In Your Midst

From the Archives

November 2011

A Maryknoll hero visits St. James Cathedral

This year, Maryknoll celebrates its centennial.  Founded in 1911 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Maryknoll is a missionary organization of priests, brothers, sisters, and lay persons, dedicated to reaching out to those in the world who are most in need, and to spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

On March 4, 1972, St. James Cathedral was privileged to welcome Bishop James E. Walsh.  A legend in his own lifetime, Bishop Walsh was a member of the first group of Maryknoll students in 1912.  After his ordination, he led a group of Maryknoll missionaries to China.  Arriving there in 1918, he fell in love with the people.  He wrote memorably of an encounter with a young Chinese farmer:  “I saw him in the rice field.  The sweat of a hot day under the South China sun glistened on his brow.  He was a big boy for his age, but there was no comeliness in him; nobody would have looked at him twice.  ‘I choose you,’ sang in my heart as I looked at my awkward farmer boy, perfect picture of the underprivileged soul.  ‘I choose you, and with you the countless millions of God’s children like you… Souls of no distinction, you draw and dazzle me.  Shine on, farmer boy, symbol to me of the thousand million like you who drew the Son of God from heaven to smooth and bless your weary anxieties and your puzzled brows. I choose you and dedicate myself to you and ask no other privilege but to devote the energies of my soul to such as you.”  Appointed bishop of Kongmoon in 1927, Walsh was the first American ordained a bishop for China.

In 1959, at the height of communist persecution of the Church, Bishop Walsh was arrested.  For eighteen months he was subjected to unrelenting interrogation.  Twelve years of imprisonment followed.  Alone in his cell, the rosary was his support during those years.  “My great, my constant comfort was the rosary,” he said afterwards.  He felt that as long as he could pray the fifteen decades daily (and sometimes he would pray the fifteen decades three times in a day), his time was not wasted.

Without notice, Bishop Walsh was released in July, 1970.  “I have no bitterness toward those who tried and condemned me,” he said.  “I could just never feel angry with any Chinese.  I love the Chinese people.”

On his release, Bishop Walsh was received by Pope Paul VI who spoke for the whole Church when he said: “You have been a witness, authentic and simple, in joy and in sorrow, then in suffering and humiliation.  For all of this, we thank you on behalf of the entire Church of Christ.”

It was not long thereafter that Bishop Walsh visited St. James to celebrate Mass.  He received a hero’s welcome.  “The task of a missionary,” Bishop Walsh once said, “is to go to a place where he is wanted but not needed, and to remain until he is needed but not wanted.”  Bishop Walsh died in 1981 at the age of 90.

We give thanks for all the Maryknoll missioners who for one hundred years have carried the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Maria Laughlin is the Director of Stewardship & Development at St. James Cathedral.


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