Today, 18 June 2008, the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, is the 90th anniversary of the approval by Pope Benedict XV in 1918 of the Missionary Society of St Columban.
A previous founding date is 10 October 1916 when the Irish bishops gave their approval for a mission to China sponsored by the Irish Church. The name given to this was The Maynooth Mission to China, a name by which many in Ireland still know it.
One of the two co-founders was Fr Edward Galvin , born on the feast of St Columban, 23 November, 1882. He proposed St Columban as our patron because of his great admiration for him as an Irish missionary.
Father Galvin had spent some time in China with other Irish diocesan priests and it was from their experience that the idea of an Irish mission to China emerged. Father Galvin had gone to China with a Canadian priest, Fr John Fraser, who subsequently founded the Scarboro Foreign Missionary Society in Canada.
The same Father Fraser inspired our other co-founder Fr John Blowick, born in 1882, through a talk he gave in St Patrick's National Seminary, Maynooth, Ireland, where Father Blowick was a young professor. Both he and Father Galvin had studied there.
The initial idea of the Maynooth Mission to China was one of Irish diocesan priests going to China with the support of the people at home. However, the idea quickly spread to the Irish diaspora in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and, for a short while, Argentina, and so the international Missionary Society of St Columban came into being.
From the earliest days there were members who had no Irish family connections. Over the years around 70 percent of the members were Irish, around 15 percent from the USA and 15 percent from Australia and New Zealand, with a few from Britain.
In 1982 a decision was made to invited young men in the countries where we work to become members. Now we have Columban priests from the Philippines, Korea, Fiji, Chile and Peru. We also have diocesan priests from Myanmar, Korea, Peru and the Philippines in our Associate Priests Programme. We have had diocesan priests from Ireland, England, Scotland and Australia in the programme since the 1950s, mainly in Chile and Peru.
We were founded by two diocesan priests and we are a society of apostolic life. We are not religious. We don't live in community and we don't take a vow of poverty. But we have always had a strong sense of community, essential in the face of war and persecution through most of our history.
We also have a growing number of lay missionaries. We have had some since the 1960 or 1970s, though in those days by arrangement with individual Columbans. Since 1990 the Society itself took responsibility for lay missionaries and there are currently 60 members of Columban Lay Mission.
Please pray that through the intercession of St Columban we will be greatly blessed by God in the years ahead, along with the people we serve.