We’ve visited quite a few old Catholic churches on this blog. Most were built by French missionaries in the closing years of the Joseon era and the Japanese colonial era.
The Paris Foreign Missions Society weren’t the only Catholics doing missionary work in Korea, however. They were joined by the Missionary Society of St. Columban of Ireland, who first came to Korea in 1933 and had a considerable presence in Jeollanam-do and Gangwon-do, and later by the Maryknoll Fathers of the United States.
Themselves from a land brutalized by colonization and fratricidal war, the Irish priests must have understood better than anyone the plight of their Korean flock.
To experience the Irish legacy to Korean Catholicism, you need to head to Chuncheon, the capital of Gangwon-do. Located here are two churches which have recently been registered as cultural properties by the Cultural Heritage Administration, Jungnim-dong Cathedral and Soyangno Catholic Church. Both churches are worth seeing regardless of who you are, but a visit can be a particularly moving experience if you’re Irish or of Irish heritage… as this blogger happens to be.
Jungnim-dong Cathedral is the central church of the Diocese of Chuncheon, which has ecclesiastic jurisdiction over the province of Gangwon-do. Bishop Thomas Quinlan, Prefect of Chuncheon since 1940, had been planning to build a Western-style church since 1941, but conditions in colonial Korea made it difficult to do. In 1946, he revisited plans for the cathedral, but again, conditions for such an ambitious project were less than ideal. Luckily, however, Quinlan got help this time from a nearby US Army unit, and work began on the new cathedral in 1949. With designing the church, he entrusted a Chinese Catholic who’d followed him up from Gwangju (where Quinlan served prior to coming to Chuncheon).
By 1950, most of the exterior of the church was completed. The Korean War interrupted things, however, and one wall would collapse during fighting between UN and Chinese forces in May 1951. In August of that year, work to rebuild the church began, and the cathedral was finally completed in 1952.
Unlike the French missionary churches, which tend to be built of brick, Jungnim-dong Cathedral is built of stone. It’s a long church with double transepts, typical of English (and, I’d image, Irish) Gothic churches — if you want more architectural info and can read Korea, click on to here. The interior is simple, but not ugly… which is nice. Sitting on a hill with a nice view of the rugged mountains that surround Chuncheon, it’s a very pleasant place to spend some time.
I was rather pleasantly surprised by the interior. Simple, yes, but unlike Uijeongbu 2-Dong Cathedral, which was built in the same period with US Army help, it doesn’t look like the inside of a Quonset hut. You can tell a lot of love got put into building the church, which must have been a monumental task at the time.
In back of the cathedral is a small cemetery. If you’re Irish, it’ll move you to tears.
This is the final resting place of 16 Korean and Irish clergymen who served the Diocese of Chuncheon. In front are two large markers marked by Celtic crosses, one for Bishop Quinlan (right) and the other for his successor, Bishop Thomas Stewart.
Quinlan, of Borrisoleigh, Ireland, came to Korea in 1934 at the age of 38, after spending 13 years as a missionary in China. In 1940, he was named Prefect of Chuncheon, a position that would be elevated to Vicar Apostolic in 1955 and Bishop in 1962. In 1965, he stepped down as bishop at the age of 69, with the position passing to Thomas Stewart of Woodford, Ireland. In 1970, Quinlan died in Chuncheon, and Stewart would serve as Bishop of Chuncheon until his death in 1994.
In the back row is another set of Celtic crosses. Unlike Quinlan and Stewart, who lived very full lives, these men died far, far too young. And the dates of death on all their markers read the same — 1950.
Now, many sons of Ireland gave their lives in the Korean War, many of them in US military uniforms. The men buried here, however, were young priests who refused to leave their parishes despite being urged to do so by US military officers, and paid for their dedication with their lives.
The following information I take from the homepage of the Missionary Society of St. Columban:
ANTHONY COLLIER: Killed by North Korean soldiers on 27 June 1950. North Korean forces had crossed the 39th Parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea, on June 25. Tony was in charge of the second Columban parish in Chunchon city, not many miles south of the 38th Parallel. He, Monsignor Tom Quinlan and Frank Canavan had been urged by a U.S. Army officer to leave Chunchon on 26 June but they decided to stay. Tony was taken into custody, briefly interrogated and then shot dead. He was 37 years old. Quinlan, Canavan and later Phil Crosbie were taken into custody and the three of them took part in the notorious “Death March” to the far north of Korea. Along with them were many U.S. POWs and some civilians (many of them missionaries); the death rate from the hardships of the march was appallingly high. Consult PHIL CROSBIE’S book THREE WINTERS COLD and CAPTIVE IN KOREA by Philip Deane. Tony was born in Clogherhead, Co. Louth, on 20 June, 1913. Educated in C.B.S., Drogheda, 1921-1926; St. Patrick’s College, Armagh, 1926-1931. Came to Dalgan 1931 and ordained there 1938. Went to Korea 1939.
JAMES MAGINN: Killed in Korea 4 July 1950, two days after North Korean troops occupied Samchok, his parish on the east coast, about 50 miles south of the border between North and South Korea. In the week between the outbreak of war and the occupation of his parish he had been urged by his people to leave but he refused to do so. He was 38 years old. It was not until March 1952 that his grave and body were located by Fr. Brian Geraghty. Jim was born in Bute, Montana, USA on 15 November 1911. Educated in St Mary’s Newcastle, Co Down and St Malachy’s, Belfast. Came to Dalgan in 1929 and ordained 1935. Went to Korea 1936.
PATRICK REILLY: Killed by North Korean soldiers on 29 August 1950 near Mukho, his parish, not far south of the border. He had gone to hide in the house of a catechist on June 28 or 29, when the North Korean army occupied Mukho. The catechist’s house was about 5 miles northwest of the town. After 26 days the North Koreans discovered Paddy’s whereabouts. He was arrested and taken to the police station in Mukho. The exact details of his death are unknown. His body was found on a mountain path by an old man gathering wood. He had been shot through the chest. Paddy was 35 years old. Paddy was born in Drumraney, Co. Westmeath, on 21 October 1915. Educated Drumraney N.S. 1920-1929, and St. Finian’s College, Mullingar, 1929-1934. Came to Dalgan 1934 and ordained there 1940. Did pastoral work in diocese of Clifton, England, 194 1-1946. Went to Korea 1947.
FRANCIS CANAVAN: Died in North Korean prison camp on 6 December 1950 as a direct result of hardships experienced on notorious Death March of prisoners. See Anthony Collier above. He was 34 years old. Born Headford, Co. Galway, on 15 February 1915. Educated Headford Convent School 1919-1922; Headford N.S. 1922-1929; St. Mary’s College, Galway, 1929-1934. Came to Dalgan in 1934 and ordained there 1940. Served in Galway diocese 1941-1948. Went to Korea in 1949.
Collier was 37. Maginn was 38. Reilly was 35, and Canavan was 34.
Quinlan and Canavan were actually arrested by the North Koreans as they were performing the Mass. As we learned when we visited Gupodong Catholic Church in Anseong, the North Korean didn’t treat captured clergy with kid gloves. Another Irish victim of the war was Sister Mary Clare, a 67-year-old Anglican nun who died in captivity following the Death March.
Soyangno Catholic Church
Not far from Jungnim-dong Cathedral, and commanding a nice view of Uiam Lake and what until last year was Camp Page, is Soyangno Catholic Church, which last year joined its parent cathedral on the Cultural Heritage Administration’s list of registered cultural properties. In fact, thanks to its listing, the church is now undergoing some restoration work, so it was a little messy when I visited. Still, it was a pleasant place to stop, the people there were exceedingly nice, and as one of them told me, “You won’t find another Catholic church in Korea like this one.”
Indeed, it’s a very unusual design, and was quite controversial when it was first built. The present Soyangno Catholic Church was built in 1955. Designing the church was Father James Buckley (not to be confused with Bishop James Pardy of Brooklyn, who was the long-time Bishop of Cheongju and the designer of the very pretty Osong Catholic Church, Bugang Catholic Church and Naedeok-dong Catholic Church, all of which scream “I was designed by the Maryknoll Fathers“), a Columban tasked by Bishop Quinlan — back in charge after three years as a guest of the Korean People’s Army — with rebuilding Soyangno Catholic Church as memorial church for his martyred priests, particularly Tony Collier, the head priest at Soyangno who refused Quinlan’s advice to flee and was executed by the North Koreans while he was tending to believers and the wounded.
Buckley decided to try something a bit different. Forgoing the Gothic designs popular at the time, he went with a semi-moon with a dome roof. Inside, meanwhile, the pews are arranged like a spread fan, and the altar is very simply done. Oh yeah, and no steeple.
The flock was less than impressed initially, and complained vocally about their strange new church. “Where’s the heck is the steeple?” they cried. Over time, however, they grew to like it, and architecture fans — including the Cultural Heritage Administration — love its mixture of classic and modern architectural concepts.
Like I said, the church is now undergoing renovation with the intent of restoring it to its original condition. I don’t know, however, whether that means removing the Touchdown Jesus from the roof.
Oh, and as always, be sure to check out the Flickr slideshow… because photos always look better when they’re bigger.