The Far East
The choice of mission fields for these students was left entirely in the hands of the college authorities. But a new call now came to Mrs. Taaffe and her associates, a call from the Far East; and this call was destined to give a new orientation to their work. In the ‘nineties Ireland took no special interest in the spiritual needs of China and the Far East. She felt the diaspora – the scattered remnants of her people throughout the English speaking world – had the first claim on her resources. When Father Ronan founded Mungret in 1883, though it was not his intention to exclude pagan missions, circumstances forced him and his successors to cater mainly for America, Australia and South Africa. Though the majority of Mungret students have gone to these countries, it must not be forgotten that they have generally gone to pioneer dioceses, and that work in such dioceses is often far more arduous and trying than work in a purely pagan mission. Also, it must not be forgotten that there are still many holy and wise men who hold that the first duty of the Irish at home is to the Irish abroad. But the Irish abroad have no longer the same needs as the priests in the motherland. Their adopted countries, America or Australia are now in great-measure self-supporting. At any rate, that is the main argument of those who advocate a concentration of energies in pagan mission fields, and that argument weighed with Mrs. Taaffe and her associates.
When a call came from the Far East, Mrs. Taaffe immediately responded to it. The call by a Sister of Clarity (Vincentian), Sister Xavier Berkeley, whose mother was a daughter of the third Earl of Kenmare. Sister Xavier, who was labouring at Ning-Po, China, sent moving appeals for help to her relatives, the late Edmund Dease, of Rath, Leix. Mr. Dease, who was a Senator of the Royal University and a man of considerable influence, carried the appeals to members of the Hierarchy known to him, to Maynooth, to All Hallows, and elsewhere. But his efforts proved fruitless; the hour had not yet struck for China to come within the orbit of Irish missionary enterprise. At least that was the burden of the polite answers conveyed to him. There was, however, one missionary organisation he had not yet approached – St. Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society. His appeal was carefully considered and, though new and undoubtedly difficult, was deemed to be worthy of support. Thus China entered into the sphere of action of St. Joseph’s Young Priest’s Society.
The first thing was to create an interest in China and its missions among Irish Catholics. As a means to this end Sister Xavier induced Bishop, Mgr. Reynard, to visit Ireland. His Lordship came as the guest of Mrs. Taaffe and her Committee. Meetings were organised in Dublin to afford him an opportunity of addressing a sympathetic audience on mission life in China – its romance and its hardships, its possibilities and its needs. At the same time Mrs. Taaffe’s Committee published an English version of his book, Une Autre Chine. It’s translator, Miss M. T. Kelly, a well-known contributor to St. Joseph’s Sheaf, also helped to awaken public opinion in Ireland by a series of articles in the Irish Catholic. St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society was now definitely, though not exclusively, committed to a China and Far East policy.
Other forms of help were also given before band missionaries could be equipped. One of these was the prevision of vestments, alter linen and other requisites for church service. Mrs. Taaffe and her friends organised a sale of work – embroidery, lace, crochet, wood carving – which had been executed by school children in competition for prizes and diplomas to be awarded by expert judges. At these exhibitions every little aid calculated to stimulate an interest in the Foreign Missions was employed; the good seed was sown; in later years a rich harvest would be reaped.