10 October 2016

A Columban Centennial on 10 October

Frs Edward Galvin, John Blowick, Owen McPolin
 China 1920
Fr McPolin led the first group of Columbans to Korea in 1933

One hundred years ago on 10 October the Bishops of Ireland gave their blessing to a new venture known as the Maynooth Mission to China. On 29 June 1918 this venture became the Society of St Columban, in the Diocese of Galway, Ireland. The Missionary Society of St Columban, as it is now known, is already preparing to celebrate its Centennial in 2018.
Fr Edward Galvin in China
Sometime between 1912 and 1916

As I see it, 29 June 1918 was the date when the Society was ‘baptized’. It had been ‘conceived’ in China between 1912 and 1916 when Fr Edward Galvin, ordained in 1909, and three or four other Irish diocesan priests working there saw the need for a mission of the Irish Church to China. It was ‘born’ on 10 October 1916 when the Irish bishops, approached by Fr Galvin and Fr John Blowick, ordained in 1913 and already a young professor at St Patrick’s, Maynooth, the national seminary for Ireland, gave their assent to what quickly became known as 'the Maynooth Mission to China'.
Frs Owen McPolin, John Blowick and Edward Galvin 
China 1920
Frs McPolin and Blowick were ordained in 1913 for the Diocese of Dromore  and the Archdiocese of Tuam, respectively, and Fr Galvin in 1909 for the Diocese of Cork.

Fr Edward Galvin in China

In a letter dated 5 October the Superior General of the Columbans, Fr Kevin O'Neill, an Australian, sent a letter to all Columbans and Columban Lay Missionaries in which he wrote, One hundred years ago, on 9 October 1916, in a ground-floor room of the main college building at Maynooth [St Patrick's College, the National Seminary of Ireland], the 28-year-old Fr John Blowick had the nerve to face the Standing Committee of the Irish Bishops and to present his and Fr Edward Galvin’s scheme for a new mission. After about half an hour’s talk with the bishops, [Michael] Cardinal Logue [Archbishop of Armagh] said that they were prepared to grant their approval for the two things Blowick requested, namely, the making of a collection in the country and the foundation of a Mission College in Ireland.

The ‘memorial’, drawn up by a committee of prominent clerics was laid before the full body of the bishops on the 10 th October, 1916 informing them that: ' . . . a vigorous movement, of which the heart is Maynooth College, has grown up among young Irish ecclesiastics to go forth and carry the light of the Gospel to the Chinese . . . The bishops were rejoiced and thankful to God for this new and striking evidence of the continued life of the ancient Irish missionary spirit.' After careful consideration the bishops approved the project and issued a statement to the press.

Dublin city centre after Easter Rising 1916 [Wikipedia]

In Easter Week 1916 an uprising against British rule in Ireland took place, mainly in Dublin. The country was still part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Irish regiments of the British Army were fighting in the Great War (1914-18), mainly in Belgium and France. Nearly 30,000 of them died during that conflict. There was widespread extreme poverty in Ireland, particularly in the cities. 1916 did not seem a good time to start such a foolhardy venture as sending Irish priests to preach the Gospel in China, a country very few Irish people knew anything about.

Fr O'Neill mentions the influence of the the 'Easter Rising', as it is often called, on the new mission: Shortly after the Irish Bishops’ approval for the new Society, professors from Maynooth, together with priests from religious orders and almost every diocese in Ireland, helped in the nationwide appeals to raise funds for the new Society. The young band of newly formed missionaries avoided publicly taking sides in the nationalist politics of the day in their contact with the clergy while on their parish appeals for funds. But Fr John Blowick is on record as saying, 'I am strongly of the opinion that the rising of 1916 helped our work indirectly. I know for a fact that many of the young people of the country had been aroused into a state of heroism and zeal by the Rising of 1916 and by the manner in which the leaders met their death. I can affirm this from personal experience. And accordingly, when we put our message before the young people of the country, it fell on soil which was far better prepared to receive it than if there had never been an Easter week.'
But the Irish bishops said ‘Yes’ to the Maynooth Mission to China. And the people supported it, as they have continued to do down the years. Fr Blowick once said that the pennies of the poor were more important than the pounds of the wealthy. But he welcomed both.

Commemorative medal 1968
Golden Jubilee of the Missionary Society of St Columban

Obverse side

The vision of a mission of the Irish Church to China broadened to a more international one. After the Society of St Columban was set up – all the founding members were Irish diocesan priests and seminarians – priests were sent to the USA and Australia to establish roots there, especially among the large Irish diaspora. Irish-American Archbishop Jeremiah Harty of Omaha, Nebraska, USA, invited the Society to set up shop there. He had been Archbishop of Manila (1903 – 1916), the first non-Spaniard to hold that position.
The first group of Columban priests went to China in 1920. Fr Blowick went with them but didn't stay as he was Superior General and was needed in Ireland to direct the new Society.
Bishop Edward Galvin
First - and only - Bishop of Hanyang, China
Expelled in 1952

Over the years the Columbans have taken on missions in Korea, Burma (now Myanmar), Japan, Chile, Peru, Fiji, Pakistan and Taiwan. They have had missions also in Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Guatemala and Jamaica.

Fr Leo Distor, first Filipino parish priest of Malate, Manila

Most of the younger Columban priests are from countries the older men had gone to from the West.  Fr Leo Distor, the first Filipino Columban parish priest of Malate, is a symbol of the changing face of the Society. After serving in Korea he spent many years in Chicago and in Quezon City in the formation of future Columban priests from Asia, the Pacific and South America.
This year there are Columban seminarians from Fiji, Peru, Myanmar, the Philippines and Tonga in the formation house in Cubao, Quezon City and on the two-year First Mission Assignment (FMA) overseas, the latter including one from China. There is a seminary programme in Seoul, Korea, and students in formation in Chile and Peru.
The young Fr Edward Galvin (1882-1956), later Bishop of Nancheng, China, and the young Fr John Blowick (1888-1972), not to mention the Irish bishops in 1916, could not have foreseen how the Maynooth Mission to China would evolve from being a purely Irish venture into the international Society it is today with Priest Associates from dioceses in Ireland, Korea, Myanmar and the Solomon Islands, and Lay Missionaries from Chile, Fiji, Ireland, Korea, Philippines and Tonga currently involved in its mission.

Fr Leo Distor (4th from left) with Filipino Columban priests

Starting yesterday, 9 October, and until 22 October Columban priests and lay missionaries under the age of 50 are meeting in Tagaytay, south of Manila. Please keep them in your prayers as these are both the present and the future of the venture blessed by the Irish bishops 100 years ago today.
Thank God for the birth of the Maynooth Mission to China on 10 October 1916.

Graves of Fr John Blowick and Bishop Edward Galvin
St Columban's Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland

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