Catholicism. While she focused on her studies, she came to wonder what had brought these mothers all the way to Japan. To teach English and mathematics and other subjects? Yes, but it was not only that, for they had a conviction and passion she had never seen before. Fuku concluded that their conviction and passion were based on Christ’ love and she gradually drew closer to their faith.
In the year of her graduation, 1919, she was converted to Catholicism. After graduation she stayed in the school to assist the mothers in language and catechism classes.
Around that time Fuku came to suffer from caries, a bone disorder, and had to stop working at the Sacred Heart School. Then In 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake shattered much of Tokyo. Fuku’s home was also burnt down. The Okamuras moved to Meguro, Tokyo, after losing their home. A group of Christians led by Fr. Iwashita often visited this new home of the Okamura’s to encourage Fuku, whose illness made her walking difficult and forced her to stay at home. They brought the Sacrament to her and did Bible study with her at her home.
In 1927 Dr. Totsuka moved his clinic to Senzoku, not too far from where the Okamuras lived. Fr. Iwashita also introduced Fuku to Dr. Totsuka who encouraged her to help him in his clinic. Fuku accepted the offer. She gradually learned the work and came to be involved in the clinic more seriously.
Five years later, the clinic was expanded and moved to Nishi-koyama, which was even closer to the Okamuras’ residence. From then on the relationship between Fr. Totsuka and the Okamuras grew firmer and finally Fuku’s parents were also converted to Catholicism. From then on Takeshiro, her father, generously supported Fr. Totsuka’s projects.
Fr. Bunkei Totsuka was one of the most influential people for our founder Fuku Okamura and later to our congregation through her.
Bunkei was born in Yokosuka, Kanagawa in 1892 as the first child to Kankai Totsuka a Surgeon General of the Imperial Navy and Hana, whose grandfather was a friend of Bunkai, Bunkei’s grandfather. Ten years later his father was stationed in Sasebo, where Bunkei stayed until he finished his primary education. Then he moved back to Tokyo to enter a boarding school called Ecole de l’Etoile du Matin established by Marist missionaries. He soon learned French and did quite well in school. In fact he was the top student in the fourth year.
Yet, he had no interest in Christian faith. On snowy days he would make snow balls and hit the figure of St. Joseph on the campus with them. That was the only disappointment which his teachers had with him.
By then his parents were also back in Tokyo and lived in Shinagawa. Bunkei hadn’t seen his father for a while. When he went home to spend a winter break with the family and he saw his father rapidly aging (Kankai married late), he was filled with sadness and anxiety. Even after he returned to the boarding school, he contemplated on life and death. One morning he disclosed his anxiety about death to one of his teachers. Thinking Bunkei had finally come to gain a religious perspective, the teacher told him, “Faith is grace. Study catechism and pray hard.”
Soon afterwards Bunkei came to learn catechism from Fr. Fumerclaude in French to prepare for baptism. But he wasn’t baptized until he went to the First High School, the most competitive state high school in Tokyo, because his father would not allow Bunkei to become a Christian.
While in high school Bunkei consulted about his baptism with Fr. Turpin (of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris) at Azabu Church. The Father said, “Your father is that of flesh. I am your father by spirit, therefore I will baptize you.” With these words, Bunkei decided to be baptized. He asked Soichi Iwashita, a friend who was four years his senior in school, to be his godfather and he was baptized by Fr. Turpin in 1909. He was given the name St. Vincent de Paul.
Upon graduating from the First High School, he was permitted to enter the Medical School of the Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) in 1912, and graduated from the medical school with honors in 1916. He worked in the university hospital while teaching in a medical school in Tokyo until he was appointed to a professorship in Hokkaido Imperial University in 1921.
What kind of person was this Monsignor Vladimir Ghika whom Fr. Bunkei Totsuka - the founder of Sakuramachi Hospital, was so greatly inspired by whilst studying in Paris and upon his return to Japan?
Born in Constantinople on 25th December 1873 he was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church. Mons. Ghika’s father was the Defense and Foreign Affairs Minister of Bucharest at the time. His grandfather, Gregory Ghika 5th, was the last reigning Prince of the Principality of Moldavia. His mother’s ancestors were French who had emigrated to Russia. Due to his mother’s spiritual education it is said that he always felt the presence of God from the very early age of 5. He grew up and was educated in Toulouse and Paris and showed talents in all aspects of literature, science, law, medicine, philosophy, and the arts. From the age of 24 he studied in Rome and was already internally a Catholic. His mother totally opposed the idea.
However, in 1902 at the age of 29 and against many people’s wishes he was officially baptized into the Catholic Church at the Basilica of St. Sabina. Thereafter, he founded the first Catholic charity in Romania and sought to expand his welfare and evangelical activities by inviting the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul to Bucharest to join him.
To save victims of the 1907 Peasants' Revolt, Mons. Ghika organized a rescue party and even offered some of his own skin and flesh for a skin transplant for a man who had received burns to his face.