10 October 2012

96th Anniversary of Maynooth Mission to China, the Society of St Columban

Statue of St Columban, Luxeuil, France, where he founded a monastery c. 585-590.

Ninety-six years ago today, on 10 October 1916, the bishops of Ireland gave their assent to the proposed Maynooth Mission to China that became the Society of St Columban on 29 June 1918, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul. You can read a brief synopsis of our origins and history here.

It is quite extraordinary that the Irish bishops let two young diocesan priests, Fr Edward Galvin ordained seven years and Fr John Blowick only three, start this movement to set up a mission of the Irish Church in China, the original intent. this was a few months after the Easter Rising in Dublin against British rule, in the middle of the Great War and in a country where poverty, much of it very harsh, especially in the cities, was widespread.

Fr John Blowick, Co-founder (1888 - 1972)

Bishop Edward Galvin, Co-founder (1882 - 1956)

St Columban's Cemetery, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland, where our two co-founders are buried along with many other Columbans.

Today I received an email from a Columban colleague which included the text of a homily given some years ago by Fr Cathal Coulter during the Cemetery Sunday Mass, celebrated in the cemetery above on the first Sunday of June each year. Families, relatives and friends of all deceased Columbans are invited. It was first published in Columban Intercom, the Columban in-house magazine.

Father Coulter, ordained in 1954, has been battling with cancer for some years, so a prayer for him won't go astray. Thank you.

Although this homily was given in Dalgan on Pentecost Sunday last year, it remains relevant for our reflections during this November.  What has increased in the meantime is the number of Columbans now buried in Dalgan (up by nine) and in other graves around the world (up by six).  Their graves remind us of how perseveringly they strove to convey to many nations 'the mighty works of God'.

Another view of the cemetery

One little quotation from today's Pentecost readings seem to have been written for our Cemetery Sunday liturgy: Each of us hears them telling in our own tongue about the mighty works of GodThe people of the different missions where they served, could say that about our deceased Columbans.

They told the mighty works of God, not only in the language they mastered, but by their living, and indeed, many of them by dying, for their people.

And so we gather today for several reasons . . . to REMEMBER and to GIVE THANKS; and perhaps also to FIND SOME COURAGE to live out our own Christian lives. There is something inside all of us that wants to keep in touch with the past, to REMEMBER. For Christians, REMEMBERING is a sacred thing.  We have the example of Jesus: In giving us the Eucharist, Jesus told us to do this in MEMORY of him.

When I was growing up, there was a Latin phrase on a stained glass window in one of our parish churches.  The phrase was ABSENTES ADSUNT; it intrigued me and it was a great distraction. One day the curate [assistant priest] explained that it meant THE ABSENT ARE PRESENT.  This puzzled me more because if I was absent from school, I certainly wasn't present . . .  
The curate explained . . .it refers to THE DEAD . . .

St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, where most Irish Columbans studied and where many retired Columban priests now live.

Take a look around you at the names on the crosses and names on this wall behind me . . .   We miss these people.  They shared our journey in life with us.   And YES, they are PRESENT.  They live on in our memories, they live on in the ways that they influenced us, and they live on in the COURAGE they give us to lead our Christian lives . . . whatever our vocation.

We certainly need large doses of courage to follow Jesus today . . . I believe we can draw inspiration from our deceased.  I think of Bishop Galvin . . . setting out to bring the Gospel to China . . . alone . . . with no support system.

John Blowick. built this college in the depression of the 1930s, with the five bobs and half crowns of the people of Ireland . . . at a time when nobody in our Ireland had very much.    Every grave stone here is a marker to men of courage.


The very much alive 88-year-old Fr Patrick Hurley who went home to Ireland last year  after more than sixty years in the Philippines, nearly all of them in Negros Occidental. His two brothers, now deceased, Father Dermot and Father Gerard, worked in Fiji and their sister, Sister Catherine, still happily with us, served a term as Superior General of the Columban Sisters.

Q.  Where did they get their courage?
A.  They were filled with the Spirit of Pentecost . . . which gave them confidence in the gifts God gave them so the power of God could work through them.  For them, courage meant:
- being brave enough to face what life sent them;
- enduring the hardships of mission life without bitterness or disillusionment;
- struggling for the rights of their people and for what needed to be changed;
- holding to the vision of Pentecost, despite the risk of rejection or failure.

Q.  Now, when we look into our own lives . . . where do we find courage?
A.  We can find our strength in the Holy Spirit and find inspiration from the courageous men buried all around us.

It's hard for the modern world to understand WHY these men gave up Ireland and family to follow this vision of Pentecost: called Mission.

Padraig Pearse had, I think, a good answer: The Fool:

I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.
Was it folly or grace?  Not men shall judge me, but God.

Lord, I have staked my soul, I have staked the lives of my kin,
On the truth of Thy dreadful word.
Do not remember my failures.
But remember this, my faith.

Yes, today we remember their faith, their generosity and their courage.

And more than remembering, we come to give THANKS . . .
Each one of us can give thanks for that special Columban we commemorate today . . . brother, uncle, cousin, friend . . . (Let's STOP STOP STOP. Call that man to mind.)

With all their human limitations, these were good men . . . they did not take themselves too seriously.  But they did take the promises of Christ seriously . . . And they did extraordinary things.


The crucifix in the cemetery

There are 189 men buried here.  Another 250  deceased Columbans await the RESURRECTION in far away places around the world.

A few days ago I came down here, with my notebook, added up records and discovered that the men buried here together gave about 6,000 years service on mission. What a tremendous gift from the families and people of Ireland.

It is said that God's best gifts to us are good people. These men were gifts from God to you, their families — and gifts from you to our Columban family.

So, we thank God . . . for our deceased Columbans . . . for their gifts, for their faith, for their courage.

Today also, the Columbans give thanks to you, the families of our deceased Columbans . . .
they came from you . . . you nurtured and supported them.

Sunset over Dalgan Park

There is a new hymn being sung in some of our churches; called COMPANIONS ON THE JOURNEY.

The words apply to us Columbans and the Columban Families:

We are companions on the journey breaking bread and sharing wine.
And the love we share,
Is the hope that we bear.
We believe in the love of our God.
We believe in the love of our God.

It is not easy to let go of people who touched our lives and walked the journey with us.  The challenge now, for us, the living, is to realize how we, in turn, affect the lives of others... because all of us are, indeed 'companions on the journey'. 




The young Fr Edward Galvin, the young Fr John Blowick, the men buried in St Columban's Cemetery above, two of them still students, some of them still in their 20s, were all men of faith, desiring to share the gift of our Catholic faith with others. May their lives inspire us as we begin the Year of Faith tomorrow and may they rest in peace.


Photos from Columban Missionaries, the Facebook account of the Columban Vocations Office, Philippines.

1 comment:

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