Downing writes primarily about the details of day-to-day life: the achievements of her students, the projects taken on by the mission, leisure activities such as visits to the movies, and comments on her health and the weather. She reflects on notable events, including graduation ceremonies and holiday celebrations (in January 1934 she laments that her enthusiasm for New Year's isn't shared by her Japanese colleagues), and keeps notes when she travels (a journey by ship in the diary of July 24-October 21, 1936 includes daily reports of latitude and longitude). As tensions increase between Japan and the United States, she writes of growing police attention and her worries for the legal status of the mission, though she reaffirms the kindness and trust the local population continues to extend to them.
The collection also includes photographs of Downing and some of her correspondence, plus material related to the Blackmer Home such as a floor plan, annual reports, and photographs of some of the girls in the home.
Biographical / Historical
In 1929 Downing was sent to the Universalist mission to Japan, where she served as a kindergarten and Sunday school teacher at the Blackmer Home for Girls, a project of the WNMA which housed twenty underprivileged young women. (Downing herself lived in a separate place bought with her own funds, a small house dubbed Sunny Corner.) Her ministerial license was transferred to the General Convention in 1930. She was a staunch advocate for the Japan mission to its American sponsors, writing publicity materials about its work including "Two little stories from Japan" (1937), "Michiko San" (1938), and a film of unknown title (cited in a letter to Roger Etz, September 17, 1937).
On April 15, 1940, the Universalist Mission Council, including Downing and three others, voted unanimously to accept a proposed merger with a local Congregationalist mission. This was done largely for financial reasons. Sometime in the next two years the mission was disbanded altogether. Downing remained in Japan, and in March of 1942 she was interned by the Japanese government with other Allied missionaries in the hospital of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (Seibo Byoin).
In 1943, Downing converted to Catholicism and was baptized as Ruth Maria Mercedes. In 1946 she joined the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz, and in 1953 she took her final vows, taking the name Sister Maria Mercedes Downing. Her work as an English teacher continued for eighteen years in the Koen Girls School in Tokyo, and later in Hino, where she moved in 1971.
Downing was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1948, a condition which advanced throughout her life and kept her confined to her bed from 1981 until her death. Her final days were lived out in the hospital of a convent in Daiichi, where she was moved after its construction in 1987.
- Downing, Ruth G. Papers, 1926-1941: A Finding Aid.
- Andover-Harvard Theological Library
- EAD ID
Part of the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School Repository
Special Collections at Andover-Harvard Theological Library preserves and makes accessible primary source materials documenting the history of religion and theology, with particular historical emphasis on American liberal religious traditions. Though the historical strengths of the collections have been in the field of Christianity, other religious traditions are increasingly reflected, in step with Harvard Divinity School's evolving focus on global religious studies.
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