Great news today! I was checking the latest Causes list coming from Rome and I see that the Cause of seven of our Columban priests has been opened - they are among the eighty-one Modern Martyrs of Korea. Five of the priests are Irish-born, one from my own diocese, and the other two are American born of Irish parents. The Columbans are a missionary society founded in Ireland for work in the Far East, their Mother House, Dalgan Park is located in Navan, Co. Meath.
Also among the martyrs are two of my Order's sisters, cloistered Discalced nuns. What a red letter day. More Saints!
The Columban priests, now Servants of God, are:
Fr Anthony Collier, born in Clogherhead, Co. Louth, on the 20th June 1913. He was educated by the Christian Brothers in Drogheda and St Patrick's College, Armagh. He joined the Columbans in 1931 and was ordained priest in 1938. He was sent to Korea the following year. Fr Anthony was working in a parish in Chunchon city during the Korean War. As the North Korean forces were advancing as American officier told Fr Anthony and two other Columban priests, Mgr Tom Quinlan and Fr Frank Canavan to flee, but they refused - they were staying with their flock. The North Koreans arrived on the 26th June 1950 and the priests were arrested. Fr Anthony was interrogated overnight and shot the next day out of hatred for the faith.
Fr James McGinn was born in Bute, Montana, USA, of Irish parents on the 15th November 1911. He returned to Ireland and was educated in St Mary's school, Newcastle, Co. Down and then in St Malachy's College, Belfast. He joined the Columbans in Dalgan Park in 1929 and was ordained in 1935. He was sent to Korea in 1936. At the time of his martyrdom he was pastor of the parish of Samchok. Following the outbreak of the Korean War his parishioners, fearing for safety urged him to leave, but he refused. The North Koreans occupied Samchok just one week after the War started, but two days later, on the 4th July 1950 they killed Fr James out of hatred for his Catholic faith and priesthood.
Fr Patrick Reilly was born in Drumraney, Co. Westmeath, in our diocese of Meath, on the 21st October 1915. He was educated in the parish primary school and then continued his studies at St Finian's College in Mullingar, the diocesan college. Discerning a vocation to the priesthood and the missions he sought admittance to the Columbans, and he was accepted in 1934. He was ordained priest in 1940 and then sent to the UK to serve in the diocese of Clifton for five years, returning in 1946. He was then sent to Korea in 1947, where he was working in the parish of Mukho. When the War broke out he sought refuge in the home of one of the parish catechists and there tried to continue his ministry quietly. He was successful for 26 days after which the North Koreans discovered his whereabouts and he was arrested. He was shot through the chest on the 29th August 1950, and his body was later found on a path in the mountains.
Mgr Patrick Brennan was born in Chicago on the 13th March 1901 to Irish immigrant parents. He was educated in St Rita's High School and Quigley's Prep Seminary and Mundelein Seminary. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1928. Having worked in the diocese for a number of years, he joined the Columbans in 1936 and was sent to Korea in 1937. During the Second World War he was captured by the Japanese but repatriated to the US in 1942. He then served with great distinction as an Army chaplain in Europe, taking care of troops in Normandy, the Ardennes and Germany, for which he was decorated. After the war it was his desire to return to Korea, and in 1946 he returned. In 1947 he was elected to the General Chapter of the Columbans and appointed Director for the China region, making Shanghai his base. In 1948 he appointed Prefect Apostolic for Kwangju, Korea by the Holy See and he returned to Korea to take up his duties. On the 24th July 1950 when at the Columban mission in Mokpo he was captured with two Columban priests, Fr Thomas Cusack and Fr John O'Brien by North Korean forces. They were taken to Taejon prison camp and on the 24th September he perished in a massacre carried out by the camp soldiers.
Fr Thomas Cusack was born in Ballycotton, Liscannor, Co. Clare, on the 23rd October 1910. He as educated in Ballycotton National School and then in St Mary's College, Galway. He entered the Columbans in 1928 and was ordained in 1934. The following year he was sent to Korea and at the time of his death he was serving in Columban mission in Mokpo. With his colleague, Fr Thomas Cusack and the Prefect Apostolic, Mgr Brennan, he was captured by North Korean troops on the 24th July 1950, and was martyred with them in the massacre at Taejon prison on the 24th September 1950.
Fr John O'Brien, was born in Donamon, Co. Roscommon, on the 1st December 1918. Educated first at Kilalla National School and then at Ballinrobe National School, he received secondary education at St Nathy's College, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon. He entered the Columbans in 1936 and was ordained priest in 1942. In 1943 he was appointed an army chaplain in the British Army and served in that position until 1948. He was sent to Korea in 1949 to take up a position in the mission at Mokpo. On the 24th July 1950, he was captured by North Korean troops and with Mgr Brennan and Fr Cusack, he died in the massacre of Taejon prison camp on the 24th September 1950.
Fr Francis Canavan was born in Headford, Co. Galway, on the 15th February 1915. Educated at Headford Convent School and then Headford National School, he went to St Mary's College, Galway. Entering the Columbans in 1934, he was ordained priest in 1940. Initially he was sent to serve in his native diocese of Galway, but in 1949 he was appointed to missionary work in Korea. working with Fr Anthony Collier in a parish in Chunchon city, when advised by American troops to flee the advancing North Korean army, Fr Francis refused to leave and was captured on the 26th June 1950. As Fr Collier was shot, Fr Francis was taken by troops on what would become known as the infamous "Death March" to the north. While many of those on the march died from hardship, Fr Francis managed to survive and was interned in a prison camp. However, the afflictions of the March were not to be overcome, and he died on the 6th December 1950 as a direct result of the hardship.
Let us pray for the success of their Cause.