Mass celebrated by Archbishop Denis Hart at St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne for the centenary of the arrival of the Columbans in Australia

Sunday 24 June 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we celebrate the Feast of John the Baptist who proclaimed Jesus Christ as the Light of the World, and gave himself that he might become less and less so that Christ would become more. We are united with Father Kevin O'Neill, the Superior General and Father Brian Vale, the Director for Australia and New Zealand, and with a number of Columbans who have joined us for this Mass of Thanksgiving today for their Centenary.

Saint Luke tells us in the Gospel today that John lived in the desert in penance and reflection until the time it would be his role to proclaim the Lord as a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of God's people.

Today we celebrate the Centenary of the Foundation of the Saint Columban's Mission Society. It has a unique link to Australia and to Melbourne, and this is why I am deeply honoured to join the Columbans in this celebration.

Saint Columban’s Mission Society (Maynooth Mission to China) was officially founded (canonically erected) on 29 June 1918. The two founders were Father Edward Galvin (later Bishop of Hanyang, China) and Father John Blowick, Professor at Maynooth, Ireland.

On 28 November 1918, Father Blowick wrote to the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Daniel Mannix, who had been president of Maynooth during John Blowick’s students days. Archbishop Mannix replied on Easter Sunday, 1919. He enclosed in his letter 100 pounds and suggested Father Blowick send a formal general appeal to the annual meeting of the Archbishops of Australia and New Zealand to take place in Melbourne in October of that year. Father Blowick followed this suggestion and wrote asking permission to preach and collect money in Australia and New Zealand. On 19 October the bishops sent their blessing and an invitation to come. Dr Ned Maguire and Father James Galvin arrived in Australia on 6 January 1920 and met Archbishop Mannix, who told them that the bishops of Australia and New Zealand had unanimously agreed to welcome them into their dioceses for fundraising.

So they began appealing for and accepting donations from priests and Catholic people of these two countries. After Easter 1920, Fathers Romuald Hayes and Luke Mullany, both curates in the parish of Northcote, offered themselves to the Chinese mission. They were the first of 35 men from the Archdiocese of Melbourne to become Columbans.

Another 13 have come from the other Victorian dioceses and many others from other parts of Australia.

A number of priests of the Melbourne Archdiocese and the other dioceses of Australia have also worked as Associates with the Columbans. Father Joe Ruys is currently with the Columbans in Peru.

Today there are Columban priests from Ireland, England, USA, Korea, the Philippines, Fiji, Tonga, Myanmar, China, Chile, Peru, Australia and New Zealand who are working in 13 countries around the world.

During the past 98 to 100 years we have received unbelievable spiritual and financial support from the Catholic people of Australia who have believed that being Christian means being missionary, and they have been partners with us in all our work.

So with John becoming less and less for the proclamation of the Gospel, as Archbishop of Melbourne and successor of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, I pay tribute to the wonderful work of the Columbans in the Missions and to their example of mission vision and carrying the good news of Jesus Christ, shown so eloquently from their centre in Essendon to the people of Melbourne I express my own personal gratitude to the Columbans for their readiness to supply Masses in the Archdiocese and for the mission vision which inspires so many Catholics here in Melbourne.

May the vision of the joy of the Gospel being presented to others in such a compelling way, be something which the Columbans share with us now and always.

+ Denis J Hart

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