By Jillian Lohndorf and Michelle McCoy
Using magic tricks to help raise funds, witnessing the Japanese invasion of Ihwang, climbing the Great Wall: the China and Taiwan Missions collections in DePaul’s DeAndreis Rosati Memorial Archives are full of stories and documents that are as whimsical and lively as they are somber and introspective. The Vincentian voices that emerge from this collection paint a vivid description of China and Taiwan.
The foreign missionary experience for the Western Province Vincentians began in 1922 when the first group of priests arrived in the Chinese vicariate of Yukiang, located north and east of the city of Kanchow in the southern province of Kiangsi. Along with the Daughters of Charity, the priests strove to minister, build, teach and care for the sick, injured and orphaned. Set against the backdrop of the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II and the rise of Mao and communism in China, life for those in the Vincentian communities could also be unstable and stark. Rev. Stephen C. Dunker, C.M. writes, “Our present danger is from roving bands of soldiers, neither red nor white who are terrorizing the country side [sic]. We fear the mission may be raided and so have made extensive preparations to meet the situation”.1
The confreres not only struggled to adjust to wartime conditions, they were also confronted by a drastically different way of life in China that ranged from the language to the customs to the food to the climate. In many instances, the Vincentian communities were also faced with an anti-Western and anti-Christian society. As the 1940s progressed, conditions continued to worsen economically and the new communist officials grew ever more suspicious that Western perceptions were threats to their emerging regime. As a result, some of the priests compose their letters home in code so as to avoid detection that these might be calls for help.
Nevertheless, the Vincentians established close friendships and found great satisfaction in their assistance to the poor and to victims of war as well as in their foundation of local orphanages and schools which even extended education to women and girls which had not been routine until this time. The missions continued in China until all foreign religious personnel were expelled in 1951. The Vincentians then moved their efforts to Taiwan in order to help with the estimated 2,000,000 refugees from China.
Throughout it all, the Vincentians kept in close contact with their American brothers and superiors. Letters, diaries, artifacts, photographs and later home movies document the Vincentian experience. The China and Taiwan Missions collection is supplemented by letters in the Personnel Files documenting the experiences of individual Vincentian priests who left their home at St. Mary’s of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri to serve in the foreign missions and the China Missions Photographs. Other related collections include the Vincentian Foreign Mission Society and the records of the Edward T. Sheehan Museum and The DeAndrein found in the records of St. Mary of the Barrens.
For more information about these collections, contact Special Collections & Archives at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or visit: http://library.depaul.edu/Find/Collections/index.aspx
1 Dunker, C. Stephen, Personnel Files, Box 1, DeAndreis Rosati Memorial Archives, DePaul University Library, Chicago, IL.