Certain Southeast Asian countries, such as Burma (modern Myanmar) and the Philippines were among the earliest places where the Columbans established missions outside of China. In the 1950s and 60s, this region, along with most of the rest of the world, had become engulfed in the “Cold War” between communist and the free nations. By 1960, this global clash was sowing the seeds of the Vietnam War, and it would directly affect the Columban Fathers.
In December of 1959, the Vatican convened a historic week-long conference in Manila, Philippines, on the subject of the future of the Catholic Church and religion in general in East Asia.
The Columban Fathers had a long history in Australia, having established a branch there in 1920. In fact, some other earliest Columban Fathers were from Australia. Fathers Luke Mullany and Romuald Hayes (who later became a bishop) were the first Australians to join the Columbans in 1922.
In 1956, the growing Missionary Society of Saint Columban purchased a 100-year old home in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia area, near the intersection of Routes 202 and 352, in the Goshenville neighborhood. The Columbans officially dedicated the West Chester House in March 1957 in a large ceremony which attracted many Catholic clergy and secular dignitaries from the Philadelphia area.
After his expulsion from China by the communist authorities there, Columban Co-Founder Bishop Edward J. Galvin landed in San Francisco in December 1952 after a sea voyage from Hong Kong. Bishop Galvin had just passed his seventieth birthday, but despite his age and the hardships he endured in China, the veteran bishop was determined to continue his work, albeit outside of China.
The relatively new Columban mission in Japan was continuing its great work. In late 1955, Columban Father George J. Bellas, oversaw the opening of Boys Town near Kumamoto, Japan and began as its first director. This foundation, modeled after the legendary Boys Town of Omaha, was an educational institution for troubled, abandoned, and orphaned boys from the ages of seven to eighteen, many of whom were originally housed in other Catholic orphanages in Japan.
The Columbans were no strangers to the effects of political unrest on their mission in China. Nonetheless, the communist seizure of power in China under the leader Mao Zedong in the late 1940s would prove to be the most consequential political upheaval for the Columbans, eventually leading to their expulsion from China. The atheistic and xenophobic worldview of Mao’s brand of communism afforded little room for foreign missionaries or organized faith.
In 1952 the Columban Fathers made a pioneering move by establishing a permanent mission in Peru. The Columbans followed this achievement up in 1953 when three Columban Fathers, James Loughran, Hugh McGonagle, and James McCarthy started a new Columban mission in a second South American nation: Chile. They assumed the administration of the San Andres Parish in the capital city of Santiago.
After the expulsion of the Columbans from China, a new region was opening up for the Society. Many of the predominately Catholic countries of Latin America had an urgent need for qualified priests, and the Columbans answered the call. In the early days of the Society, discussions had occurred about a Columban presence in Argentina, but it had not blossomed into a formal mission. Peru would instead be the first Latin American mission country for the Columbans.