Centenary of the Missionary Society of St Columban – 14 October, 2018



The Missionary Society of St Columban was founded a centaury ago to bring the Good News of the Gospel to China.

On Sunday, 14 October 2018 a celebration of the centenary took place in Kildysart. The events included the celebration of Mass by Bishop Fintan Monahan, the unveiling of a plaque in memory of Bishop Cleary and the other Columbans from our area and an exhibition on the history of the Society.

The liturgy was live screened https://www.pscp.tv/KildysartParish/1LyxBQgmBWWJN

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The liturgy in Kildysart was a wonderful expression of our our community, united with Bishop Fintan, Columban Sisters and Priests together with friends of the Columban family. A choir from all four parishes, led by Julianne Woods came together for the occasion. The liturgy included a wonderful presentation of symbols representing the tradition and current day reality of the  Columban missionary movement. After Mass, the large congregation enjoyed refreshments in our community centre and viewed an impressive display of photographs from the Columban archive and art work prepared by the children in the primary schools in our pastoral area. 



The founders of the Society included a priest of the diocese of Killaloe, Patrick Cleary from Cahercon together with other young priests, especially Fr Edward Galvin and Fr John Blowick.

The society established their seminary in Cahercon before moving to Galway and later to Dalgan near Navan, Co Meath. The first issue of The Far East Magazine, the society’s magazine, was published in 1918. The Columbans went on to establish houses in the United States (Nebraska) in 1918 and Australia in 1920.

The Missionary Sisters of St Columban were founded in Kildysart in February 1922 and the first sisters left Kildysart to minister in China during September 1926.

The first Columban Priest missionaries had arrived in China in 1920. The political turmoil in China at that time, with open hostility between the warlords and the Nationalist Party of Sun Yat-Sen, as well as the growing strength of the Communist Party, made life difficult for those early missionaries.

Anti-foreign sentiments swept the country and priests and nuns were often abused and insulted when they appeared in public. Over the following years, China suffered many tragedies which the Columbans shared. Floods, famine, epidemics of cholera, typhoid and malaria, as well, war and persecution but this did not stop the work of the Columbans.

Bishop Patrick Cleary (1886-1970)

Patrick Cleary was a ong the Columban missionaries in China. He was born in Kildysart  in 1886 and died at St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan on 23 October 1970. Having completed his secondary studies at St Flannan’s College, Ennis he went to St Patrick’s College Maynooth to study for the priesthood for the diocese of Killaloe. He was ordained a priest at Maynooth during June 1911 and obtained his Doctorate in Divinity there in 1914. From 1914 – 1918 he was a member of the teaching staff at Maynooth. He resigned his chair at Maynooth in 1918 and joined the Maynooth Mission to China (later the Society of St Columban).

Patrick Cleary was appointed to the teaching staff at St Columban’s College, Dalgan in 1918 and become rector (1919-1930). In 1931 he went to China to replace Cornelius Tierney, the Columban Superior in Nancheng, who had died while a prisoner of communist guerrillas. Appointed Prefect Apostolic in 1933 and Bishop in 1939, his main interest continued to be seminarians. In his seminary for Chinese students he taught Philosophy, Theology, Scripture, Canon Law and English. After the Communist takeover in 1949 his priests and sisters were expelled from China. Bishop Cleary was expelled in 1952. His remaining years spend quietly ar Dalgan where he is buried.

The Columbans continued in their efforts for the Chinese people through the Japanese invasion, World War II and civil war. Fr Edward Galvin, then a Bishop, was dubbed the most bombed Bishop in the world. It was however, the rule of the Communist Party, which came to power in 1949, that spelled the end of the work of the Columbans in China. After a brief period of bitter persecution all missionaries were expelled.

Bishop Cleary confirming assisted by Thomas Yu (altar server in the centre). Thomas later became parish priest of Nanfeng. He is still alive and the current priest there is his grand nephew – a tradition of faith from Kildysart to China today.

In the 1990s the Columbans returned to China and today, the worldwide leadership of the Missionary Society of St Columban is based in Hong Kong after the Superior General of the Columban Fathers and his Council transferred the Society’s headquarters from its traditional home in Ireland to China on May 1, 2008, becoming what is believed to be the first Western missionary congregation to locate its leadership team in Asia.

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