Japan

My visit to Asia had fascinated me due to our Brothers’ ability to leave their country and to continue their apostolate in an entirely different area with as much vigor as they had had originally; they could be missionaries no matter where. Two of the Brothers in particular were kicked out of China and tried to settle in Hong Kong. But Hong Kong had been overwhelmed by missionaries. They only stayed a short while until they were able to find a welcome for them to come to serve in Japan. These two European Germans were still young and full of energy, and so they applied to come to Japan on July 21, 1951. This was a relief for the crowding of Brothers in Hong Kong and a welcome to Japan. The first two Brothers came to Kobe to do some teaching in an international school, mostly to children of diplomats. They taught classes in English while also learning the new language.

The two Brothers found a beautiful site up in the hill country, which was ideal for quiet and good health but rather removed from the city. On the other hand there was a congregation of German Brothers in the heart of the city of Kobe who were running a kind of hospital for patients suffering from lung problems; these patients were really in need of fresh air and sunshine. The two groups of German Brothers visited each other several times when it finally dawned on them that they would both be better served if they were to exchange properties. So this is what was decided, and a simple exchange of documents and keys was effected. The Brothers’ school was in the heart of the city whereas the German Brothers now had a fascinating spot and a real recuperating clinic in the country. Thus both religious congregations benefited from their friendliness and common sense. All involved with the exchange were very satisfied.

About this same time the Province of Poughkeepsie also decided to start a school in Kobe, Japan, and were happy to benefit by the great location in the heart of the city that the two German Brothers had found. The German Brothers decided to create a school for the children of diplomats, working in harmony with the Province of Poughkeepsie, which they decided to join. Thus it was not long before the Marists had a new grammar and high school. It was later that Poughkeepsie would start a new boarding grammar and high school in Kumamoto, which would also take care of the children from the various islands in the area. This was a big help for the parents to have a proper boarding school for the younger students. It was a new school dedicated to Blessed Marcellin Champagnat, the Founder of the Marist Brothers. And his statue had a center spot at the entrance and was saluted daily by each student who went to this school.

It would take a few years, but eventually we established a full grammar school and a complete high school for boarding students, staffed with a fine group of lay teachers. There were few Marist Brothers in Japan, so only three could be spared for the school at a time. The others staffed our school in Kobe.

We had had four Japanese Marist Brothers over the years. It was best for non-native Brothers to eventually pull out, leaving the school in the hands of our Japanese Brothers. The school had a first-class standing and an excellent reputation all over Japan. It became an elite school, and all of this is a credit to the American Brother Patrick Tyrrell, the founder of this great school, whose success had been recognized by the education department of Japan. We also were blessed with the help of an exceptional Catholic Japanese family, and this couple was eventually affiliated with the Marist Brothers.

Our schools in Kobe and Kumamoto were both doing very well, but it became evident to us that since there were not enough native Japanese to join the Marist Brothers we would eventually have to think of turning it over to someone else. There were some vocations for the nuns in Japan, but not so for the men, so there was no one to turn our school over to. Recently there was the terrible earthquake that destroyed so much of the Kobe area that we did not know how we would ever be able to replace the needed facilities or to carry on our work. The Brothers stuck to their guns and worked hard to repair what they could and with the help of the government and the alumni were able to replace enough of the school to be able to continue. Our reputation had helped us get the aid needed to rebuild.

I wish to single out here an event that happened that proved to us without a shadow of doubt just how much the Japanese appreciated the dedication of the Marist Brothers in coming to take care of the training of their children and demonstrates how well we were accepted. We had had four Japanese young men join the Marist Brothers. One of them we discovered after some time did not have our spirit at all, and when he got into some serious trouble we transferred him quietly to an area where he decided that it would be best for him to leave the Brothers. Two of the other Japanese Brothers are carrying on their apostolic work very well and giving full satisfaction. They had come to America to complete their training and returned really dedicated and loyal.

One of our candidates had died as a Marist Brother. He came from a strongly Catholic family, which had really accepted and understood his vocation and dedication, was very proud of him, and was pleased with his choice of vocation in the service of the Lord. The parents lived in the Tokyo area when the Brother died. As was the custom, at the death of the Brother in Kobe his body was cremated, and it was the father who came for the funeral service to start the cremation ceremony. The family then left to return to Tokyo, and we divided the ashes into three urns. One would be for the Marist Brothers, one for the school where the Brother had died, and finally the third was to be carried to the parents in Tokyo.

On the day of the funeral service the Marist Brothers had brought the urn with the ashes and placed it at the head-center of the table. The family gathered around the head of the table and all the visitors or friends gathered around the bottom of the table as was their custom. Everyone was respectfully waiting for the ceremony to start. The father of the Brother sat at the head of the table with his immediate family. When the second eldest son was about to get up, the father signaled to him, and the son stooped to listen. The son then stood up, faced his friends at the end of the table, and said that his father had reminded him that the Japanese custom was for only the family to be at the head of the table. He went on to say that his father had also reminded him that his brother had two families, and that his brother loved both equally. He loved both his natural family and his religious family. The father then instructed him to ask the two Marist Brothers present to come up to the head of the table and to sit with the natural family, where they really belonged as an extension of the Brother’s true family. This made us realize that they had really understood and appreciated their son's religious vocation.