Our Society was formally founded in 1918 and takes its name from St Columban, Ireland's sixth century missionary to Europe. The co-founders, the young Fathers Edward Galvin and John Blowick, found others who embraced their vision and the first Columbans went to China in 1920. Within a couple of years we had spread to UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, following Irish emigrants to the new world to seek support for the new missionary movement.
A mission magazine, The Far East, was launched in Ireland and UK. It continues to be the primary means of communication with our supporters in those countries. Similar magazines were launched in the USA and Australia.
Before long it became evident that in order to minister to families in China women were needed. Francis Moloney, a young widow who wanted to serve the needy, in collaboration with John Blowick, founded another branch of this missionary enterprise - the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban. In 1922, Francis, together with twelve companions began their training to become missionary sisters. A few years later they set out for China.
At first the vision did not extend beyond China. But Christ's command was - "Go, make disciples of all the nations" - and gradually the vision widened to the Philippines , Korea , Burma , and Japan .When mainland China was closed to missionaries in the 1950's, Columban missionaries responded to the call of Latin America  and went to the poor in the new urban settlements in Peru and Chile.
The Society also responded to the missionary needs of the Church in Fiji. Still more recently we went to Pakistan, Taiwan, Brazil, Jamaica and Belize. Due to diminishing resources, we have since withdrawn from Belize, Jamaica and Brazil.
The initial vision has evolved in a number of ways. We originally drew our members from the English-speaking world, but now invite young men from the Churches to whom we have been sent to join us. Also, the Columban Lay Mission Program has grown steadily and 67 missionaries from a variety of countries are presently working with us in 10 countries.
Since 1960 diocesan priests have joined us on mission for a limited period as Associate members. They come from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Britain, Korea and the Philippines. There are presently 18 Associates ministering in four countries.
Due in large part to the impetus of Vatican II, the Church has become more aware of her mission in and to our world. In this regard, we Columbans take a special interest in social justice, as many of those to whom we have been sent live in poverty or even misery.
More recently we have also grown in awareness of our role as stewards of the planet on which we live. We too are of the earth and, as such, we are called to enter into a harmonious and responsible relationship with the earth and all that finds sustenance for life from the earth.
As missionaries we learn to distinguish between the essentials of our Christian faith and cultural factors that have become intertwined with the faith. From this we learn that each ethnic group gradually stamps the faith with its seal, i.e. it packages the faith in its particular way. A major challenge on entering into a dialogue of faith with another people is to understand, appreciate and respect their way of seeing and doing things.
We are challenged dialogue with other religions in a variety of circumstances. Some form of animism may be the main religion of the people to whom we are sent. Dialogue with Islam is an ever more challenging task in many parts of the world. Buddhism too is very much a religious force in a number of Asian countries where we work. Retaining our own faith identity while respecting and learning from that of the other can be most rewarding.
For us, as for our founders, the missionary vision has continued to grow. There are presently 469 Columban priests of ten nationalities in the Society ministering in 14 countries.