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Sister Martina Says God Opened Her Eyes to a Life of Faith

Sister Martina Hou, CST says the best part of teaching is to help students form a relationship with God. (Photos: Courtesy of Sister Martina Hou CST)

Editor’s Note: With this article, The Tablet introduces a new series, “Nun Better,” a look at the lives and the service of women religious in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

FLUSHING — When Sister Martina Hou’s mother Zhang was expecting her in 1982, she concealed the pregnancy. She had to. 

The family lived in Dingzhou, a city 130 miles from Beijing, and China’s infamous One-Child Policy restricting the size of families was firmly in place. Zhang and her husband Wen Tian already had six children and were terrified that Zhang would be forced to have an abortion if word got out that she was pregnant again.

“My mother is very religious. She held herself for nine months. And she prayed along the way. God heard her prayers and I was born,” said Sister Martina, who is now 40.

Sister Martina Hou, CST, is a member of the Little Sisters of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and is currently a teacher at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy in Flushing, pursuing her doctorate in education at St. John’s University.

Her family told her that as a toddler, the first word she spoke was not “mama” or “papa” but “God.”

Because her mother felt blessed to have her, she expressed the hope that Martina would grow up to become a nun. “My mother used to say, ‘This child is a child of God and she should belong to God.’ When I was small, my mom said it is better for me to be a nun. According to my mom, the best form of work is to serve the poor and to tell people that God is love,” Sister Martina recalled.

She decided to join the Little Sisters of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and became a novice in 2000, then took her initial vows in 2002. Her final vows took place in 2008. However, her road was far from smooth.

At a 14-day retreat during her novitiate, she asked God for a sign to assure her that her vocation was truly hers and that she wasn’t joining a religious order just to please her mother.

Just after the retreat, her vision suddenly grew blurry. She was taken to an eye doctor who diagnosed her with optic atrophy that appeared to cause nerve damage to her retina. “If you have this problem, you cannot continue your vocation. So I went home and I was so, so sad. My mom said that nothing is impossible for God. God can heal,” she remembered.

After a month, she went back for a checkup. Her doctor was amazed. There was no sign of optic atrophy. 

Her loved ones told her it was a miracle but she was skeptical. “I thought that the doctors made a mistake at first with the diagnosis. But now I believe it was a sign. God sent me a sign to tell me he was really calling me and not because of my mom. He opened my eyes,” Sister Martina said.

Her mother Zhang was there to see her as Sister Martina took her first vows in 2002.

She took her final vows in 2008 and served in her home diocese in Hebei Province in China for three and a half years — working with high school and college students. She then went to the Philippines and served for seven and a half years at the International Chinese Catholic School, where she taught Mandarin.

Sister Martina came to the U.S. in 2014 because her mother superior wanted her to add a Master’s Degree to the Bachelor’s Degree she had. She arrived in the Diocese of Brooklyn and started classes at St. John’s University.

Her life outside the classroom was also busy. She volunteered at St. John Vianney Church in Flushing on weekends, teaching RCIA classes and serving as spiritual director of the Rosary Society.

She earned her Master’s Degree in 2017, and the same year started working at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy. 

These days, her life is busy and fulfilling. In addition to teaching, she participates in a Chinese leadership program, founded by Father Hugh O’Donnell, a Vincentian priest, that is aimed at training Asian priests and nuns to become leaders in today’s church. Sister Martina serves as a translator and leads mission appeals for the program every Sunday from June to August. 

Sister Martina notes that many of her students at St. Michael’s come from non-Catholic families. She sees that as an opportunity to fulfill her life’s mission: to spread the word about God to people.

“That’s why I teach them. God is love,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what happened in your life or the difficulties. God is always there with you.”

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