Monday, November 14, 2011

Maryknoll in North Korea

The Catholic Times introduces us to the beginning of Maryknoll's work in Korea in remembrance of Maryknoll's 100th anniversary. Fr. James Anthony Walsh, superior general of Maryknoll, came to Korea in 1916 to ask Bishop Mutel of Seoul for a place to work in Korea. They both agreed that Maryknoll would take the Province of Pyongan, where both the Paris Foreign Missionary Society and the American Protestant missionaries were working.
The missionary work in the North was not doing as well as in the southern three provinces. The Paris Foreign missioners had five parishes and 50 mission stations in Pyongan, with  three French and two Korean priests responsible for the work. Permission came from Rome to begin the work in 1922 and the first Maryknoll  local superior was Fr. Patrick Byrne.

In the same year two other Maryknollers came, which was the start of a new beginning for the Church in Korea. Up to that time only missioners from Europe were working in Korea, and many Koreans, knowing only the American Protestant  missioners, were surprised to learn there were also Catholics in America, thinking that Catholicism was a French religion and Protestantism an American religion.  In 1924, more priests and six Maryknoll sisters joined the original group of Maryknollers.

The group started a dispensary and clinic and a language school to teach Korean to the missioners.The number of Catholics soon rose to 5000 in the Pyongan province. In 1927 it was made a prefecture, with Fr.Byrne as the first Prefect Apostolic. When it was decided to move the headquarters from Siniju to Pyongyang,

Fr. Byrne was elected Vicar General of the Society and had to return to the United States. Fr. Morris then became the second ordinary of the prefecture. During his tenure, there were 36 missioners, 19 parishes, 134 mission stations and a total of 17,738 Catholics. At the beginning of the prefecture there had been only three seminarians. In 1932 Fr. Morris began the community of the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the first Korean native community.

It was during this time that Maryknoll began a new way of doing mission work, believing that to advance the work it was necessary to involve lay people. They had workshops for training youth leaders and catechists. They also began publishing a magazine which, after many name changes, was finally called Catholic Chosun; its main focus was to educate its readers about Catholicism until it was forced to close by the Japanese in 1938.

Maryknoll  Korea was also making known the work of the missions to the American Catholics. The article ends by offering thanks to the Maryknoll Society, especially during the Japanese occupation, for filling the vacuum in the history of the Korean Catholic Church.

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