Divine Bonds

Columban Fathers and Columban Sisters in Hanyang China 1932. - Photos: St Columbans Mission SocietyColumban Fathers and Columban Sisters in Hanyang China 1932. - Photos: St Columbans Mission Society

God’s work

People’s behaviour is usually their response to the historical situations in which they find themselves.

In 1918, Lady Frances Moloney had in mind “some kind of sisterhood”. From 1918 to 1920, she was a prime mover in bringing this to reality. Fr John Blowick, co-founder of the Missionary Society of St Columban, referred to her as “the first live spark” of what became the Missionary Sisters of St Columban. He saw her as “the woman sent by God”. Together they worked and prayed, and planned and refined the Constitutions of the newly founded Missionary Congregation of Columban Sisters.

The context for Lady Frances Moloney’s dreams of “some kind of sisterhood” was born against the backdrop of war. In 1916, Europe was on the march. The 1914 - 1918 war was at its peak. War propaganda was thick in the air, with men urged on to do “great things”. Patriotism encouraged them to be willing to sacrifice everything for the love of their country. The challenge was great, and many young men and not-so-young men marched onto the battlefields to fight for the “great cause”. Some went proudly and gladly with heads held high and sureness in their steps. But some wondered and reflected on the death and destruction, crippled bodies, and damaged minds. In the end, what would victory mean?

In 1916, China was coming to an awareness of herself. She was keenly aware of her great empire and the vastness of her territories. She was also aware of her potential as a world power. Ireland in 1916 was awakening to the cause of freedom. Revolution was in the air, and the youth of the nation were not asleep. The leaders of the movement were men and women of high ideals - poets, writers, scholars, mystics, and idealists. Their goal was not merely that Ireland should fight for freedom from foreign domination but that she become free to shape her own destiny and to make available to her sons and daughters the heritage of faith and culture that was rightly theirs. They aspired to take their place in the world in a manner worthy of God and country. They were in no doubt as to the greatness of their cause and the dedication it required. They weren't blind to the sacrifices that might be asked of them. Ireland was witnessing a rebirth and like every birth it came by way of suffering. Padraig Pearse summed up his insight and understanding when he wrote: "I turned my face to the road before me. To the deed I see and the death that will be mine."

Columban Sister and nurse help mum with sick baby. - Photo: St Columbans Mission SocietyColumban Sister and nurse help mum with sick baby. - Photo: St Columbans Mission Society

In 1916, the Irish Church was experiencing an extraordinary upsurge in missionary zeal, which touched almost every household for many years. New centres of missionary endeavour emerged. Leaders rose who were committed to the cause, challenge, and call of mission. They put their hands to the plough and never looked back. Fr John Blowick was one such who took up the call and challenge of mission. He gave up his professorial chair in Ireland's National Seminary, Maynooth and, in 1920, made his first journey to the Far East when he led the pioneer group of Columban Fathers on mission to China. In 1918 he wrote, “The work is God’s work, not yours or mine. God is behind the whole thing, and He will see it through.”

On 7 February 1922, six young ladies arrived to join the Congregation. On the day after, four more came and on 16 February 1922, two young ladies came from Australia. Now life in the new Congregation could go ahead.

Right from the beginning, the emphasis was on preparation for China. It seemed a distant dream. However, in March 1926 shipping accommodations for a group of Sisters were booked for the autumn. They sailed thirteen thousand miles to Shanghai and couldn’t presume they would ever see Ireland again. The Missionary Sisters of St Columban had reached their goal.

Today, Columban Sisters are back again in China. They are also in Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan, Myanmar, the US, Britain and Ireland. Sisters from Asia have been missioned abroad and are carrying on the work of those first Sisters who left the security of their daily lives to venture into places unknown so that all people could come to know the Living God. They have the same energy and dedication as the Sisters had one hundred years ago.

What Fr Blowick wrote is still relevant: “The work is God’s work. He is behind the whole thing, and He will see it through.”

The Congregational Leadership Team of the Missionary Sisters of St Columban is based in Ireland.

Listen to "Divine Bonds"

Related links

The Far East - New Subscription

Code : 4



Annual subscription to The Far East magazine, published by St Columbans Mission Society 8 times per year. It features mission articles and photographs by Columban Missionaries from the countries where they work.


See all products