On the feast day of Mary Magdalene I can’t keep from telling the story of a Korean girl who chose that name for herself. The girl’s Korean name was Soun Poky, which translates as Pure Joy.
When I took over that parish in 1954 we had only one girl who had received a Middle School education, but we had many girls with eager minds, and they were glad at being challenged to learn he catechism. Soun Poky was the best of them, but she ran into a hitch. We could not baptize girls if their fathers wouldn’t promise to not give them to an older man who already had a wife. When Soun Poky’s dad refused to give up on the money she might bring in, she stopped coming, except on Sundays.
Two years later she appeared at the rectory, telling me that her brother was dying of Tuberculosis, and she wanted him to die in the Church. I followed her down to her father’s yard that was cluttered with experimental farming tricks by which he wanted to grow rich.
In a lean-to around the back I found Soun Poky’s brother, They has laid him laying outside where he could not contaminate the household. Above his head, tacked to the house’s back wall was a sheet bearing the English words “Home, Sweet, Home.” It was the kind of thing a country girl would bring in her trousseau.
“Are you married?” I asked the young man, and he said, “I was, but I sent her away to live, because I must die.”
I visited the boy regularly, and seeing him shiver, I gave him a leather jacket my brother Frank had given me; and the boy liked it so much that when I baptized him he wanted to be named Frank.
I soon heard that her father had sold Soun Poky to an older army captain who had a wife. Three or four years passed, with my forgetting about her. Then, one day a lady told me a girl in her village wanted to be baptized before she died.
Soun Poky was lying in that lean-to, with the “Home, Sweet Home” sheet above her head, and she was left naked, to prevent he from soiling anything. She reached up, and wrenched that sheet over her.
“I still know all the catechism,” she said. And she said, “But I am dying. Will you get what is needed for me to be baptized and to receive Holy Communion.” Also, she said, “I will want you to read the Bible to me.”
What she wanted from the Bible was the story of Mary Magdalene seeing the risen Lord, and calling him, Rabbouni. When I had read it to her, she said, “Now baptize me Mary Magdalene, and give me my Lord.”
Our Mary Magdalene wanted to be alone with Jesus, so I left her.
Coming out from Mass the next morning, I saw the men laughing. Walking over, and asking what had them going, they said, “Father, that girl you baptized died.”
It irked me to see them laughing about it, but then, they brought me into the cause of it.
“After you left, Father, she called in her father, demanding a proper Catholic funeral. Her father said her brother was fifty times more important then her, and they just buried him by a public path.
“Then, Father, she told them that if she didn’t get her Catholic funeral, she was coming back after three days to haunt him. And that old tight wad them was superstitious enough to believe her.
Mary Magdalene had her full dress funeral, with all her old friends singing.