For Americans, Uijeongbu 2-Dong Catholic Church, a short walk from Uijeongbu Station, is a special place.
Up till now, we’ve looked at many old Catholic churches, but most of them were built during the colonial period by French missionaries with the Paris Foreign Mission Society.
Uijeongbu 2-Dong Catholic Church, on the other hand, was built in the closing year of the Korean War with much assistance from the Catholic soldiers of I Corps, US 8th Army.
The church’s history actually goes back to the end of the Joseon era, when Catholics fleeing persecution formed a community in the Yangju area, where they took to making pottery. In 1927, their meeting hall was elevated to church status (meaning there was a resident priest), and in 1934, a church was built in Deokjeong-ni, Yangju-gun. This church, in turn, bought a Korean-style home in Uijeongbu in 1945 to use as a temporary church, but it was burnt down in the Korean War.
In 1953, the resident priest, Father John Yi Gye-gwang, asked for help from I Corps, 8th US Army, which was based in Uijeongbu. I Corps’ Catholic believers actively responded to Father Yi’s request, taking up a collection to build a new church. The money raised by I Corps was used to quarry granite from a nearby mountain, with local stonemasons fashioning the granite into the church you see today. The design of the structure was entrusted to a Father Rojeski, a Polish-American chaplain with I Corps.
The church was constructed in just six months.
There were actually three churches in the Uijeongbu area built with the assistance of the US Army — Uijeongbu 2-Dong Catholic Church, Paju Beopwon-ni Catholic Church (which looks almost identical to Uijeongbu 2-Dong Catholic Church, except with no pews and, today, no resident priest) and Uijeongbu First Methodist Church, which unfortunately looks quite different now due to later expansion.
Uijeongbu 2-Dong Catholic Church, which has been designated Gyeonggi-do Cultural Property Material No. 99, is representative of churches built during and immediately after the Korean War, especially around the DMZ. Compared to the earlier French-built churches, they are quite simple; whereas the earlier French churches took a long time to plan and build, churches of the 1950s were built in a hurry and under difficult conditions to replace destroyed facilities and to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of believers. Earlier French churches were built of brick, while these later churches were often built of stone — they were “fortresses of God,” protecting believers in a time of war. Many were constructed with the assistance of local military units, either American or South Korean. A perfect example would by the ruins of the Pocheon Catholic Church — recently designated a cultural property by the Cultural Heritage Administration — which was built in just five short months by the engineers of VI Corps, ROK Army on orders from its commanding general, a devout Catholic.
See below for more photographs.
Don’t forget the Flickr slideshow.