Kilmurry Parish Website.


Document 3:
Bishop Galvin of Cork -- Missionary

This document is taken from
an article by Fr. Diarmuid Linehan published in the "Fold" (Diocesan Monthly Magazine for the Dioceses of Cork & Ross) of November 1982.




By Diarmuid Linehan

Edward Galvin was born on November 23rd 1882, the Feast of St. Columban, in the parish of Newcestown. The great St. Columban had left his native land to bring the Gospel message across Europe. The little baby boy from Newcestown was to carry the Good News not to Europe but to the mysterious Orient, many thousands of miles from home. After his ordination in 1909 Fr. Edward Galvin was told by his Bishop to look for a temporary appointment until there was a vacancy in the diocese of Cork. That was how he came to serve in the diocese of Brooklyn, and it was there that he, quite accidentally, it seemed, met a Fr. Fraser, who was on his way back to China. The upshot of their conversation was that Fr. Galvin knew he must go to China. Within months he was on his way.

What followed clearly showed the Hand of God at work. Fr. Galvin was shocked at the poverty and misery he saw in the province of Chekiang. The spiritual poverty of the vast population moved him even more and he began a series of letters to students and priests at Maynooth College, appealing for more priests to join him. "More priests ... you get to that whenever you begin." By 1915, two priests had joined him -- Fr. Patrick O'Reilly and Fr. Joseph O'Leary. They were insistent that he go back to Ireland and organise the new mission. Fr. Galvin wouldn't hear of it: "I am a nobody, just a plain, ordinary China missionary. I am not known in Ireland. It's a job for someone else." In the end, they agreed of offer a Novena of Masses.

"When the Novena was completed", Bishop Galvin wrote later, "we knelt down in my room facing each other. I cut the leaves of our Bible and on the top of the righthand page read the following verse:
'I command you: be firm and steadfast!
Do not fear nor be dismayed,
for the Lord, your God,
is with you wherever you go!'

That was the end of the argument. "I have my orders, I'll go!" said Fr. Galvin.

First stop on his way home was in the USA at Chicago. At Chicago he obtained the warm approval of Archbishop Mundelein. That was a crossroads. American support was assured.

He reached Dublin in August 1916. Great changes had come to pass in the seven years since he had left Ireland, not least in that historic year of the Easter Rising. Now, Fr. Edward Galvin and and his companions (numbering six by October) were to bring about another kind of change that would sweep the country. Fr. Blowick of the Maynooth College staff had joined them and it was he who presented the appeal to the Bishops of Ireland at their October meeting. On October 11th, the Hierarchy voted in favour of the new Missionary Society. Another crossroads had been reached.

The new Society became "St. Columban's Foreign Mission Society" and, in time, became known as 'The Maynooth Mission to China'. It was dedicated to Fr. Galvin's own patron, Columbanus, on whose feast he had been born. From there on, nothing could hold up progress. More recruits joined them, funds were raised in every corner of the land, a home was found at Dalgan Park, Galway and Pope Benedict XV gave his blessing to the new venture. By 1920, there were forty priests enrolled and a mission territory had been assigned. A new and powerful force was a work. The foundation had been well laid.

From there on, Fr. Galvin was happy to be where the action was -- in China. And action there certainly was! There were two and a half years of peace during which the missionaries set about teaching, preaching, bringing the sacraments, saying Mass. Gradually, however, the Chinese government seemed to lose its grip until, particularly in Hanyang (the Columban territory) it was almost a free-for-all, as local warlords fought one another and the bandits took over. It took remarkable courage from the Irish missionaries to stick to their task. Robert T. Reilly describes it:

"Alert to the dangers, but not daunted by them, they moved about within the district, narrowly escaping capture and death on innumerable occasions, often burnt out, always under tension, but getting an apprenticeship that would fit them superbly for the still more difficult days that were to come. It was now, in the light of danger and disaster, tht the greatness of their leader began to shine forth. With tact and humour, Fr. Galvin inspired them with his own burning zeal for the salvation of souls, from him they caught a spark of the audacity that dares to attempt the impossible for Christ"

By 1925, the left wing of the Nationalist Party was beginning to assert itself; more and more went communist and anti-foreign demonstrations swept the country. Priests and nuns were prime targets. Again, to quote Robert T. O'Reilly:


"Father O'Connell and McDonald were driven from their home by a blood-thristy band of peasants, beaten and imprisoned. Another mob gave Fr. Tom Ryan a savage beating with bamboo poles before releasing him. At Yo Kow, Father Lalor, a young priest new to the mission, was kidnapped, left without food for four days, drugged with opium and dragged to a cornfield to die. He was rescued at night by a bandit, who was friendly towards the Church."

 In spite of it all, the work went on, Hanyang was declared a Vicariate (diocese) and Fr. Galvin became Bishop Galvin in November 1927. Meanwhile, a new name began to dominate the Nationalist Party -- Chiang Kai Shek -- and he soon rallied all the country behind him -- all except two communist-controlled areas and in each of those the Columbans were working; Hanyang (their original foundation) and Nancheng (their newest mission). Nancheng gave its first martyrs to the Maynooth Mission to China: Fr. Tim Leonard was captured while saying Mass and stabbed to death; Fr. Con Tierney died after a lengthy captivity in communist hands. It was Holy Week 1930 when the communists confronted Bishop Galvin in person. He showed enormous courage and amazing coolness. Leading the sisters to a mariculous safety and interceding successfully for the two priests who had been taken away to communist HQ. The following year, 1931, Bishop Galvin displayed the same practical courage when a disastrous flood -- the worst for 60 years -- hit the valley of the Yangtze river. Two thirds of the Hanyang vicariate was under water, 12,000 Chinese drowned, 23 million were destitute and 50 million people suffered serious loss. The work he did, the leadership he gave, the fatigue he endured were further proof of the extraordinary faith and humanity of the man.

After the floods had receded and the reconstruction had started a new "Golden Age" began for the Church. There was a new interest, surpassing anything previously experienced by the missionaries, converts poured in, more than 40,000 pagans were instructed and baptised in the space of eight years. Over it all presided Wo-Ti Chu Chiao -- "Our Bishop", a plain simple man with the heart of a child and the strength of a giant.

As always, the years of peace were soon forgotten. On July 7th 1937 Japan invaded China. Now the problem was how to come to the help of people shattered by daily air-raids and devastated homes. Once more, the Bishop was a tower of strength and played a key role, especially when Hanyang was occupied by the Japanese. Seven years were to pass before an uneasy peace settled again on Hanyang. The Japanese, vanquished, left for home but, in his mind, Bishop Galvin was waiting for another invader, the communists. In 1949 they arrived and the city of Hanyang fell without a struggle. That was the beginning of the end for Fr. Galvin's "Maynooth Mission to China".
On the 17th September, 1952, Bishop Edward J. Galvin, escorted by seven policemen, was expelled from China and placed on a train for Hong Kong. A Columban sister from Newcestown saw him arrive: "Thin and worn-looking, he was more like a beggar than anything else but he struck everybody by the great dignity, courtesy and air of triumph about him. It was the triumph of the Passion, the vistory of the Cross." Forty of his seventy years has been given to God and the Chinese people. Now there was little enough time left to him; the doctors in Los Angeles diagnosed Leukemia -- cancer of the blood. He came home to die, home to Dalgan Park. On Feb. 25th 1957 his body was laid to rest near the Hill of Tara. By the grave stood a group of Chinese students. Their presence was the story of his life.

("The Fold is indebted to Fr. Patrick Crowley, "The Far East" for all the information in this article)

Text was typed and photos scanned and published to HTML           

Fr. Jerry Cremin
Jan. 06 1999