It certainly will seem strange for me to start with a mission of which I was not in charge. Our mission in Korea was started by one of the Mexican Provinces, which was the only activity of the Mexican Province in the Asian Marist sector. It was the General Administration that first asked me to make a visit to our mission in Korea, which had been started a few years earlier. The Brothers there were teaching mainly college students and were encouraging their first candidates to complete their regular educational training. After a few years there, they were successful in getting a number of candidates to follow all the Marist prayers and customs in a temporary Novitiate, which was also a house for the Provincial community. When the first candidates were ready to make their vows, the General Administration asked me on the occasion of my visit to Japan to please preside at the ceremony and to receive the vows of the Novices in the name of the Mexican Provincial. I was also asked to preside over perpetual profession of the Brother who was to be the Master of Novices, and it was in that capacity that I had been asked to preside at the ceremony.
I was always deeply interested in our mission of Korea. In fact, one of my old friends who had been with me originally when we first started in Rome was now here attached to the Korean mission. It was my pleasure several times to visit in Korea and spend time with Bro. Alphonse Wimer. For years I had been, and am still in correspondence with, the present visitor of that mission. It was a unique occasion to have the Master of Novices take his final vows at the time of the first profession of Korean candidates. After that first visit, each time I had occasion to go to our Marist Asian Center in Manila, I would choose to eat with the young Brothers who were candidates from Korea.
Our Brothers were running college classes for young men of the nearby colleges who came to our communities for help and were also in charge of a boarding school for boys who were under the care of the government. This was our apostolate, and there were also the retreats given by our Brothers for the college students, but the very unique work of our Brothers in Korea was the charge of a special hospital for the Korean lepers. The patients were all gathered from eight areas of the Diocese and lived in separate villages for lepers in each sector. Our hospital used to make weekly trips to the eight villages to take our cured patients back home and gather together those who needed to come back to the hospital for treatment. Three Brothers, three nuns, three nurses, and a doctor who was only there during the week staffed the hospital. The lepers were well cared for and provided with the medication needed. My great admiration was for our Korean Marists who came each summer to take all the young students away from their leper village and bring them to spend their summer vacation at one of our houses where they would have organized sports activities, see movies, and go on tours to further their education. Champagnat must have been very pleased at this Marist project.
I must add here that when I went for a visit to Hong Kong, we used to go to a special place where one could see across the ravine into the hills. On the opposite side, the Chinese military were training and were anxious to keep Mary out of their country. It was there that we would say the rosary for the Marist Chinese whom I could not visit, who could not come out, and who had to live underground or else with relatives. Even an Assistant General could not visit with them. I was then determined that some day I would make it. I did, but I will mention this later.
The best tribute I ever heard about our Chinese Brothers and their training was from Ignatius Cardinal Kung, the Bishop of Shanghai. I had attended a very special Mass for celebrating the 100th anniversary of our Marist work in China in 1991. The dear Cardinal had spent years in prison before being released to come to the U.S.A. He told me that every day when he goes to the altar to celebrate Mass he stops to say a prayer for the Marist Brother Chang who prepared him for his First Holy Communion.
At different times during the next years the Marist residence in Malaysia served as the Provincial House. It is indeed one of our main schools in Asia. The first school was known as Catholic High School, built at Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Our Brothers had a residence that served for years as the Juniorate training center. The school was filled to capacity. The Brothers’ residence was extended to provide facilities for the trainees separating them from the residence of the older Marist teachers.
Our best educational center was at Ipoh, where we had a huge elementary school and a high school that provided plenty of work for the Brothers and their many teachers. There was also a small village that had furnished us with vocations mostly because of a saintly dedicated Father Chin, who was also an affiliated member of the Marist Brothers. There had also been a Sacred Heart School that we left after only a few years of work there. There was another school at Quantan where there had been a few difficulties with the pastor who was not too pleased to have the Brothers and had criticized them openly. Then there was what was possibly our first foundation in Melaka. Catholics there were fervent and also anxious to have proper Catholic schools for their children. Most of our vocations also came from this area. We are also fortunate in Malaysia to have a number of Catholic hospitals and convents of nuns for the retired elderly religious. When I was there, there had been an appeal for Marist Brothers to come to East Malaysia to the city of Sibu, where the many Chinese Catholics pouring in from China were anxious to have some religious teachers for their children.
The Church had named a special Bishop residing here to represent the many Chinese who had to leave their mainland country to settle. The Bishop knew the Marists quite well from his home in Belgium and became most useful to us. We were offered the Catholic high school, where we taught for a number of years and where the children of the prime minister came to attend classes. Our Brothers worked here with the Christian Brothers close by and, typical of our Chinese Marists, they were anxious to have their own Catholic school. It was Brother Chanel who was familiar with many “Old Boys,” as the alumni were called, and they helped him to provide the now famous Marist Stella High School, which was always filled to capacity.
The original residence of the Marist Brothers in Singapore was on Flower Road beside the residence for retired Chinese Marists. There was also a unique Marist kindergarten here, which is a showpiece in Singapore and a model for any further requests to the government. Our alumni make sure that when they marry they already reserve a place here for their children. It is a credit to the foresight of Brother Alphonse, the dean of the Province, who started this exceptional school run by the Sisters. Later there would be a foundation in Taiwan where Bro. Philip Wo, first Chinese Provincial, would work and later die there in Kaohsiung.
When I completed my visit in Asia, I received a letter from the General Council advising me not to return to St. Genis but to please go directly to the new Generalate in Rome. The project was nearing completion, and the expenses were getting out of hand with the Marist Brother in charge of the construction. I asked the Superiors to give me the support of a committee, which would contain Brother Lorenzo, the Spanish Marist in charge of the construction, and Brother Alessandro, our Procurator to the Holy See who was living at San Leone Magno of our Italian Province in Rome. Thus there were three to run meetings and make final decisions to try to save, or at least control, the funds. I accepted the temporary post until the Superiors arrived on May 24, 1961. I arrived in Rome towards the end of October to supervise the completion and get the place ready for the Superiors arrival next May, but I also asked the Superiors to approve and to send me the four-word telegram for the authority to close Quantan and open Sibu. This was the end of my first visit to Asia.
last updated on June 10, 2004