Thursday, April 30, 2015

April 30 - James Walsh, Missionary, Bishop, Prisoner

She was furious with the boy but she had to admit that she should have seen it coming. James Walsh and his brother were intelligent and clever and she should have known that this wasn't a battle she wanted to fight. Yet, she had decided to call their bluff when they claimed to be able to recite their lesson while standing on their heads. Now, she had no doubt that they understood the lesson perfectly well and would be able to utilize what they had learned and apply it to their studies. But, James and his brother seemed so confident that she found it hard to resist to put them to a challenge she felt them unequal to. She doubted they could even stand on their heads, let alone recite the entirety of their lesson in front of the class. Surely they would laugh or forget some important part and when they did she would win this battle of wills and claim her victor's prize of their silence and obedience for a little while longer. But, then James and his brother had turned themselves upside down--as if they anticipated she would take them up on it--and began with the opening words of the lesson. She followed along as they recited it word for word and her confidence turned first to surprise and then to anger with each correct word. They returned to their seats after doing exactly as they claimed they could and were excused from doing the work that they had not wanted to do on account of their clear understanding of the lesson. At the insistence of the teacher, their father soon transferred them to a Roman Catholic parochial school.

Hearing the stories and feats of missionaries always seemed to make James' heart sing. He imagined himself living into these stories and he found that they resonated deeply within his mind and soul as he learned to value what missionaries value: a felt and met need. As he grew older he eventually took a job as a timekeeper in a steel mill. This job helped him meet his needs and allowed him some comfort but it was not what he felt called to do. Eventually, he followed his dream and entered the seminary and Maryknoll brotherhood so that he might become first a priest and then a missionary. He wrote that the calling of a missionary was an odd one because they were called "to go to a place where [they are] not wanted, but needed, and to remain until [they are] not needed but wanted." James was sent with three other missionary priests to China. He became the Superior of the order in China and eventually was appointed bishop of Kongmoon where they were. He was happy in China and found great joy and peace in serving the priests there as a supervisor and pastoring bishop. But in 1936 he was called back to Maryknoll, New York, to become the second Superior General of the Maryknoll order.

While he led the Maryknoll order he expanded their missionary efforts to include Central America and Africa. It was clear to any that knew him that James' passion was with those who had an unrecognized need to hear the Gospel message he and his brothers and sisters in the faith carried with them. After his term as Superior General he answered a call to go back to China. When he returned, though, in 1949 China was very much a different country than when he had left and the communists had taken power. It was harder to speak openly and they were indirectly opposed by the government at every turn. That is to say, until 1951 when James' group was outlawed and the missionaries were told to go home. James refused to go--even when asked to do so by his superior--and was arrested. He wrote to the Vatican: "To put up with a little inconvenience at my age is nothing. Besides, I am a little sick and tired of being pushed around on account of my religion." He was sentenced to serve twenty years in jail and during this time he was forbidden visits from anyone he knew except for one visit from his brother who was the Attorney General of the State of Maryland. After twelve years of confinement, he was released and he walked alone across the bridge into Hong Kong where he was greeted warmly. He would live another eleven years in which he would spread his love of mission work and continue to advocate for Chinese Christians even while far away from them.

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