Ireland in the autumn of 1916, four months after the Rising, and in the middle of a world war, was an unlikely place and time for founding a new foreign missionary society. Yet the Irish bishops authorized Edward J. Galvin and John Blowick to do just that. The first batch of the Maynooth Mission to China went to Hanyang, Hubei in 1920, where they were joined by the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban in 1926. A second mission in Jiangxi province followed in 1928, and a third in Zhejiang in 1946. The missionaries learned the language, established parishes and schools, stayed with the people through floods and wars, and tried to set up the local church. Some were beaten or threatened with death, others put in prison. Two were murdered. Edward MacElroy, the last Columban in China, was expelled on 16 May 1954. This talk examines their work and ordeals. In an attempt at some evaluation it explores the experiences of their Chinese successors under communism, the re-emergence of the Church after Mao, and the initiatives taken by the Columbans to assist that Church. Vatican documents insist that there is only one Catholic Church in China, yet others speak of official and underground churches. Focus on the Maynooth Mission and those who were influenced by it may provide insights into the church situation today.
Dr. Neil Collins is a priest of the Maynooth Mission to China. He is a native of Swatragh, Co. Derry. He has spent many years in parish, school, and administration in Mindanao, Philippines. In 2009 he published “The Splendid Cause: The Missionary Society of St. Columban 1916-1954”. He is currently writing a comprehensive history of the Society.