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.
As a devout Catholic, Barrett admired the Columban Fathers, and in the mid-1960s, the Columbans commissioned him to begin to work on a profile of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban and a biography of Bishop Galvin.
Columban Father Donal O’Mahony, a nephew of Bishop Galvin, led the efforts to hire Barrett for the project. Prior to this the only formal published biography of Bishop Galvin was the short booklet Christ’s Exile, published in 1957 by Robert T. Reilly.
In 1967 Barrett’s work, a book entitled The Red Lacquered Gate was published. Barrett had meticulously researched the book, speaking with Galvin’s relatives in Ireland and many colleagues and associates. The Red Lacquered Gate has for years served as a vital source for the early history of the Society, its mission in China, and the life of Bishop Galvin and other early Columbans.
In 2002 the Columbans released a second edition of the book, and in 2014, re-released it. The book was out of print and had to be completely re-typed by Columban co-worker Rhonda Firnhaber.
Nearly a half-century after its publication, The Red Lacquered Gate continues to be the seminal work on Bishop Galvin’s life and times.