Maria Chang Yu, a retired office manager and active parishioner at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where she assisted in raising funds for the installation of a mosaic known as Our Lady of China, died Jan. 13 from undetermined causes at her home in Highland. The former Beltsville resident was 95.
“Maria was an exceptional individual and a woman of great faith, and that faith was important to her,” said Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, on the Catholic University of America campus in Washington.
“Being in her presence was always uplifting, and for a woman of her age, she was in great shape and also in spirit,” said Monsignor Rossi, a friend of two decades. “She was phenomenal, and it was a privilege to be her friend and to spend time with her.”
The former Maria Chang, daughter of Fah-Yao Chang, a lawyer, and his wife, Shou-Shu Chen, a stay-at-home mother, was born and raised in Shanghai, where she graduated from Morningside High School and was valedictorian of her class at Shanghai’s Madams of the Sacred Heart. In 1946 she earned a bachelor’s degree from Aurora College for Women, also in Shanghai.
Growing up, she learned to speak French fluently, play the piano, and play volleyball and softball, family members said.
With the assistance of Catholic Relief Services, she arrived in California by ship and came to Washington in 1948.
“She immigrated to the United States with only $75 in her pocket,” said a daughter, Maria Patricia “Pattie” Yu of Laurel.
Mrs. Yu was given a full scholarship to the Catholic University of America, earning a master’s degree in social work. After graduation she was employed in Washington as a social worker.
“She was a social worker when I was in grade school and I remember her bringing home underserved youth from D.C., and we would be digging for worms for our fishing trip,” Ms. Yu wrote in a biographical profile of her mother. “My friends would always knock on our door at odd hours because they might have wrecked a car, ran away from home, but all sought refuge with my mother.”
In 1952, she married Michael Yung-An Yu, a co-founder of an import-export firm who had been born and raised in Hangzhou, China. The couple lived in Beltsville for more than 50 years, where they raised their six children.
“When he came to the United States, he had $60, didn’t know anybody and couldn’t speak the language, and went on to build a business empire,” a son, James V. Yu of Avon, Connecticut, told The Baltimore Sun in 2016 for his father’s obituary. “He got married, had six children — two of whom became doctors — and all were college graduates.”
After giving up her social work career, she went to work for her husband, the co-owner of Universal Manufacturing and Supply Corp., which he had founded in 1952, and six year later, started another business, Tomike Corp.
In 1977, she joined the Washington law firm of Weiner Brodsky Kider PC, where she worked until 1992.
An essential component of her life was her Catholicism. She attended Mass daily at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fulton and attended Mass the morning she died, her daughter said.
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She was also a communicant of the National Shrine, where she served as secretary to Dr. Daisy Lin for the Our Lady of China project, which resulted in the mosaic blessed by the pope and placed on the west side of what is known as the Great Upper Church, “which proclaims to all who visit Mary’s Shrine, the magnificent devotion the Chinese people have for Our Lady,” Monsignor Rossi said in his homily at a memorial Mass for Mrs. Yu on Jan. 18 at St. Francis of Assisi.
“She had a passion for Our Lady of China and she helped raise funds for it,” her daughter said. “She prayed the rosary every day and was very spiritual.”
Mrs. Yu was an avid gardener and liked to not only grow but share her plants. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she often joined another daughter to deliver food for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland.
“She enhanced my life by her life, and we were all so fortunate that she enhanced our lives,” Monsignor Rossi said. “I also always appreciated her forthrightness and honesty, and if she disagreed with something I had said or done, she did it in a very nice and calm way.”
A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Feb. 13 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 400 Michigan Ave., NE, Washington, under Center for Disease Control guidelines.
In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. Yu is survived by two other daughters, Bernadette Yu of Highland and Dr. Angelita Yu-Crowley of Abingdon; two brothers, the Rev. Joseph Chang of Chicago and George Chang of Arlington, Virginia; a sister, Helen Chang of Guiyang, China; and 15 grandchildren. Her son Gerard Vincent Yu died in 2005, and her son John Frederick Yu died in 2012.