The Maynooth Mission to China

From the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, May, 1920:


It is now a little over three years since it was first announced in the Press of this country that the Irish Bishops, at their general meeting at Maynooth, had given their blessing and approval to a scheme which was laid before them of founding an Irish National Mission to China.

At that time the promoters of the project were five priests in Ireland and two in China. The first year and a half was spent in preaching throughout the country the needs of the Missions in China, and putting before the people of Ireland from the pulpit and through the press the appalling lack of priests in that vast region. In February 1918, the founders of the Mission were enabled to open the National Missionary College at St. Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Galway. In April of the same year the first priests of the Mission were ordained at Maynooth College, and in June of last year St. Columban’s celebrated the first Ordinations within its own walls.

Hitherto the Superiors of the Maynooth Mission to China devoted all their energies to laying the foundations of a large and widespread organization, in constructing the machinery which was to send to China year after year a band of priests trained in Ireland who would give their lives to the preaching of the Gospel to China’s teeming millions. They endeavoured to carry on in favour of the pagan Missions an active and living propaganda, which would re-awaken in the breasts of the Catholic people of Ireland that fiery enthusiasm for the propagation of the Truth for which our nation has been ever remarkable. All that was necessary before the priests actually set out for China. The work before them is unspeakably great; it is immense; it requires all the forces, both spiritual and temporal, which we can throw into it; and it was of the first importance to provide for the production of these forces before the men actually began their work.

But that period of preparation has now so far advanced that the Mission has undertaken work in the country to which they have devoted themselves. The Holy See has recently assigned the Irish Mission to China a stretch of territory to be evangelized by its members. The nature and extent, the magnitude of this territory, have been elaborately set forth in the January number of Far East by Mr. Ignatius Ying Ki, the Chinese Professor at St. Columban’s College, and it will be sufficient here to touch on the more interesting features. The Irish district in China is situated ‘in the heart of the heart of China.’ Its capital is the city of Hanyang, one of the famous Hankow group of cities, with a population of about 600,000. It is one of the most important cities in the whole of China, a city of which every Chinese is proud. It is situated on the Yang Tze Kiang, and is approachable by the largest ocean liners — in fact, it is part of the largest river port in the world.

The task which has been set the priests of the Irish Mission is gigantic. They have to find priests to preach the Gospel to about five millions of people; they have to divide this vast multitude into workable parishes, in which the people will be within reach of the priest; they have to build churches, chapels and schools; they have to provide for the teaching of the orphans and of the young; they have to provide higher education for the sons and daughters of the Chinese; they have to found a college for the education of native students, who will be the future priests and Bishops of China. In a word, they must build up and set working in their own vast territory a healthy, vigorous Chinese Church. It will be obvious that such a task requires all the aid that we, the Catholic Irish nation, can give. It will require vast sums of money, it will require large numbers of priests, the best we can give — priests of sanctity, of strength, of initiative and intellectual power.

True, next March sixteen of the Maynooth Missionaries will leave our shores to pitch the camp which the future legions will occupy; true, that this is an exceptionally large number of Missionaries to be sent out by any Missionary body; but it seems almost pathetic when one remembers the numbers which will be needed to make the work anything like complete. But now that Ireland has already shown her determination to stand by her children who become exiles for Christ, now that the Holy See has shown its deep appreciation of our efforts by confiding to us such an important field of labour, there can be little doubt that we shall avail of the opportunity that is offered us of becoming one of the very foremost among the Missionary Nations of Christendom. And we would add that it is certain that what we do for the cause of the Faith will redound a hundred-fold to the honour and glory and credit of the Fatherland.

See also: Maynooth Mission to China – 1966 Report to the Irish Hierarchy

Posted on October 29, 2010, in Irish Church-State Relations, Irish History, Media Archives, Missionaries. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this interesting piece. I had just read James Joyce’s ‘The Lotus-Eaters’ chapter of Ulysses and remembered that Bloom talks about saving ‘China’s millions. Wonder how they explain it to the heathen Chinee.’ As that book was set in 1904 I wonder if you can tell me if the priests were already beginning to gather support for their missions then. Joyce occassionally puts anachronistic details in so it could also be an instance of this. All the best, Ann Fallon.

  2. Ann, thanks for your comment. The Society for the Maynooth Missions to China (which, incidentally, is still the legal name of the Irish Columbans) was founded in 1916 but a few Irish priests (and Sisters of Charity) had been sent there a few years before.

  3. As I’m only a recent regular to this blog I found this item today through your Twitter. The Irish bishops gave their approval to the Maynooth Mission to China on 10 October 1916. On 29 June 1918 it formally became the Society of St Columban. By that time the vision of our founders went beyond Ireland, to the USA, where co-founder Fr Edward Galvin went in 1917 to get support there, and Australia, where Fr Edward Maguire, who had taught in All Hallows, went in 1919.

    Columban Fr Neil Collins has written a detailed history of the Columbans in The Splendid Cause, published by Columban Press. A classmate of mine in Korea, Fr Pádraig Ó Murchú, has written a two-volume popular history published by Foilseacháin Ábhair Spioradálta, Misean Mhaigh Nuad chun na Síne 1916-1963 and Na Colmbánaigh 1963-2005.

  4. Thank you so much. This is exactly the kind of detail that I needed.

    All the best,

  1. Pingback: The Catholic Church in Contemporary Ireland (1931) | Lux Occulta

  2. Pingback: Persecution of Irish Priests in China: Letter from Bishop Edward Galvin (1952) | Lux Occulta

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