“Give and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”
Surely these words from the Gospel of St Luke can aptly describe the experience of the Missionary Sisters of St Columban as we look back with deep gratitude on 60 years of missionary service to the people of Korea.
It was a bitterly cold day in January 1955 when a small army plane touched down in Kimpo airport in Seoul and four Columban Sisters alighted. After a journey that had taken a few months, Sisters Enda Staunton, Rosarii McTigue, Dorothy Pirkl and Martha Keenan felt a great sense of relief, joy and a little fear as they stepped on to the tarmac in the breathtakingly freezing cold of – 20 degrees. Two weeks later, a twelve hour journey by train brought them to Mokpo, where their missionary life was to begin. This was a time when TB was rampant in the country and poverty and malnutrition abounded. Faced with such dire needs, the Sisters were anxious to respond but they soon discovered that there was very little food, no medicines or equipment and no trained nurses available. Undaunted, the Sisters set out to respond and on the feast day of Blessed Kim, Daegon Andrew, they set up a temporary clinic, later replaced by the hospital which came to be known as St Columban’s Hospital.
Thus the foundation stone was laid and the following years saw a wide array of services being developed by the Sisters. Soon after arriving, the Sisters had been told by Monsignor Henry, one of the pioneer Columban Fathers sent to Korea in 1933, that “the Korean people are the kindest and most generous people you could ever meet. Many of the Catholics risked their lives to help us during the war.” This kindness and generousity was soon experienced by the Sisters, as catechists taught them how to speak the Korean language, others accompanied them as they tended to the overwhelming needs of the most vulnerable in society and young women came forward to be trained as nurses.
Over the years, Korea has developed in many areas and is now widely acclaimed as an economic miracle. At the same time, the Catholic Church has increased in numbers and strength until by the 1970’s it was known as the moral conscience of the nation in the struggle for democracy. Today, it continues to be a dynamic Church, sending priests, religious and lay missionaries to over seventy countries throughout the world. The Missionary Sisters of St Columban have also been graced with the gift of many young women who have committed themselves to the Columban way of life and who now reach out to the needy in China, Myanmar, Peru and the Philippines.
A sixtieth anniversary is often known as a Diamond Jubilee. The diamond, known for its unbreakable quality and ability to withstand crushing pressure is a much coveted gem, of great value and beauty with light reflected in it from many angles. For the Missionary Sisters of St Columban, the gem which we covet is, of course, the “pearl of great price” – nothing less than the love that God wishes to share with each one of us. It is the light of this love which we strive to reflect through our lives of prayer and service and which ensures that no pressure will ever crush us.
As we face the future, my heart is full of gratitude for each of our Sisters whose generousity and faithfulness have contributed to our Columban missionary heritage in Korea and in the Congregation and I thank God for the Korean people who have influenced our lives so deeply and who continue to accompany us as our missionary journey draws us into new ways and new paths. My prayer is that we can respond to the call and invitation of Pope Francis, “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of Love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others”,
Sister Ann Gray
Columban Sisters in the early years… The mission continues…