Saturday Pope Francis beatified seven Columban Fathers who had worked and died in Korea.

Monday, 8/18/14

I just read that seven Columban Fathers whom I had met briefly were of the 124 people whom Pope Francis beatified Saturday. They had served in parishes with which I later became familiar, and now they are part way toward being canonized.

Three of them who were Irish had worked in Korea before World War II, but had been repatriated to Ireland at the beginning g of the war. Then, on their way back to Korea in the late nineteen-forties, they had stopped to talk with us seminarians. In Korea when the Reds came down they had been in parishes with which I was later familiar.

On June 25, 1950 when the Northern Communists invaded the south those three  decided on staying in their parishes, in hopes that they would be allowed to work.

On the second day of the war Fr. Tony Collier tried walking over to our Chunchon cathedral from his parish across town, but was gunned down on the street. Jim Maginn was shot a week later, and Pat O’Reilly had managed to work out of a private house for three months was taken off in a truck.  I often drove by the spot on the road where they had taken him from a truck, and shot him.

In our other Columban diocese in southwestern Korea Monsignor Pat Brennan, Jack O’Brien, and Tom Cusack, decided on staying in their parishes. Bound, they had been packed in with the GI prisoners from where they had been taken out and shot in September. The GIs, later repatriated in a prisoner swap with the North, spoke of how Father Jack had sweetened their captivity with his singing.

I later worked for twelve years in our diocese that straddled the DMZ. Three others of our men decided on staying when the Reds came down on June 25. Tied in with a huge number of captured GIs, they were put to walking north. Two thirds of the GIs died on that walk known as the Death March. Father Frank Canavan also died on that road. Father Phil Crosby and Tom Quinlan, while losing most of their vision through malnutrition, survived three years as prisoners, and then were sent back to us through Russia, I was privileged to work closely with them for eleven years.

I read where there were 117 Koreans beatified Saturday. We had had one Korean priest, Timothy Ri, who was able to work in North Korea from 1945 to 1950 when they shot him. Sent up there to take his place, I kept trying to get our old Catholics to describe Father Ri for me, but all they would say was that he was like Jesus. I hope they beatified him Saturday. 

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