As World War II raged all across the world in the 1940s, Columbans in their various Asian mission countries were caught in the crossfire, sometimes literally.
The Japanese-occupied nation of Burma (Myanmar) was one of the central battlegrounds of the Allied war effort. An important part of this effort was the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.), which after the war would evolve into the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.).
At the time the O.S.S. was running training camps in India for agents to operate in Burma, to rescue downed Allied pilots, among other military functions.
In 1944, O.S.S. agents met Columban Father James Stuart, a tough-as-nails native of County Derry, Northern Ireland, who had served in Burma since 1936.
Father Stuart used his language skills and prestige among the indigenous Kachin people to help the O.S.S. in rescuing downed Allied pilots. He also acted as an informal chaplain to Allied troops who were serving in Burma, including the famous unit Merrill’s Marauders. The head of this unit, U.S. General Frank Merrill, would call Father Stuart the bravest man he had ever met.
After the war, the British government made Father Stuart an officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and the U.S. government awarded him the Medal of Freedom for his efforts in saving the lives of refugees and U.S. airmen.
Father Stuart was just one of many Columban Fathers who have served and assisted the armed forces of various nations.