Sri Lanka and Pakistan: Apostolic Missions for the Church

Although I’ve already mentioned our work in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, I wish to go a bit deeper into some of the aspects of our mission work as teachers. I will try not to repeat myself, but feel it important to point out what was especially needed of us at this time in the Church. We attempted to fill the special needs of each area assigned to us and the special apostolic work to be done in each place confided to us.

The four missionaries who had first come to Sri Lanka in 1911 had quickly diminished to only one. Two had returned to France, and one had died shortly after arrival. In looking back at that initial start, it became more and more evident that the Lord had done us a very special blessing by leaving us the best one of the initial four. He proved to be a dominant figure, experienced, and dedicated to succeed at all cost. There would also be a good number of missionaries from France, Germany, Spain, and England who had come specifically to help in Sri Lanka and to help the founding Marist Brothers. Our only remaining Brother quickly became the central figure of this young Province, and the respected father of this mission. In all this I refer of course to the dedicated Bro. Francis Anthony.

Brother Anthony was a thoroughly dedicated French Marist who had taken sound roots and was an example of thoroughness and unquestioned dedication to the task of making this new foundation a successful apostate for the Christian education of youth according to the directives and teaching of the Marist Founder Champagnat. He loved his apostolic undertaking and was so dedicated to everything Singhalese and to new horizons that would help them grow that he was chosen to lead the Province during this initial period of growth. Under him the Province grew, the number of schools increased, and eventually some of our own graduates became priests and Bishops and are now leaders in the work of the Church for Catholic education. Young candidates were trained to succeed in their studies, to aspire to the religious life, and to join in the work of the Church.

Actually his greatest contribution was the training of future leaders who would be able to take his place and carry on the work with courage and inspiration. He had trained the Sri Lankans to become Marist Brothers, to become teachers, and later on, his word was the most frequently heard calling for training Sri Lankans as Marist missionaries. I can say that Brother Anthony hounded me at every visit, asking for the start of Marist missionary work in India. That was his dream, and he lost no time or effort to push and encourage that foundation. I must admit here that he not only convinced me to get started in India, but that he volunteered to go there himself.

During my visitations to Sri Lanka at least three times I took the opportunity to visit Mother Teresa of India to ask her opinion regarding the proposed mission. She told me that Indians well-trained in hard work were capable of working wonders. She repeatedly reminded us that Indians could stand sacrifice, for they had suffered a lot.

I promised Brother Anthony that we would do all in our power to get Marist vocations started in India, and he promised prayers to guarantee that success. Brother Anthony was really the great power behind the Indian mission, and his courage and example stimulated me even if he knew that he could never go himself as a missionary. He volunteered to help train young Sri Lankans for the missions in India. I am now convinced that what was done for India was due in part by Brother Anthony’s prayers and by the dedication of our early missionaries such as Brother Raphael, an Italian, who looked after our first candidates in India not as the Superior but as the Prefect and disciplinarian. Sri Lanka had a sacred missionary as Superior and a Prefect determined to have the young candidates absorb the solid Marist spirit. It is a bit strange in looking back to find that eventually Sri Lanka would not in fact take over India but would be invited to start its own mission in Pakistan. I would like now to point out a few key houses that have endured the test of time.

Our Lady’s Hermitage is possibly the oldest of the Marist houses in Sri Lanka. It was where we first started and had candidates for training and also had a residence for the older Marist Brothers. It served as a residence for the newcomers as well. Later it became our quality chicken farm, providing food for the elderly and training jobs for the young. Our first Marist trainees all started here and learned farm work. A number of young chicken farmers were trained here and later developed their own farms. In more recent years it also became the site of Novitiate training for candidates to the Brotherhood and has always been a sort of place where the old-timers and the young candidates mixed and absorbed that precious Marist spirit.

We have schools in various cities of Sri Lanka but perhaps the one with the greatest enrollment was our Marist Stella College at Negombo, which has graduated thousands of fine young men who now have high offices in business, politics, and clergy. In more recent years the Provincial headquarters of the Province was also established there, and its proximity to the Columbo Airport makes it a proper residence for Marist visitors. We pulled out of several schools for various reasons but still have some five or six outstanding schools all serving the poor class of their various areas. Marist Stella of Negombo as well as schools at Kalutara, Kotte, Ja-Ela, Nugegoda, and a technical school in Negombo are the main school activities of the Sri Lanka Province. Besides this, the Sri Lankan Province has two mission schools in Pakistan: one in Peshawar and the other in Sargodah. I wish to pay a tribute to the Province by saying a few words on its two mission schools in Pakistan.

It was in the early 1960s that the Marists at Rome were asked to seriously consider a school in Pakistan, even if it would certainly be a mission school and we could never expect to have any candidates from them. There were many Catholic families living in separate but crowded areas. We were not to try to make conversions, and we were certainly not to expect to get any candidates for our congregation, but I was asked to contact the Bishop Hettinger of the capital city of the country and ask his direction. I had made an appointment to meet the Bishop on my visit to Pakistan. He brought me by car to Islamabad and pointed to a hillside showing a beautiful high school with several buildings. He pointed out that most of the children of the politicians and moneyed people were enrolled there and it was run like a British-style academy. He assured me that it was making good money and had a great reputation and finished by saying, “Brother, it’s all yours!”

I looked at the Bishop and told him that this was not in the spirit of our Founder, and that I would like him to take me to the poorest school in his Diocese. He probably thought I was crazy but he liked what he heard as I explained that this is how our Founder would want us to start. He drove me in his car for two hours and took me to the poorest school in his Diocese, near the city dump in Peshawar. He explained that he had two schools in Peshawar: the main one was St. Mary’s in the city, where all the children of the military compound were educated, and it was doing well and even supporting the poor school of the Diocese. On the other hand there was St. John Vianey near the city dumps, which had about 60 percent Catholics and 40 percent Muslims. St. Mary’s was around 90 percent Muslim and 10 percent Catholics. The teaching in St. Mary’s was in English while that of St. John Vianey was in Urdu, the native language. The profit from St. Mary’s was what supported the St. Vianey school. If we accepted St. John, the poorest, then we would also take care of St. Mary’s, which was the richest. I agreed to take both, and to furnish him with a principal for St. Mary’s and there would be two Brothers for St. Vianey. They would be teachers for there was already a fine Catholic principal running the school at St. Vianey.

I asked him to put up a residence for the Brothers in the same style as the local people and to have four rooms for the Brothers teaching in both schools. The fourth room was for visitors who would come among the Brothers. We also got permission to have a small building as a hostel, for that is where we would eventually get our candidates. We were told that we would never get any candidates, but found the opposite to be true. The present person in charge of Caritas for the Diocese is a graduate of our school. We already have a fully trained Marist Brother who just completed studies at the International College in Manila and is serving in Peshawar. We also have a few other Marist Pakistani candidates in training in Sri Lanka and Manila.

Just to give you an idea of the poverty of the St. Vianey School: there was no furniture; the students squatted on the floor; they all had a piece of plywood to write their assignments in ink; when the board was filled on both sides, they would raise their hand to get permission to go to the yard to wash off their plywood and put it in the sun to dry while they selected another clean one. I will not go into any further details for I have said enough already. We took both schools; we are still in both of them; and we have opened another similar school in Sargodah. We will make sure to set up a hostel there also. These hostels help our students get higher grades in exams and provide candidates for the mission work of the Church.

Sargodah is a much richer school located near Peshawar, and eventually we will also have some native Marists join us in our work for the poor people of Pakistan. Our schools–St. Mary’s, St. John’s, and the Catholic School of Sargodah–are all tributes to the hardworking Marists of the Sri Lanka Province. At this point I wish to pay special tribute to our first Marist Brother buried in Pakistan–our Spanish missionary, Brother Bernard, FMS.
The Present Chinese Province

The China Province that I was assigned to at the General Chapter was not the regular country, for foreigners were not readily invited into mainland China. We had started this mission on May 18, 1891, and the Province was going quite well. The initial Marist Brothers were French, Italian, and English and were dedicated to the Christian education of youth as well as spreading the already very popular devotion to Mary. Our Marist Brothers were anxious to spread the Word of God there and to serve a people. The Brothers faced the bitterness against organized religion and would stop at nothing to carry on the Word of the Lord and devotion to his beloved Mother Mary. The first few foreigners who had come to serve the people were very quickly popular with these people, but the government did not particularly like this.

The Chinese were very diligent and eager to complete their training and courses. Some of the children of foreigners joined the new Marist schools where children could become fluent in French, Spanish, and English. The schools started slowly and after a few years were recognized as top quality and were much in demand. The Marists’ first endeavors were mostly in Beijing and Shanghai. Their growing popularity soon caused them to be in demand everywhere. A group of our French Brothers also started a small winery that soon became quite popular as well as a source of revenue.

One of the characteristics of our Marist teachers is an attachment to and a genuine interest in the progress of their students. And that same spirit was soon spread into all the various schools where we were at work. When the government became hostile and wanted to get rid of these popular missionaries, many went to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore. But their Marist loyalty was always evident, and they were eager to help out and find jobs for any of their alumni. They all pulled together, students and teachers, and soon continued their practice in the various countries they emigrated to. It was a quickly recognized and appreciated loyalty that bound all Marists together as they left to help settle a new China with the help of alumni. That same spirit was very evident in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia and became a hallmark of the Marist family. Often, a quick review of the enrollment would turn up many friends from China.

After the trouble with the government started and it wanted to get rid of foreigners, it became impossible for me ever to visit mainland China. So we used to go over to the dividing ridge where there was a small public park where we could privately recite our rosary for the Marists on the mainland as we faced China. I had been told that I would never be able to get into China, but we still had a few native-born Marist Brothers who had been sentenced to prison and had finished serving their sentences. They were living as refugees in their own country, often hidden by their families to protect them.

One of these Marists had started a school and taught classes in the evening. I was determined to go to see him and to meet those he was living with, but was unable to do so until 1982 when I was no longer Assistant. I managed to visit our beloved Brother Damien who has now come to Hong Kong to rest for the few years that he had remaining. I managed to spend a full day visiting with our Brother Damien when I came as a visitor and in Hong Kong. I was asked to be a helper and take care of a group of some 200 tourists visiting the mainland. As a monitor I had twenty-four tourists to keep track of. Thus I was finally able to visit mainland China even if I was no longer in charge of it and this pleased me tremendously.

Only God knows fully and accurately the many years of sacrifice suffered by our Marist Brothers, their alumni, and other foreign students. Our Brothers had been persecuted during the Boxer Rebellion, in which a good number of our Marist Brothers and some of their students were killed.

A much more recent death was that of Bro. Joche Albert. He was the Brother who had prepared many young men and women to join the Legion of Mary. Brother Joche was their mentor who trained them and inspired them by his own example. It was on April 21, 1951, that he was jailed along with some twenty-four members of the Legion of Mary. They were brought to a public place in Sichang, China, and the people of the area were obliged to attend and to witness how the Chinese government dealt with these Legion students. In a public park the people of the area were required to watch as the soldiers killed every one of the twenty-four Legion students and then finally shot Bro. Joche Albert, who had been made to watch the execution of his dear students.

Our famous winery is still in operation by the Chinese who had kept the Brothers on as long as they needed them to learn the trade and then dismissed them. The Chinese had already taken all of our buildings but had not managed to win over the Legion of Mary. If one would like to get an idea of the extent of our Marist work for China, he has only to go over to our residence at Flower Road in Singapore, which was our residence there for a number of years. There one will see walls full of the most beautiful and gigantic photos of the Marist Juniors, Brothers, Superiors, and school students all gathered for the many religious functions annually at that time.

In the early ’50s during the persecution, when China was sending out as many natives as possible, we had a large number of Chinese students who also managed to escape. They came to attend courses at Marist College, and some fifty or so graduated. Most of these Brothers have gone back to serve in our various schools of the China Province; others have gone to Australia and other countries, and one of these original graduates of Marist College is still actively teaching in one of the American schools. The blood of martyrs fertilizes the seedlings that spread our Catholic faith. And if one of these Chinese is still active here with us today, only God knows how many expatriated mainland Chinese await the call to return to China. They will answer that call and come from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Sarawak, and all the various corners of the globe to assure that the Catholic Church is still very much alive. Let us join with the Marist Brothers around the whole world who came from mainland China, and may that huge number of Marist Brothers unite daily to sing together once more our own glorious hymn, “Salve Regina!”
Marist China

Hong Kong was at one time the beginning of the expansion of the Chinese Province, and it was easy enough to go back there to continue our daily apostate of teaching. In fact presently we have two great schools in full operation in Hong Kong proper. One is St. Francis Xavier College in mainland Kowloon, which has been operating for years as one of the official schools of the country. There is also another St. Francis School that is situated in Tseun Wan in what is known as the New Territory. The Brothers also have another house intended for young candidates called Chanel House. All of these were approved by the Hong Kong government. I was invited to attend the graduation a few years ago and marveled at the organization. It was a pleasure to be invited and to be with our Marist Brothers.

In Taiwan we had a large high school complex in the city of Kaohsung at the southern tip of the island. Over the years of our presence there, we built the various levels of education needed and everything was going smoothly. At the head of the Diocese is a Dominican Bishop who invited us to work there, and we had three or four Marist Brothers there most of the time. Our Chinese Provincial, Bro. Philip Wu, retired there before he died, and shortly after, the last Marist there also died. The operation of the school was then turned over to the Bishop.

In Taiwan we had a large high school complex in the city of Kaohsung at the southern tip of the island. Over the years of our presence there, we built the various levels of education needed and everything was going smoothly. At the head of the Diocese is a Dominican Bishop who invited us to work there, and we had three or four Marist Brothers there most of the time. Our Chinese Provincial, Bro. Philip Wu, retired there before he died, and shortly after, the last Marist there also died. The operation of the school was then turned over to the Bishop.

Another very large educational compound is that at Ipoh, where we have been for years. In many of these schools the Marist Brothers were mostly the administrators and we employed qualified teachers from the area. There were some schools that we ran for a short while and then later closed. It was particularly helpful in this country to find the large hospital run by religious Sisters who readily helped us when our Brothers in that country were aging. It is important to underline that in the small village of Mattantingui there was a devoted Pastor who dedicated his life to finding religious vocation candidates for the religious orders of Sisters and Brothers of the area. Father Chin was so dedicated to youth and education that we finally made him an affiliated member of the Marist Brothers congregation. One of his candidates for the Marist Brothers became our Provincial for a full term. There were other foundations that eventually closed for lack of vocations.

Singapore, mentioned earlier, has been an asset due to its strategic position, which makes it a wonderful stopping place on the way to Asia. From the start of the Chinese flight from the mainland, a good number came to settle in Singapore. We started a few schools that we later had to close, but the basic one, which was built completely by our Brothers with the help of their Marist alumni from the mainland, was Marist Stella in Singapore. The present complex is really a credit to the memory of one of our Marist Brothers whose vision was ahead of his time. Not far away we also have a unique Marist kindergarten that is also quite special and has been supported mostly by our many Marist alumni who remain very loyal to their former teachers. The founder of the kindergarten is still alive and active at this writing and quite appreciated by his confreres. Another contribution of the Singapore foundation was that among the natives who became Marist Brothers, one of them recently became the Provincial Superior of the entire China Province.

Finally, Sibu Sarawak, the youngest sector of the China Province, was established over thirty-five years ago. So many mainland Chinese settled in East Malaysia at a place called Sibu Sarawak that they built a school. The only problem was that few of the Chinese Marist Brothers were available at the time, so they asked for help from America. The American Marists came to their aid. Recently, the alumni of that school decided to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of their foundation, wanting to thank the Lord for this fantastic growth, and they invited the Americans who had helped to found this educational building to the festivities. A great time was had by all.

The story of the growth of our China Province is one of basic incredible brotherhood where one helps the other. It was started by missionaries from various countries on May 18, 1891, and enjoyed a fantastic response from the local Chinese who joined the Marist teachers. They had exceptional results with their alumni, and when the troubles started in the country and foreigners were obliged to leave in many instances, they still remained loyal to their schools in China and continued to help. There were also the heroic dedicated young Chinese who gave their lives for the cause of education during the persecution. Their blood has not been shed in vain. The future of China is incredible in its possibilities as the most populated country of the world. We pray that part of that future success which is still ongoing with the label “Made in China” will eventually once more have the attached FMS label to grace its success.

There had been a special club at St. Ann’s Academy for the students, teachers, and former graduates of the Marist Brothers school who were dedicated to helping us in the spirit of Blessed Marcellin Champagnat to collect funds for the Marist missions all over the globe. This was the true Marist spirit, of course, and I remembered enjoying that spirit of dedication when I was teaching there at St. Ann’s some years before. The Mission Club had just about burst with pleasure and new life when they found out that the funds would be for a new foundation to be started by the American Marists. The Brothers had decided to go to the Philippines and work there with and for the Oblate Fathers. We had been working with the Oblates for years in Lowell, Massachusetts, and our Provincial was also from that area. It was exciting that we would be working with them in the same foreign country. The decision had been reached to start that mission and to get there June 20, 1948. I recalled how seriously the alumni had taken the task of collecting funds and running special evenings for the benefit of the Marist mission of Cotobato.

Four Marist Brothers were selected to go to Cotobato in the Mindanao area of the Philippines, and the entire U.S. Province was fully behind them with their prayers and financial help. We never had a special foreign mission of our own, yet this seemed to be very much like home. The first four candidates to start our Marist work there were Bro. Maurus James, Bro. Herbert Daniel, Bro. Joseph Teston, and Bro. Peter Leonard. These were four stalwart young men determined to make this mission a real success. I remember reading that one night, after our men were there and had been working hard, someone managed to get to the room where the Brothers were sleeping and took off with the money that was kept under the pillow of the Director, who was sleeping soundly. It was a blessing that the Brothers had been working hard, and that their sleep was profound enough for them to miss that money only the next day.

One characteristic of schools was the fact that they ended up all having the same name, which was the characteristic name that the Oblates had started off with. Every place we went was called Notre Dame of ... and the name of the city it was in. Now most of our schools started with kindergarten, went through grammar and then to high school. It was only after we had worked there for a good while that we dared to also continue into the various high schools. But all of these were in the same city and thus we covered all the various levels of teaching. At the present time at least two or three of our many schools now have a college and one of these has even become a university. It is incredible how fast and how thoroughly they grew. Our schools were called Notre Dame of Cotobato, Notre Dame of Kidapawan, and so on for Dandiangas, Marbel, Koronadal, and Jolo. Then, in the city of Cotobato, or rather on the outskirts of that city, we started our Novitiate very close to the training house of the Oblate Fathers. Somehow the new school in the area of the capital of the country became known as the boys’ department. It would be much later that a part of our huge property in the Manila area was shared with what is now known as the Marist Asian Center, which is dedicated to the training of young Brothers of the many mission countries of the area. The faculties of these schools and colleges were carefully chosen, and the Marist family spirit that reigned in each school was a great help for us in getting vocations from our schools.

What was remarkable in all these schools was the close family spirit of working together that had been brought here by the Oblate Fathers and continued by our Marist Brothers. Some of the early Filipinos had trained in Poughkeepsie at Marist College, and the strong bond that they had had with us in Poughkeepsie was transported to the actual mission. The furthest of all our schools was Notre Dame of Jolo, which had a low percentage of Catholics and a far greater percentage of Muslims. But here also the Oblate Fathers, and especially their Bishop, were real friends to the Muslims.

I remember when I went to make the first visitation to the mission. As the Superior of the house was busy with classes, the Bishop told him to prepare a feast for the visitor coming to see them. Upon my arrival, all the students, boys and girls, were lined up at the airport with the Brothers, Sisters, and teacher Fathers along with the governor of the island, the mayor of the city, and the school bands all pitching in for a first-class reception. It was the last thing I had expected from a small mission like this one! The Bishop told the Director that he would take care of showing me around the next day, which was a school day. Then I would have the weekend with the Brothers when they were free. This was the kind of person that Bishop McSorley was, a man I will never forget.

It had been a great joy for me on one of my last trips to find one of my old friends, Father Emile Bolduc, who had been my pastor in Lowell when I taught the seventh grade there in 1936, when I had sixty-three in the seventh grade. Now, in the Philippines, I had several fine long talks with this deeply spiritual man of God who was still active in the Philippines with his Oblate fathers and our Marist Brothers. No one can ever speak of the Philippine mission without calling to mind the saintly Father Bolduc. He had been a classmate of our Brother Provincial, Bro. Louis Omer, better known to everyone as “Bimbo.” It was a great blessing indeed.
That Notre Dame Spirit

All of the schools even had the same colors. There was a strong spiritual tie of sincere Christian spirit that assured success. The Brothers lived frugally and were thoroughly dedicated. The schools competed against one another, and no matter what happened to one, it affected all the others because of the close Marist spirit that prevailed.

Much of the Marist College spirit had also prevailed. Bro. Renato Crux, who had trained at Marist, left a deep impression on all of the Marist Filipinos, student alumni, and parents. It was always a pleasure to visit there and to live that spirit. I shall ever be grateful for the honorary degree granted to me by our college at Marbel. One of the first Filipino Provincials had trained at Marist as had a number of others and were as at home there as they had been at home with us here. It was not so much that some were Filipino and others American; all were Champagnat Marists. And in the little cemetery in Cotabato they all lay side by side awaiting the last call of the Lord to “come, great and simple friends, and enter into the joy of your Lord.” That was the last call for Renato recently, as it will be for the present Brother Ted as Provincial. How can one ever forget the long car rides to go to visit one house after the other, to arrive tired, maybe, but very much at home? Also to find family who were concerned for one's health, and who desired to help other members of the same family the globe over. The Champagnat spirit has never worn off. It is still alive, the same concern for the poor that will, in time, move mountains. These Jubilee heroes, Little Brothers of Mary; Champagnat’s heroes, making his convictions and his predictions a reality!
Marist India–The Birth of a Marist Mission

One cannot even refer to the foundation of the Marist India mission without mentioning our beloved Bro. Francis Anthony, who was the oldest member of the Sri Lanka mission. I remember him drumming in my ears each time I visited Sri Lanka that we needed to set up a mission in India, and it surely must have been his prayers and sacrifices that brought it all about to reality. India with its vast population had long before been an attraction for various missionaries, and we did not have any intention of replacing any other order.

It happened that some of our Marist Brothers from Sri Lanka and some of the graduates from our Marist Stella College were already registered at the Jesuit St. Joseph College. On one of my visits to Sri Lanka, Brother Anthony told me of one of our Marist Brothers and suggested that since I was going to visit our men there already, it would be a good occasion to look into the matter of accepting a mission there. One of our students was already there, and his parents wanted me to visit him in their name, so I promised to pay him a visit.

I was greatly impressed by the work being done at St. Joseph’s College and knew that we could not easily send in just anyone at all; it would have to be someone well-referenced and capable of carrying the burden of studies. Our Brother who was studying there raved about the place and teachers and assured me that he was very happy. It was what happened during my visit that precipitated a much longer visit than I had originally planned. Our Marist Brother told me that he was asked by one of the seminarians at the college to please ask if his visitor from Rome could also grant him an interview. I hesitated at first for I surely had no intention of getting involved with the Jesuits by interfering in their work and speaking with one of their seminarians. But I figured that it might not involve anything but just listening and encouraging. I agreed to see him.

The young seminarian was studying to become a priest, and it just so happened that it was his uncle who was the Superior of the Seminary and the local Bishop. He had brought the lad to the seminary to start his studies for the priesthood. He told me that he had a problem and would like to consult me in all confidence. I assured him that I did not want to get involved in a problem with the Bishop. He assured me that all he was seeking was advice. He wanted to consult me as I was a religious and from Rome.

We set a time for the interview, and I soon found out that it was something serious. To make a long story short, he told me that the priest in confession had told him that he should leave the seminary and go home. He had told this to his uncle, the Bishop, who became angry and told him to forget what the priest had said and carry on. The young man told me that he just wanted another opinion as this was a matter of conscience, and he wanted to tell me his story and then hear my advice as to what he should do. He was looking for a third point of view. I suggested that he should be asking this of a priest, but since he had told me his problem, I suggested he consult another priest at the college and to seek his advice. If he was advised to stay, then he would have two such decisions from priests who better knew the life of a Jesuit. If he were told to leave, then he would have the force of a second decision. Although he kept pushing me for a decision and put me in a bit of a dilemma, I firmly advised him to seek the advice of another priest of his order whom he respected, and then make the decision on his own.

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last updated on June 10, 2004