The Columban Centenary 1918-2018
The Missionary Society of St Columban marked a very important milestone in 2018 when it commemorated 100 years since the Maynooth Mission to China was officially founded on 29 June 1918.
A commemorative year opened on St Columban’s Day 23 November 2017 and concluded on St Columban’s Day 23 November 2018. Events marking this momentous anniversary took place in a number of locations around Ireland over those twelve months.
The centenary was an opportunity to recall what inspired the early Columban pioneers and what they achieved, to reflect on how their successors coped with the monumental changes in church and society over those 100 years and to thank the hundreds of thousands of people whose sacrifices down the years made it all possible.
‘We woke one morning to find at our doors the strangest sight imaginable – a band of young priests, the finest and most gifted we had, begging for assistance. And for what an enterprise! That they may be allowed to go and preach the Gospel to China’s millions.’
‘They are young, mere boys in years compared with us. They are gifted; they have prospects before them, according to our human ways. They have affections, they have homes, and a country they love; but all these things they have put off, like a loose garment, when called by Christ to follow His standard in a land far away.’
When Bishop Michael Fogarty of Killaloe spoke those words he was thinking of 10 October 1916 when the bishops of Ireland gave permission for the establishment of a mission college for China.
The story began four years earlier, when Edward Galvin, a young priest from Cork, volunteered to work in a Chinese diocese. Seeing the great needs there, he encouraged other graduates of Maynooth to join him and in 1916 returned to Ireland to organise a missionary group to put their hopes and plans on firmer footing.
He enlisted another young priest, John Blowick, already a professor in Maynooth, and with like-minded friends they put together the proposal for a mission college.
The enthusiastic endorsement of the bishops signalled the beginning of what was soon known as the Maynooth Mission to China. However, details of the status and governance of the new movement had to worked out and recognition sought from the Vatican. That formal authorisation was finally granted on 29 June 1918.