By 1968, the U.S. branch of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban had reached the half-century mark. The Columbans could look back with pride on 50 years of achievement in the U.S., Ireland, and many overseas nations. The May 1968 issue of Columban Fathers Mission, the official magazine for Columbans in the U.S.A. was a commemorative edition in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Society.
In the mid-1960s, roughly a decade after the death of Columban founder Bishop Edward J. Galvin, William E. Barrett, an acclaimed author, became interested writing a book about the Columban Fathers. A New York City native, Barrett had written a number of famous novels and non-fiction books, including three that became Hollywood films, featuring major movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Sidney Poitier.
In November 1955, Columban Father Thomas Quinlan was consecrated as Bishop of Chuncheon, Korea. He had served in Korea for more than twenty years, arriving there shortly after the Columban mission in Korea began and even spending three years as a prisoner of war of the North Korean military. In 1965, after attending the sessions of the Second Vatican Council in Rome, Bishop Quinlan, who was approaching his 70th birthday, made the decision to retire.
In December 1965, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Second Vatican Council, popularly known as Vatican II, finished its work. Pope John XXIII began this effort, and the Vatican II sessions began in Rome in October 1962. The pontiff would die in 1963, in the middle of the council sessions, and his successor, Pope Paul VI, would preside over the completion of Vatican II.
The year 1964 marked tragedy for the Columbans in some areas. In March 1964, gunmen murdered Columban Father John Walsh in Burma, and that country’s military junta was beginning the process of expelling foreign missionaries like the Columbans from Burma. Nonetheless, 1964 did bring some bright spots, in particular the official dedication in April 1964 of the new Columban seminary at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin in the Milwaukee area.
The early 1960s proved to be a whirlwind time for the United States and the Catholic Church in the U.S.A. The international events of this era would affect the entire world, very much including the Missionary Society of Saint Columban. In 1961, U.S. Catholics reacted with pride when their nation inaugurated its first Roman Catholic president, John F. Kennedy.
1962 was a historic year for the Catholic Church, as the Second Vatican Council, which would bring so many momentous changes, began in Rome in October of 1962. Several Columbans would attend some of the Council in Rome. But another momentous event also occurred in 1962 which had particular relevance for the Columbans: acclaimed Irish author Francis MacManus published a book on the life and history of Saint Columban, for whom the Society had been named.
In 1961, the Columbans had maintained a mission presence in the Latin American countries of Peru and Chile for about a decade. They had accomplished much great work there and their presence was expanding in those nations. Several Columban Fathers, including Owen O’Kane and John M. McFadden had also served in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a special ministry for sailors.
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.