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. Government persecution of religious institutions and clergy in China quickly commenced after the communist takeover.
One victim of the persecutions was Columban Father W. Aedan McGrath, a Dublin native and one of three brothers who became Columban priests.
In September 1951, Chinese police arrested and jailed Father McGrath, accusing him of anti-government activities due to his work with the Legion of Mary.
Father McGrath spent nearly three years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. But Father McGrath kept up his spirit, and the authorities eventually released him and expelled him from China in April 1954.
Father McGrath went on to serve in the United Kingdom, U.S.A., and Ireland, vigorously promoted the Legion of Mary, and had a long life, dying in 2000 at age 94.
His determination and Christian spirit under adverse conditions have served to inspire Columbans and many others throughout the years.
Father McGrath tells his story in the book “Perseverance through Faith: a Priest’s Prison Story,” (2008), which is a posthumous transcription of his memoirs.