Fr Joseph (‘Joe’) Houston was born on 14 December 1940 in Belfast. He was educated at St Gall’s Primary School and St Malachy’s College, Belfast. He did a degree in Arts at Queen’s University, Belfast and followed that with a MA in Celtic Studies. He taught Gaelic for two years at St Colmcille School, Rosgar, Co Down and then came to Dalgan at the age of 24. He was ordained priest at Easter 1969 and was appointed to study Philosophy for the following two years in Rome where he was conferred with a Licentiate degree.
In 1971 he was appointed to Chile where he spent four years in the parish of El Olivo, Santiago. He was then appointed to teach Philosophy at Dalgan, and he remained in that position until Dalgan was closed as a seminary in 1980. He returned to Chile in March 1981 and was appointed to the Parish of Espiritu Santo in the northern Diocese of Iquique. He immersed himself in the great documents published by the Latin American Bishops’ Conferences (CELAM) at Medellin and Puebla with their radical ‘Option for the Poor’, their commitment to empower the laity, and to address issues of social injustice.
After 17 years in Chile, the situation in China began to open up and some Columbans obtained visas to teach English in major Chinese universities. In 1988 Joe requested that he be assigned to China to this work. He spent the following twenty-five years in this new way of doing mission. Forbidden to evangelise explicitly, he established a mission of presence, befriending the students, passing on Christian values, being available to them and answering their more explicit questions. His wisdom and his gentle, welcoming presence was much appreciated by the students and he made many friends.
Later he took over as Director of the AITECE (The Association of International Teaching Educational and Curriculum Exchange) Programme, based in Hong Kong, and visited the various participants in particular universities on a regular basis until his 80th birthday in December 2020. He also researched and wrote the history of the Columban Fathers and Lay Missionaries in Hong Kong for the Columban Centenary in 2018.
During his last two years in China, he resided and assisted at St Joseph’s Church in Hong Kong until ill health caused his return to Ireland in March of this year. He died on the 14th May 2022.
May he rest in peace
The Funeral Mass of Fr Joe Houston that took place in Dalgan on 18th May 2022.