by Fr TOM ROUSE, SSC
On Friday, July 27, at 6.30pm we celebrated the Columban centenary Mass at Sts Peter and Paul’s church, Lower Hutt. Many people turned up for the occasion, including more than 40 priests. Some had come from various places around New Zealand.
Of the ten New Zealand Columbans who were present, there were a number from overseas — South Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan and the regional director, Fr Brian Vale, had come from Melbourne.
We are very grateful to Cardinal John Dew who was the main celebrant. Alongside him were Bishops Charles Drennan and Owen Dolan.
Fr Patrick Bridgman, the parish priest, had come to our aid when we needed to change the venue of our Mass. He also prepared the church and welcomed the people and clergy on our behalf and assisted Cardinal Dew during the celebration of the Mass.
Alongside Fr Bridgman in serving the Mass was a student of Francis Douglas Memorial College (FDMC). He was one of a group of students who were actively involved in the Mass. They said the prayers of the faithful and brought up the offerings.
Their presence, along with staff members from the college, was especially poignant given that 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. He was tortured and killed in the Philippines by Japanese
soldiers in 1943.
Members of Fr Douglas’ family were present at the Mass and assisted with the offertory. Their presence gave a sense of a deep personal connection to the Columban story.
Cardinal Dew highlighted the significance of the occasion during his homily when we recalled the beginnings of the society. “It was a mad thing to do.” Cardinal Dew’s opening words were the comment of a founder of the Columbans, Bishop Ned Galvin, when reflecting upon the beginnings of the society. Here 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 Dew 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 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.
As he said to those present, “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. A special word of thanks to musicians who prepared the hymns for the Mass. 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.