On Sunday 29 June, the Missionary Society of Saint Columban celebrated the 100th anniversary of their foundation as the ‘Maynooth Mission to China’ in 1918. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, joined with members of the society on the day to celebrate Mass at the home of the Columban Father’s in Dalgan Park in Navan, where he said that the Church owes ‘a great debt of gratitude’ to the Columban tradition.
The Mass formed part of the Columban Family and Mission Day ahead of the World Meeting of Families which will take place in Dublin from 21-26 August. More than 1,500 family members joined the occasion for picnics and family nature walks, a ‘Pudsy Ryan’ children’s corner, as well as a celebration of the history of mission through arts and crafts and a multicultural concert from groups from Columban mission countries.
In his homily, Archbishop Martin said, ‘On 29 June 1918, one hundred years ago almost to the day, the idea of setting-up a missionary society of Irish diocesan priests was approved by the Bishops of Ireland and what was then called the Maynooth Mission to China was born.
‘One hundred years later, we gather to celebrate a century of mission of a Columban movement that has spread around the world and has undertaken new areas of activity. It has become a world-wide spiritual and missionary movement embracing priests, religious sisters and lay missionaries, inserted into a wider movement of individuals and families who support and are enriched by the Columban tradition.’
He continued, ‘You will find Columbans in many parts of the world. Yes, in China, but also in Korea, Burma, and the Philippines and in other parts of Asia, in Latin America and here in Europe. I think of the contribution of the Columbans to the coordination of Irish emigrant chaplaincy in Britain in the 1950’s and 1960’s and as Archbishop of Dublin of the generous work of Columban priests and sisters in the parish of Balcurris in Ballymun.
‘Travel the world and wherever you find Columbans and there will be two words that will inevitably emerge: mission and the poor. The Columban tradition has been one that embraces a unified mission of preaching the name of Jesus, caring for the poor and addressing the root causes of poverty and damage to God’s creation.’
Archbishop Martin added, ‘Dalgan Park became a household name in Ireland. It became a place of pilgrimage for leaders of the Church from different parts of the world who came to visit Ireland. The Church owes a debt of gratitude to this great tradition. The Church in Ireland has every reason be proud of this tradition.
‘Dalgan may have changed from the flourishing seminary that it was at the time I was to enter the seminary in Dublin. Today, it is a home to many retired priests who had given years and years of service. We are proud here today to remember their contribution. They have every reason to be proud of how they have won our recognition and affection for what they did.
‘As we look back over these hundred years, we think especially of those who gave their life in the service of the Gospel, especially those Irish priests listed among the Korean Martyrs.’
Archbishop Martin went on to say, ‘Reflecting on the invitation I received to celebrate this Jubilee Mass, I kept asking myself what it was it in 1918 that gave rise to this new vigour in the Irish missionary tradition.
‘The Ireland of 1918 was a difficult and uncertain time. Our insecurity today about Brexit fades into the shade with the uncertainty and insecurity that existed in Ireland in June 1918 … It is remarkable that at that moment a group of priests in Maynooth would have come up with such a far-seeing sense of what mission means. We have to learn the lesson that renewal in the Church comes when the Church rises above being locked within its own cares and rediscovers its call to reach out and be missionary.’
The Archbishop of Dublin added, ‘I am very happy that this celebration of Columban Mission should be inserted into the preparation of the World Meeting of Families that will be celebrated in Dublin in less than two months’ time. Perhaps it would be better to say that this Mission Day celebration is inserted into a new drive to restore confidence in the family as a way to transmit the faith.
‘One of the marks of the Columban tradition is that of a sense of solidarity with the families of missionaries and with a sense of support for the missionaries among Irish families. The Far East became a household name. Not quite the New York Times it was however a wonderful support and affection for the Columban missionary tradition.
‘Today we have to come back to that sense of not being trapped in the crisis of the moment and dreaming again of an openness to being truly missionary disciples. The message of Jesus is always a message that challenges us to rise above conformity.’
He concluded, ‘Just as in 1918 we pray for a Church and a Columban missionary tradition that can today rise out of narrow preoccupation with self and reach out to answer the call to bring the message of the loving kindness of God to a world often so harsh.
‘One word that I have used throughout these reflections was “affection”. Irish Catholics have a special affection for the Columbans. One witness to that affection is the only writing we have from Matt Talbot. It was a handwritten – hand scribbled – note of a small donation from “a poor man Matthew Talbot”. That affection for the Columbans is still alive and well and is clearly visible here today.’
Centenary celebrations of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban began on the Feast of Saint Columban, 23 November 2017 and will continue until the same day in 2018. Marking the centenary, Columban historian Fr Neil Collins wrote a new book, A Mad Thing to Do, detailing the history of the society. A Copy of the new book was presented to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin following the Mass. For more information on the work of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban and ongoing centenary events, please see www.columbans.ie.
Archbishop Martin’s full homily can be found on www.dublindiocese.ie.
Photo credit: John McElroy