The Maryknoll missionaries
This seems to be a year of religious celebratory jubilees so let me add another one which has not yet been publicized. I am referring to the Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers and Sisters to whom the Philippine Church owes so much. This year they celebrate 100 years of missionary zeal.
Measured in terms of longevity and by comparison with the early religious missionaries, they are a very young religious group. Moreover, whereas early religious missionaries were European in origin, the Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters are a product of the American Catholic Church.
How they started is described in the Maryknoll website thus: “When two American priests from distinctly different backgrounds met in Montreal in 1910, they discovered they had one thing in common. Father James Anthony Walsh, a priest from the heart of Boston, and Father Thomas Frederick Price, the first native North Carolinian to be ordained into the priesthood, recognized that through their differences, they were touched by the triumph of the human spirit and enriched by encountering the faith experience of others. This was the foundation of their mutual desire to build a seminary for the training of young American men for the foreign Missions.”
Sharing their missionary desire was Mollie Rogers, a graduate of Smith College, who would become Mother Mary Joseph and superior of the Maryknoll women religious.
China became their first missionary target. The first group of men, led by Father Price, left for China in 1918, but he died of appendicitis almost a year later in Hong Kong. The first group of women, also for China, left in 1921.
I do not know when the Maryknoll Fathers came to the Philippines. The Maryknoll Sisters came in 1925 and ran, among others, Maryknoll College in Quezon City until they handed the school to lay women who were graduates of the school. The Maryknoll Fathers have been very fruitfully active in pastoral and social work. Fathers and Sisters continue to do quiet work in the Philippines, facing new challenges and opportunities in their explicit thrust for greater solidarity with the poor and greater role for lay people in the work of the Church.
The work of Maryknoll missonaries in China has been nothing short of heroic. Among the Maryknoll missionaries in China the most celebrated was Bishop James E. Walsh. Bishop Walsh was with the first group of priests who left for China in 1918. For 18 years he was superior of the Maryknoll mission in China and in 1927 he was ordained bishop. Charged with espionage by the Communist government, he was arrested in 1959 and at the age of 67 was sentenced to a 20-year imprisonment. For almost 12 years he was kept in isolation, only to be released suddenly in 1970 on the eve of US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China. Bishop Walsh was faithful to his missionary vocation even in the face of persecution. He died at the age of 90.
For their part, the Maryknoll Sisters who came to China in 1921 introduced what came to be called the Kaying Method, Kaying being one of the Maryknoll mission territories. It was a method of missionary work “in which religious women were sent out in pairs, living among the local populations for a month at a time or traveling from remote village to village, training lay catechists and establishing contacts with unevangelized areas. They were cut off from the sacramental life of their communities for long periods and also lived with far less privacy than was customary for religious women, making the method controversial. By 1939, however, because of the success of the model (and the large numbers of Maryknollers volunteering for such work), the Kaying Method received a commendation from the Vatican, and its use became widespread throughout mission territories in China.”
Following World War II and the curtailment of their ability to send missionaries to some parts of Asia, the Maryknollers set their sights on Latin and Central America. There developments turned heroic especially in El Salvador. The story of Sister Ita Ford and three others who had been working among the poor of El Salvador electrified the United States. They were kidnapped, brutalized, raped and murdered by members of the Salvadoran National Guard.
This year, we join the Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in thanking God for the blessing they have received and we congratulate them for all their heroic work for the Church in Asia, including the Philippines, and in Latin and Central America. In 1996 they renewed a call to their membership to “join the struggles for justice of the poor, indigenous peoples and women against economic, social and cultural oppression” and “in announcing the healing, reconciling and liberating Jesus.” May they continue to be blessed in their work.
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