Disciple of the Founders
...according to the pattern that was shown three in the mount.
FATHER BYRNE was devoted to both of Maryknoll's founders, but he had a special regard for Father Price, toward whom his attitude was that of a loving and sometimes mischievous son. Father Price would occasionally smoke a cigarette on feasts of our Blessed Mother. Father Byrne once borrowed a small camera to catch Father Price in the act, moving cautiously, because if Father Price knew his picture had been taken, he would have demanded the film. On another occasion he snapped a picture of Father Price having his hair cut, which turned out to be an excellent likeness. Father Price heard of it and asked for the film. He got it, but only after six copies had been made and discreetly distributed among his best friends. Only when leaving for China, and under obedience to the Superior General, did Father Price allow his picture to be taken; Father Walsh had convinced him of its necessity for making Maryknoll's work better known.
Father price had great devotion to little Bernadette Soubirous ( Saint Marie Bernarde ) long before she was canonized, and had pictures of her in his room. Once, when he was absent, Father Byrne and an accomplice turned all the pictures toward the wall. When “ Father Bernadette ”, as the North Carolinian liked to be called, returned, he was told about rumours of loud noises heard in his room during his absence. Father Price saw nothing funny in the practical joke, and was hurt that his Bernadette had been so treated. The unlooked-
for dénouement upset Father Byrne, and in reparation he had a beautiful shrine built Father Price's room. “ Father Bernadette ” prayed before that shrine every day until he left for China in 1918.
A letter written many years later shows Father Byrne's great love and admiration for Father Price. It was addressed to Monsignor Thomas Duggan, editor of the Catholic Transcript ( Hartford, Connecticut ), who had been a classmate and life-long admirer of Bishop James Anthony Walsh. The letter attempted to correct the mistaken ideas of the people who underestimated Father Price's share in the beginning of Maryknoll.
In the letter of May 21, 1936, Father Byrne wrote that it was an embarrassment to Father Walsh, in those first and most difficult years, to be “ under obedience ” to Father price and not to be able to mention him or print his picture in The Field Afar. Father Byrne was at Maryknoll early in its existence, and he recalled that Father price never had a Sunday that he was not out on “ propaganda ”, as they called it. He was also out working during the week whenever he was free from his work of teaching and spiritual direction. He devoted those years to a tireless campaign for Maryknoll in the East and Mid-West, welcomed everywhere by the countless priest friends who loved him for the brave fight he had made ( and later lost ) in the South.
During those early years, Father Byrne went on to say, Father Walsh canvassed friends; Father Price canvassed friends and churches. Father Walsh worked almost exclusively in New England; Father Price worked “ everywhere ”. When Father Walsh left for China in 1917 to seek a mission field, The Field Afar had 25,000 subscribes; when he returned a few months later, Father Price had raised it to 50,000. “ Getting subscriptions to The Field Afar ”, Father Byrne wrote, “ was the more insignificant part of Father Price's work. More important was the building up of mission consciousness in Catholic minds, and particularly the finding
of mission vocations. This work comprised the rest of Father Price's week after bid for subscriptions at Sunday Mass.”
Father Byrne's letter spoke of how proud they were of Father McShane, Maryknoll's first ordained priest. It was Father Price who had brought him to Maryknoll. Father Price also inspired Father Meyer, Superior of the Wuchow Mission, Father Morris, Superior of the Korea Mission, and any number of others, including, of course, Father Patrick Byrne. Father Price's search for vocations was tireless and fruitful.
Maryknoll was proud of its mission record. Father Price had set the pace in one short year. It took a great deal of apostolic zeal for a man of fifty-two to volunteer for a backwoods China mission; for a man who suffered a great deal from rheumatism to be sent to a country where they have a long rainy season; for a man of ordinary mental calibre to tackle the difficult Chinese language. When he reached China, experienced French missioners said, “ It is a mistake to have him come. ” After his death, one year later, the same missioners declared, “ His coming was an inspiration. ”
Father Price's companions during that year were Bishops Walsh and Ford, and Father Meyer, all mission superiors in Maryknoll's first mission fields. These prelates were one in declaring that year under Father Price was ー and he dearly loved a pun ー “ absolutely priceless. ” He had set the pace; he had fired their spirits; he had shunned any tendency to complain; he had showed an example of dogged perseverance that is still mission talk, and had fired them with a holy determination to carry on.
Father Price may have died for his devotion to the Blessed Mother. While in the mission field he was stricken with severe abdominal pains symptomatic of appendicitis. There was a freight steamer in the harbour that would have carried him to Hong Kong and to a modern hospital in one day, but since the sea was bad and he would have been unable to say Mass the next morning, a special feast of Our Lady, he waited
over and took a Chinese junk. During the three-day journey he lay on the deck with a ruptured appendix; when he reached the hospital, in spite of his illness he said Mass. Although an operation was performed immediately, Father Price died on September 12, 1919.
Father Byrne ended his long letter to the Catholic Transcript by saying: “ Is any comment needed on this? It would seem rather superfluous to me. Maryknoll was not founded despite Father Price. He was not excess baggage, but another locomotive. He was a founder of Maryknoll as truly as Father Walsh was founder. Bishop Walsh is far superior in stature, but that stature is made no loftier by belittling Father Price, and due credit can be given Father Price without in the least lessening the acclaim so properly merited by our late Superior General.
“ In the early days, when speaking informally of the two of them, Father Walsh would frequently say: ‘ Father Price is Mary, and I am Martha. I am busy about many things, and he sets the spark. ’...
“ Thanks, then, for that comment I'm grieved about, if it wakes us up to the need of getting out a competently written life of Father Price. It is a pity that we have neglected it for so long. However, we are having our next Chapter very soon in Hong Kong, and at that time I shall present your editorial as the occasion of making a particular point of this imperative need. We have some good writers ー Bishop Walsh, Bishop Ford, and others ー and i hope when the volume comes out it will be dedicated to you. Now, what do you say to that? ”
It was principally Father Byrne who, in the Chapter of 1936, in Hong Kong, pushed the decision to have Father Price's body removed to Maryknoll, where it now lies beside Father Walsh's remains. The remains of both have now been moved from the cemetery to the crypt of new chapel, which will soon be finished. It was Father Byrne, too, who wrote the first biography of Father Price, a small volume that hid the identity of the author.
Father Byrne was very much like Father Price in deriving no pleasure from the exercise of authority. Two letters to Father Walsh, the Superior General, illustrate this attitude:
Dear Father Superior:
Owing to the limited number of members of our Society two years ago, and the peculiar circumstances attending the formation of the First Council at that time, I was elected to the office of Assistant though according to the
Constitution not eligible for that position. The office of
Assistant is a most important one, for in your absence he is
the Acting Superior, with all of your responsibilities, the
external discipline of the Seminary and Lay brotherhood,
the charge of the office, the direction of the faculties, etc.
During the past two years and particularly while you were
in the orient, I have often felt that a more experienced man
should be at the helm or ready to take it at any time;
someone of more mature judgment, stronger will, and solid
piety. While appreciating fully the honour of being
Assistant, I cannot but believe that my position would be
more efficien tly filled by some other member of the
Therefore, since the unusual conditions which hampered
our first election have changed, and the directors of the
Society are now more numerous, I respectfully submit to
you for presentation to the council my resignation from the
office of Assistant.
Then, as though to soften the above, he attached a personal note for Father Walsh:
I have just struggled through a resignation which I had
intended giving you before you left. The matter is not at all
an impulsive one due to peevishness or anything of the
sort. In fact, things went quite well, as you know, while you
were away, but while I would like it immensely, I am
convinced that the credit is due not to me, but to the
particularly benevolent and industrious efforts of some
score of guardian angels ー in a word, Providence.
steer through calm waters. If Father Price would take the
position, we'd all feel quite safe, I'm sure. His influence for
good, and for obedience from all, seems to me quite
evident. Of course this resignation won't make any
difference at all in whatever practical aid I can render you
in the office, The Field Afar,etc.
In the preceding year Father Byrne had written to Father Walsh offering to serve as a chaplain in World War ?. Father Walsh made this offer known to Cardinal Farley, but observed that Father Byrne was quite young and in rather delicate health. He suggested that Maryknoll might best help by supplying neighbouring parishes where priests had been withdrawn for chaplaincies. His Eminence did not accept the offer, realizing only too well how much Father Walsh needed all his priests at that time.
Father Byrne accomplished much during those early years to promote the foreign missions by preaching, which he did without neglecting his other responsibilities. A number of vocations to Maryknoll resulted from his talks in schools and seminaries. Father Byrne always looked forward to a visit to St Mary's Seminary. He tried to get there on Saturday evening because, as a seminarian, he had dreaded the ordeal of Saturday night “ spiritual reading ”, which usually consisted of a question ー and ー answer period on mental prayer. He always had welcomed the diversion of an outside speaker, and he made sure his talk would be well received by choosing the “ spiritual reading ” time for his visit.
Once, a few days after giving a talk in Brooklyn, he received a touching letter ostensibly written by a poor scrub-woman. In a shaky hand, she praised his talk, and concluded by saying, “ If I know when you are coming again, even if I have to crawl on my hands and knees, I shall go to hear you. ” Father Byrne passed it around to the priests in the recreation room, saying, “ See, what an orator I am! ” The letter had really been written by Father McShane, and when Father
Byrne later learned of its true origin, he was delighted and frequently told the story on himself.
Father Byrne feared he might stay so long in the United States that he would be unable to learn a new language when he finally reached the mission field. He had been asked to make suggestion for the missioners departing in 1920. To his list he added this comment: “ I make these suggestions on the supposition that it is decided that I am not to go out this year. Whatever you and Father Superior decided regarding me I shall look upon, of course, as God's will. Personally, I am beginning to fear that the language will be proportionately more difficult every year, and this year will see me past thirty-two. Father Swift just received a letter from Father James Edward Walsh, saying that the ‘ lingo ’ was so stiff that he does not except to learn it for some years yet. This is a polite exaggeration, I suppose, but all the same, it makes me shiver as I think of my approaching senility.
“ Of course the Society's desires are the only ones to be considered, and I do not want you to regard this as a complaint for not being one of six, but if that possibility might be considered, my suggestion would be ...”
Another letter concerning the same subject followed. “ I do not know if you have definitely decided whether I should remain; whatever the Council decides, I shall regard as God's will and accept accordingly without question or complaint, cheerfully. At the same time, I feel that I should tell you that my personal feelings are beginning to be haunted by the fear that that abominable language will be more and more difficult the longer it is put off ー perhaps too difficult. I hope you will not misunderstand the above. I wish the Society's interests always to be considered above any individual's, and I have no desire to register dissatisfaction. As I said before, I shall be happy and consider whatever decision be reached as God's will. I am sure you understand; you always do. ”
These letters illustrate the struggle going on in Father Byrne's mind. His strong personal desire persisted, but his
stronger will continued to hold it in check. Yet his dream was closer to fulfilment than he realized.
Some years earlier, in 1917, Maryknoll's Superior General, Father James A. Walsh, had journeyed to the Orient to seek possible mission fields for his young Society. An area in South China was found, and in 1918 the first four Maryknollers left San Francisco for Hong Kong. During that first exploration trip, Father Walsh had visited Bishop Mutel in Seoul, Korea, and had discussed the possibility of Maryknoll work there. Nothing definite was decided at that time, although Father Walsh was extremely interested in the possibilities that Korea offered. When, in 1922, a message came from Holy See, assigning Maryknoll a territory in Korea, Father Walsh saw the hand of Providence in the act.
The area given to Maryknoll had formerly been in the care of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, which, because of the loss of personnel in World War ?, was unable to provide the needed staff. The area was in the very north of Korea, bordering Manchuria, along the Yale River. It constituted one fifth of all Korea, and was about the size of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware combined. The immediate problem was to assign a superior to the new mission, to survey the area, and prepare the way for additional Maryknoll missioners. On a cold November day in 1922 a meeting of the Maryknoll Council was called to consider the problem.
Father Byrne came up from the Venard to attend the meeting, and friends joked with him about the fact that he had brought the season's first heavy snowfall with him. The meeting ended late in the forenoon, and at dinner Father Walsh made the announcement of the new mission superior for Korea. The man chosen was Father Patrick James Byrne. He was unable to hide his happiness as deafening applause broke around him. Smiling his thanks, Father Byrne offered to take with him to Korea everyone he met during the rest of the day. The dream he had cherished for many years was at last about to come true.