St. Joseph’s Monastery History: Foreign Missions

Special mention must be made of a most important part of the primary apostolate of the Passionists, the Foreign Missions. As has been seen most vividly in the history of Father Godfrey Holbein, C.P., St. Joseph’s Monastery has contributed immensely to this heroic work of the Church. Through the years since the Passionists of this province have been caring for Missions in China, the Philippines and the British West Indies, men have been trained for this work at St. Joseph’s Monastery.

What has been remarkable through the years is the way in which the members of the parish have contributed to the support of the Foreign Missions. Not only has there been such generous response to any of the collections taken up in church, but there are groups throughout the parish who steadily, all year round, run affairs and collect money for the continued help of various missionaries.

There are many tributes being paid in this history to the spirit of the people in St. Joseph’s Parish, but nothing is greater evidence of this spirit than this genuine, practical interest in the Missions.

Father Godfrey Holbein, C.P., a former parishioner, and ten other Passionist missionaries took part in departure ceremonies at St. Joseph’s in 1924 before leaving for Hunan, China. Archbishop Curley presided at the farewell on June 1st and those ten and three other young Passionists sailed for China a few weeks afterwards. Less than five years later, Father Holbein, who had been educated in the parish school, had served as an altar boy and said his first Mass in the Monastery church, and two companion-priests were murdered by Chinese bandits. They were the first American missionaries to suffer violent death in that part of the world.

On receiving the news, the Very Reverend James A. Walsh, founder and superior of Maryknoll at the time, reflected:

“No other Americans have ever before shed their blood as Catholic missionaries in Eastern Asia.… We of Maryknoll experience within our hearts a feeling of holy envy. Today we witness the blood of Americans flowing into the soil of China and recall that ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians’.”

Coupled with the foreign mission apostolate has been the work of the Passionists for the Negro in the South. Since the early 30s, the Passionists have labored in this apostolate, and support for it in personnel from St. Joseph’s Monastery and in financial aid from the parishioners has been generously given.

In connection with this was the unique observance in the history of the Passionists when, at St. Joseph’s on Nov. 14, 1945, Fr. Mark Moeslein, C.P., celebrated the 75th anniversary of his profession.

It was the first time in the entire history of the order that anyone had reached such a jubilee. This extraordinary priest at age 75, after a brilliant career in the community in various capacities, urgently requested his superiors to allow him to go to North Carolina to work in the Negro apostolate. He was extremely active in this work until his late eighties when he returned to St. Joseph’s Monastery. As a pioneer in this work for the Passionists, his example and ideas have inspired many others to follow in his footsteps. Father Mark died at the Monastery at the age of ninety-two.

Monthly Days of Recollection for priests of the Archdiocese were begun at the Monastery on October 8, 1959. Fifty priests, including Bishop Jerome Sebastian, attended this first day. These days of renewal for priests have continued since and are an important part of the spiritual life of the priests in this area.

The National Congress of the Conference of the Sacred Passion was held at the Monastery on Memorial Day week-end in 1960. The Conference of the Passion is a “pious association of the faithful who promise to practice devotion to the Passion of Christ.” Chapters of the Conference are established at each Passionist Monastery. On the occasion of this National Congress, delegations from all over the country participated at St. Joseph’s.

A program of special spiritual exercises and study was inaugurated for the Sisters of the Archdiocese in 1963. This program, still flourishing, has met with unforeseen success. Each month there have been several hundred in attendance and their tributes to the benefits of the program have been one of the most encouraging factors for the priests in this work. These programs became the model for other such programs for Sisters in most of the other Passionist Monasteries throughout the eastern part of the United States.

A futher reflection of the spirit of Vatican II was seen in the Ecumenical Retreat for priests and ministers together held at the Spiritual Center June 5 to 10, 1966. This Ecumenical Retreat is now a regular feature of the yearly schedule.

This brief historical sketch of the first hundred years is a story of challenge, of accomplishment, of opportunity fulfilled. What stands out so clearly is that St. Joseph’s has been an integral part of the life and growth of Maryland’s ecclesiastical and civil community. Archbishop Curley, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the foundation, spoke for the Archdiocese in words which are equally true today: “The coming of the Passionist Fathers to the Archdiocese of Baltimore was a blessing. Their work ever since…has been a veritable benediction for all of us.”

The Fathers, in turn, in the words of the Very Reverend Colman Healy, Rector at the time of the Passionist centenary in America, exhibited a gratitude just as deeply felt today:

“In a most special way do we acknowledge our indebtedness to the illustrious Prelates … who have never failed to bestow upon us their Paternal kindness and their Apostolic blessing.… To them our heartfelt gratitude.

…to our brother priests… who have so often enabled us to carry on the great work for which we were founded… we declare our indebtedness… we pledge to them the sincere determination… to be ready always to assist them… within the framework of the Rule…to our loyal benefactors who have befriended us… we publicly tender thanks.”

Father Adrian Poletti, curate and later pastor of the parish, paid tribute to the spirit of the parishioners: “The history of St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish is one of continued growth and advancement… The parishioners met every challenge through the years.”

The hope and prayer of the Passionists on the eve of their second century in Baltimore might well be the same as that expressed by the Very Reverend Ernest Welch, Provincial of the Eastern Province of St. Paul of the Cross, on the occasion of the same centenary: “Mindful that gratitude for the gifts of the past is the best way to merit future graces and blessings, we acknowledge our debt of gratitude to God and His Blessed Mother, while begging their blessings not only for ourselves but for all loyal friends and generous benefactors.”