WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

A memorable occasion

WelCom September 2018:

Fr Tom Rouse

Missionary Society of St Columban celebrates Centennial Mass

New Zealand Columbans (l-r): Frs Paul Finlayson, Pat McMullan, Sean O’Connor, David Arms, Don Hornsey, Michael Gormly, Pat O’Shea, Brian Vale, Tom Rouse and Dan O’Connor. Photo: Supplied

On Friday July 27, at 6.30pm, we celebrated the Columban centenary Mass at Ss Peter and Paul Church, Lower Hutt. Many people turned up for the occasion including over 40 priests who had come from various places around New Zealand. Among the ten New Zealand Columbans present, several had come from overseas – South Korea, Philippines, Pakistan, Japan and Peru. The regional director, Fr Brian Vale, from Melbourne.

Cardinal John Dew was the main celebrant and alongside him were Bishops Charles Drennan and Owen Dolan. We are very grateful to them and to Fr Patrick Bridgman, Te Awakairangi parish priest, who came to our aid when we needed to change the venue of our Mass. Fr Patrick also prepared the church and welcomed the people and clergy on our behalf and assisted Cardinal John during the celebration of the Mass.

Alongside Fr Patrick serving Mass was Wyatt Jones, one of a group of students from Francis Douglas Memorial College (FDMC) who were actively involved in the Mass. Students Samuel Hudson, Xavier Kere-Rako, Corey Skvor, Dominic Coleman and Troy Ryan said the prayers of the faithful and brought up the offerings.

Their presence, along with College staff members, was especially poignant given we had chosen a to celebrate this centenary Mass of the Missionary Society of St Columban on the 75th anniversary of the death of Fr Francis Douglas, the first New Zealand Columban to die in missionary work. He was tortured and killed in the Philippines by Japanese soldiers in 1943.

Members of Fr Vernon Francis Douglas’ family assisted with the offertory at the Mass. Their presence gave a sense of a deep personal connection to the Columban story.

During his homily Cardinal John highlighted the occasion’s significance when he recalled the beginnings of the Society. Cardinal John quoted words from a comment of one of the founders of the Columbans, Bishop Ned Galvin, when Bishop Ned was reflecting upon the beginnings of the Society: ‘It was a mad thing to do.’ He was trying to start a Society dedicated to sending priests to China at a time when the world was witnessing the devastation of the First World War and Ireland was undergoing a war for independence.

Cardinal John also drew attention to the connections between our celebration of 100 years since the founding the Columbans and the readings of the day, which spoke of shepherds and the parable of the sowing of the seed. ‘It may have been “a mad thing to do” but it was also a bold and wonderful witness to the call of mission, to the call to proclaim the gospel to all peoples.’

After communion, Fr Brian Vale, also reflected upon the history of the Society and the commitment of Columbans to immersing themselves in the cultures and lives of the people among whom they chose to live and work. As a former student of FDMC, he expressed pride in the support shown by staff and students of his old college. He also gave special thanks to the families, friends and benefactors. He said, ‘We couldn’t do what we have done over the past 100 years without the support of our benefactors, without your support.’

Indeed, we are grateful to all those who joined us for this very special occasion and offer special word of thanks to the musicians who prepared the Mass hymns. Their backing helped to create atmosphere as people enthusiastically joined in with the singing.

As we shared refreshments afterwards, there was a real sense of family as so many had close connections with Columbans or had supported us down through two or three generations.