The year 1940 marked the twentieth anniversary of the presence of the Columban Fathers in China. Along with the Columban Sisters, who first arrived in China in 1926, they had achieved a great deal. As it happened, 1940 would be a momentous year for the Columbans in China. In 1940, a Columban hospital opened in Nancheng, China, and the Columban Sisters continued their lifesaving work at their medical dispensary.
In the late 1930s, the Columbans were discussing the possibility of establishing a presence in the state of California. In the summer of 1939 they dedicated their new house in San Diego, and were in the process of putting down roots in Los Angeles. Around this time, Columban Father John F. Cowhig, who had served in Hanyang, brought up the idea of a Columban Catholic Chinese Center to cater to Chinese immigrants in southern California.
In 1938, international events were affecting the Columbans. The Japanese military was expanding its occupation of China, and international political tensions were dragging the Columban mission countries toward the catastrophic global conflict of World War II. The Columbans did their best to grow and continue their missions in this uncertain climate, including negotiating with the Diocese of San Diego, California to build a house in that city.
Throughout the 1930s, the Columban mission in the Philippines was proceeding and developing well. Columban Father Edward J. McCarthy became alarmed with the rise of anti-Catholic political and theological sentiments in the Philippines, particularly at the University of the Philippines. Father McCarthy then led the formation of Student Catholic Action (SCA), an organization to promote Catholicism among young Filipinos, especially college students.
After more than a decade and a half of founding and running missions in East Asia, the Columbans moved on to yet another country: the mysterious, ethnically diverse Southeast Asian nation of Burma (now known as Myanmar) in 1936. In October 1936, two Columban Fathers, Patrick Usher and Bernard Way, traveled by ocean liner, riverboat and railroad to the Burmese capital of Rangoon (modern Yangon), and on to the city of Bhamo.
In 1934, the Bishop of Melbourne, Australia invited Columban founder Bishop Edward J. Galvin to attend the the National Eucharistic Congress, which was scheduled for early December 1934. By this time, the Columban Fathers in China were closing in on a decade and a half of mission work in China. They had achieved much success, but the growth of their missions necessitated more funds and personnel.
Richard Ranaghan was one of the earliest Columban Fathers. The native of County Down in Ulster joined the new Society in 1917 and was a member of the first group of Columbans to go to China in 1920.