Old house once again sought after place for Columbans

September 30, 2010

The Columban summer home in Kuling provided priests with a place of rest in comfortable surroundings in the Lushan Mountains. The intense summer heat of central China encouraged people to find a cool refuge in the mountains. Beginning in 1890 summer homes were built by many people in Kuling. The black and white photograph taken in 1923 shows Columbans who were on holidays at that time.

Group photo of Columbans at Kuling holiday house in 1923 Back row left to right: unknown, Columban Fr. Phonsie Ferguson, unknown, unknown, Columban Fr. Jack O’Brien, Fr. Jansen

The last known reference to a Columban presence at the holiday home is from the Far East magazine in 1939. Rather than being a place for holidays, it was at that time the location where help to war-stricken orphans was coordinated. The years after 1939 saw the house disappearing from Columban hands and its location fading from the collective memory of Columbans.

In June 2007 a group of Columbans went to Lushan with the purpose of locating the summer house. Lushan has become a popular holiday destination in the past twenty years due to the uniqueness of the architecture that is there in the form of 500 houses that were built 100 years ago.

In recent years Lushan was designeated a UNESCO cultural heritage site. Within this setting we tried to roll back the years to discover where the Columbans of previous times had taken their rest from the summer heat 70 years ago. Key to our search were two photographs from 1923 taken by Fr. Dick Ranahan, a skilled photographer who was a member of the first group of Columbans to come to China in 1920.

Kuling House - Columban group photo at steps - June 2007. Front row left to right: Columban Fathers Jerry Piggott, E J O’Doherty, Paddy Laffan, unknown, Owen McPolin.

On the first day of our search we visited several areas of the mountain and failed on each occasion. Towards the end of the second day we were becoming less hopeful of any positive development in our quest. Then to our complete surprise a local person led us to a street where our eyes were opened wide at the sight of the house that had been used by Columbans in the 1920s.

Little had changed, except three families now live in the divided house. The fine stonework that had witnessed the presence of Columbans during the 1920s and 1930s was now silently welcoming us back to this unique are in the mountains of Jiangxi province.