October 10, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible saints: Fathers James Walsh and Thomas Price

John F. Fink(Twentieth in a series of columns)

Fathers James A. Walsh and Thomas F. Price were the co-founders of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, commonly known as Maryknoll.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States was considered mission territory, not a country that would send missionaries to other countries.

Father Walsh disagreed. He became director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Boston in 1903, and set about trying to instill a greater awareness of the need for mission work.

In 1904, he presented a paper in Washington to priests involved in missionary work in this country. He said that home missions would prosper if American Catholics would develop an international vision of mission.

Father Price was in the audience, and he became intrigued with the idea. The two men spoke after the presentation. No more was done at that time, but the two priests began to exchange correspondence.

A native of North Carolina, Father Price had spent 25 years as an itinerant missionary in that state. He founded the magazine Truth, which attained a circulation of 17,000. He also founded an orphanage and the magazine The Orphan Boy to earn income for the orphanage.

In 1906, Father Walsh and a few other priests established the Catholic Foreign Mission Bureau to publish books about the missions. It also published the country’s first missionary magazine, The Field Afar.

It happened, providentially, that both priests attended the Eucharistic Congress in Montreal in 1910. They met again and, before the congress was over, started plans for the foundation of a foreign mission seminary. They knew, of course, that they would have to have the backing of the American hierarchy.

Fortunately, Father Price had connections. His former pastor, for whom he had served at Mass in North Carolina, was now Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore. The cardinal enthusiastically supported the plan. He wrote to all the U.S. archbishops asking for their approval, saying that American Catholics could not delay participation in foreign missions “lest our own faith should suffer.”

The archbishops unanimously approved the plan and sent the two priests to Rome. On June 29, 1911, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith approved the bishops’ recommendation and, the next day, Pope Pius X blessed the new work.

The priests returned to the United States and purchased a property near Ossining, N.Y., overlooking the Hudson River. Father Walsh, named the society’s first administrator, called it “Maryknoll” since it was on a hilltop.

Father Price was the society’s chief recruiter and fundraiser. By 1918, three of the recruits were ready to be sent to China. Father Walsh asked Father Price to lead them and serve as superior. He did and worked in Yeungkong, China, for nine months until he suffered an infected appendix. He died in Hong Kong on Sept. 12, 1919.

Father Walsh continued to lead the society until his death on April 14, 1936. By then, Maryknoll had missions in China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Hawaii. †

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