Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Maryknoll Centennial

Commemorating 100 years of serving in "The Field Afar."

I've always been an admirer of the Maryknolls. They were the subject of one of my very first blog posts, The Church in China. Remembering the first Maryknoll missioners. At one time, shortly after WWII, my father-in-law was a seminarian with them. In his own words, he may have been "too interested in longing for my old motorcycle than in serving in far-away missions."

"I'm only just now discovering the civilization of China and falling on love with it... To think that China was completely equipped with a literature and culture 3,000 years before our ancestors was a hard blow to an Irishman... We come to China not to barbarians, but a civilization thousands of years older... Our Lord never condescended; He never betrayed superiority in His dealing with others."
Francis X Ford (top-left in photo above). Consecrated as bishop in China in 1935 with the episcopal motto "Condolere," meaning "to have compassion." He died under brutal treatment in a Chinese Communist prison in 1952

I ran across a very nice video tribute here.

From the very start, Maryknoll men and women have embarked upon courageous missionary service in full knowledge of the risks involved with their vocations, which have extended in some cases to the point of accepting martyrdom, from China in the first half of the 20th Century to El Salvador in the second half.

What I found particularly interesting was the story of one of the first missionaries, Fr. James E. Walsh (at the bottom-right of the photo above - not to be confused with one of the co-founders, Boston priest James A. Walsh - at the bottom-center of the photo above). He entered China with Fr. Ford in 1918. Like Ford, he was also made a bishop (in 1927) and like Ford he was also accused by the Communists of being a spy (in 1959) after years of being under house-arrest, and was given a twenty-year prison sentence. After over a decade in solitary confinement, he was released in 1970 just before the Nixon visit to China. He still had his marbles and wits about him. A tough old mick, for sure. What faith he must have had... He lived until the age of 90.

Some excerpts on the history of the Maryknolls in the America magazine article Outward Bound.

A century ago, an attentive subscriber to the Catholic mission magazine The Field Afar might have noticed the following announcement in its pages: “Youths or young men who feel a strong desire to toil for the souls of heathen people and who are willing to go afar with no hope of earthly recompense and with no guarantee of a return to their native land are encouraged to write, making their letter personal, to the Editor of Field Afar.”

In the words of the historian Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, the first decade of the 20th century was a time when the Catholic Church in the United States finally “attained ecclesiastical adulthood.” The great migrations of European Catholics to the United States were ongoing, and Catholics were trying to take root in a culture more or less hostile to “popery.” As a result, the energies of the institutional church were often directed inward...

The story would change dramatically over the next few decades, however, as the psychology of the U.S. Catholic Church reversed from that of mission territory to that of missionary culture. A driving power behind that transformation was the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, the Congregation of Maryknoll Sisters and, eventually, the Maryknoll Lay Missioners—collectively known as Maryknoll...

Maryknoll also played an important sociopolitical role in U.S. culture. For many Catholics around the world, the Maryknoll missionary became the public face of the American “brand” of Roman Catholicism for much of the 20th century. At the same time, the inspiring and sometimes tragic stories of Maryknoll missioners overseas had a powerful effect on the American national imagination, a phenomenon that continues today, not only in religious circles but in political and social realms as well...

The history of Maryknoll begins with three names: James A. Walsh, Thomas F. Price and Mary Josephine Rogers (known as Mollie and later as Mother Mary Joseph). The first, a Boston priest who had been appointed diocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in 1903, was also founder of The Field Afar, an English-language magazine designed to support foreign missionaries.

Mollie Rogers was a schoolteacher and a 1905 graduate of Smith College. She traced her own desire for mission work to an experience she had while a junior at Smith when she witnessed some of the school’s brightest students dancing in public in celebration of their pledge to go to China to work in Protestant mission schools or hospitals. “Something—I do not know how to describe it—happened within me,” she wrote. “I passed quickly through the campus to St. Mary’s church, where, before Jesus in the tabernacle, I measured my faith and the expression of it by the sight I had just witnessed. From that moment I had work to do, little or great, God alone knew.”

The first group of six seminarians joined in the fall of 1912, when the order also moved its headquarters to a hilly 93-acre farm in Ossining, N.Y., which they named Mary’s Knoll. They were joined in 1912 by four women, including Mollie Rogers, who became the superior of the Teresians. While Father Walsh seems to have envisioned them as a kind of ladies’ auxiliary assisting in the quotidian operations of the seminary, Mollie Rogers retained her vision of direct overseas service.

In September 1918 the first group of Maryknoll men left for China. Father Price was appointed the group’s superior but died in Hong Kong almost exactly a year later of appendicitis. The first group of Maryknoll women religious was missioned to China in 1921.

In China and Korea, the adaptability of the mostly young, mostly American members of the first mission groups proved valuable. China’s interior was not only isolated but underdeveloped by Western standards. Everything from travel to catechetical methods to cloistered living needed adaptation from the Euro-American norm. The American background of the early Maryknollers made them uniquely suited for foreign mission work. Untethered to geographic locations or class distinctions, their attitudes and lifestyles differed markedly from more traditional expressions of Catholic religious life. A more freewheeling approach was also encouraged in their training as missionaries, where both Father Walsh and Sister Rogers stressed that adaptability and individuality could be positive virtues in the missions, rather than simply temptations toward disobedience or pride.

The importance of the “American style” became apparent soon after in Kaying, one of the Maryknoll mission territories of China. After a visit from Sister Rogers in 1923 produced much excitement among the local population (who had never seen a Western woman in direct evangelical work), the local superior, Father Francis Ford, created the Kaying Method, 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.

The association of Maryknoll with the international fight against Communism became more pronounced after the Communist rise to power in China in 1949 brought Maryknoll some of its first martyrs. Many suffered in virtual anonymity, though the stories of two Maryknoll bishops became famous in the United States: Francis X. Ford, who created the Kaying Method; and James E. Walsh. Both had been among the first group to arrive in China in 1918.

Ford had been ordained a bishop in China in 1935. He and his secretary, Sister Joan Marie Ryan, were arrested by Chinese Communist authorities on charges of espionage in 1950 and publicly beaten by mobs as they were taken from town to town in the region. The last American to see Bishop Ford before his death in prison in 1952 described him as so emaciated that another prisoner carried him “like a sack of potatoes.”

Father James E. Walsh served for 18 years as superior of the Maryknoll missions in China and was ordained a bishop in 1927. He was arrested in 1959 on charges of espionage and given a 20-year prison sentence. He served almost 12 years in nearly complete isolation before his sudden release in 1970 at the age of 79, presumably as sop to U.S. President Richard Nixon before his visit to China. The high public profile and obvious suffering of the two Maryknoll bishops made headlines in the United States, where they were lionized in the popular press for their anti-Communism as much as for their religious commitment.

Following the Second Vatican Council, the mandate for reform of religious orders brought new challenges and opportunities to the Maryknoll congregations, particularly from that council’s explicit calls for greater solidarity with the poor, new approaches to evangelization and a greater role for the laity in the mission of the church. The presence of Maryknoll missionaries on the front line of evangelization efforts in the developing world gave particular urgency among Maryknoll’s members to the implementation of all three aspects of this vision in the decades that followed. The political and ecclesial implications were to bring Maryknoll’s missionaries into the forefront of the American imagination once again, with new champions and new detractors.

Instead of China, the new flashpoint was Central America, where the work of Maryknoll missionaries on behalf of the poor and marginalized aroused the ire of repressive governments and raised again the specter of martyrdom. The most famous of these martyrs are “the churchwomen of El Salvador,” Sister Ita Ford (a Maryknoll missionary and cousin of Bishop Francis X. Ford), Maura Clarke (a Maryknoll missionary), Dorothy Kazel (an Ursuline missionary) and Jean Donovan (a Maryknoll lay missionary). All four women were working in El Salvador in the late 1970s in various church ministries aiding the poor and refugees from that nation’s bloody civil war.

At a Maryknoll conference in Managua in December of 1980, Sister Ford read from a homily of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who had been assassinated earlier that year: “Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe me, brothers and sisters, the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor, and in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, be tortured, to be held captive—and to be found dead.”

Upon returning to El Salvador, Sister Ford disappeared along with Sister Clarke, Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan. Their bodies were discovered days later; all four had been tortured, raped and murdered by members of the Salvadoran National Guard... In the decades since, the churchwomen have become symbols of the church’s evangelical efforts against structural economic injustice and political repression, just as in earlier generations Bishops Ford and Walsh had inspired Catholics attuned to the dangers of the oppressive and atheistic Communist regimes... Maryknoll begins its second century in a church that sometimes seems to be turning inward again to deal with its own concerns, can the outward thrust and global mission of its congregations offer a similar challenge to a new generation of American Catholics?