China Historical Summary

In 1921 the Passionists responded to the 1919 mission encyclical Maximum Illud by sending missionaries to Hunan, China. Departing the United States in late 1921, the first group arrived in 1922, and for the next 33 years 80 Passionists from both St. Paul of the Cross and Holy Cross Provinces served in the Yuanling Diocese, Western Hunan. This was during an era of high political and social drama in China, as the Chinese Nationalists, Communists, and Japanese fought for control in the region.

The first missionaries went to China with no language or missionary training. They took responsibility for a mission territory from the Spanish Augustinians. The Passionists established a network of parish missions in a dozen far-flung villages accessible only by mule, boat, or on foot. They began catechetical instructions, operated several primary schools, ran an orphanage, and directed a regional seminary.

Despite the murders of three young Passionists at the hands of bandits in 1929, the community remained committed to evangelization. By the end of the 1930s, priorities shifted to working primarily with Chinese refugees displaced by the Chinese-Japanese War. Tensions continued during the post-1945 Nationalist-Communist period, when the latter took control of Western Hunan.

At various times, from the mid-1920s until the early 1950s, Passionists in the Yuanling Diocese worked with a number of women religious: the Sisters of Charity, Convent Station, New Jersey; the Sisters of St. Joseph, Baden, Pennsylvania; the Grey Nuns, Ontario, Canada; and the Sisters of Notre Dame, Kolocosa, Hungary. Both priests and sisters were interned by the Japanese in the 1940s. After 1949 many missionaries were put under house arrest or in prison by the Communists. The last two Passionists were expelled in 1955.

In 1934, Passionist Cuthbert O’Gara was named vicar apostolic of the Yuanling Diocese. In 1947 Yuanling was raised to full diocesan status. Two Chinese men were ordained for the Yuanling Diocese by Bishop O’Gara: Father John Nien, who died in 1960, and Father Bede Zhang, who died in 2001. As the Yuanling Diocese moves into its second century, Catholics there draw upon the seed of faith planted by the Passionists.

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