Earlier this year the Columban Sisters looked back to February 1922 when a group of young women came together in Cahiracon in County Clare. These women became the first group of postulants who were the foundation of the new Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban.
Now, in 2023, we have Sisters on mission in Ireland, the United Kingdom, United States, China, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines. This is quite an expansion when we consider those early days when thirteen young women answered a call to respond to the needs of the people of China. Thankfully, we still have young women ready to respond to the call of mission. Today we have two novices, Marianna from Korea and Annalyn from the Philippines, as well as two postulants from Myanmar. None of this, of course, would have been possible without the prayers and financial support of our many faithful benefactors.
In our early days, the Columban Fathers, under the leadership of Fr. John Blowick, made provision for the upkeep of the Sisters in Cahiracon. Gradually, this resulted in a strain on finances. In July 1926, when the first group of Sisters were preparing to set out for China, Fr. Blowick made his first appeal for support in the Far East magazine on behalf of the Sisters. This resulted in a tremendous outpouring of generosity.
Responding to this generosity, Fr. Blowick wrote in the Far East: “Little did you think as you sent us your donation — small or great as it may have been — what a burden you raised off our shoulders. Little did you think that the combined efforts of our army of friends in Ireland made it possible for us to come to the aid of our immense family, young and old, priests, students and Brothers and Sisters at home in the college and away in the lonely plains of China.”
In the years following 1926, a small trickle of donations, some totalling up to £10, which was a large sum of money at that time, reached Cahiracon from the four corners of Ireland. One small donation was accompanied by a request for prayers because of “struggles with unemployment and the availability of part time work only.” Another benefactor sent “a small donation towards the flood victims of Hanyang” and added, “I am only a working man and I am sorry this gift is so small,” while from another we heard, “I joined with a friend in selling cattle which did not do well, but we promised to send you some money no matter how it would go.” Our hearts were equally deeply touched by messages such as, “When starting my career, I promised three pence a week out of my small salary of 5s to go to the Missions and any little extras I got in the way of tips.”
I heard it said that we missionaries “give by going” and that others “go by giving.” For me, that is a perfect description of the partnership between we missionaries and our benefactors.
By 1930, the response to the appeals for support had become so generous and numerous that, in order to keep pace with all the correspondence and donations, the Sisters in Cahiracon had to set aside a special room as an office from which to correspond with the many people who had become our generous benefactors.
This past year here in Ireland, I have been opening the envelopes which, since 1926, have continued to come to us with support for our missionary work and, like our Sisters in our early days, I have been overwhelmed and inspired by the generous assistance and the concern for our Sisters and the people among whom we live and work which supporters from around the world give us.
Some of these envelopes contain a check for a large amount of money, others contain a few Euros or Pounds which, in the eyes of the world today, would be considered a small amount of money but, for we Columban Sisters, each of these envelopes contains a treasure — not only in money but a treasure of faithfulness to us which stretches over many years, a treasure of concern for our safety and well-being, and that of the people whom we serve — treasures of great value indeed.
Today, throughout the world, we are all living in uncertain and precarious times as we learn to live with the virus that has disrupted so much of our lives and caused so much suffering. Many of us are living in fear and worry over the war in Ukraine and the spiralling cost of living. And yet, the people continue to respond with great generosity, supporting us with their prayer and donations.
At a recent meeting of Apostolic Workers, I heard it said that we missionaries “give by going” and that others “go by giving.” For me, that is a perfect description of the partnership between we missionaries and our benefactors. Both the going and the giving are intertwined and equally necessary and for both we give thanks to God.
Columban missionary Sr. Ann Gray is the new Assistant Editor of the Far East magazine. She is based in Ireland.