Church Growth in China

Bishop Walsh oversaw great activity before his imprisonment by communists - Part 6


Faith History

In mid-May 1944, still in the midst of World War II, Bishop Walsh undertook a 10-week journey on a Liberty ship, arriving in Calcutta on August 2. A couple of weeks later, after dealing with colic and diarrhea, he took a transport plane for 9.5 hours to Chungking (now Chongqing). In the next seven months, he tried to visit every Maryknoller in every portion of China not occupied by Japan. He employed every mode of transportation. He jumped in and out of trenches while bombs fell. The Chinese dubbed him “the bishop who ignores danger.” In September 1944, he met with General Chiang Kai-shek.[1]

Following his time in China, Bishop Walsh made a report to Rome in March 1945 and returned to Maryknoll, New York, in April. Four months after the Japanese surrendered in September 1945, Maryknollers were back on station in East Asia.

On Departure Day, July 21, 1946, Bishop Walsh sent the first Maryknollers to Africa, specifically to the eastern shore of Lake Victoria in Tanganyika (now Tanzania).[2] (I have not found evidence that he had traveled to Africa beforehand.) A short time after that, Walsh’s term as superior ended.

In that same year, 1946, Bishop Walsh published a book about St. Francis Xavier, entitled Tales of Xavier. There was good press when the book was translated into Japanese in 1950.

1946-1948: Unassigned

With the end of his 10-year term as Superior General, Bishop Walsh became a man without a mission, so to speak. He was a bishop with neither a diocese nor a Vatican position. He asked to return to China as a missionary priest and had not received an answer for two years when New York’s Francis Cardinal Spellman (1889-1967) asked the bishop to accompany him and Msgr. (now Venerable) Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) to the celebration of the centenary of the Diocese of Melbourne, Australia, April 30 to May 9, 1948, followed by a tour of the Far East. Archbishop Gerald T. Bergan of Omaha was also in their party. They left the United States on April 22 and returned June 13.[3] (Sheen would become National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, 1950-1966[4], and auxiliary bishop of New York, 1951-1966.)

The tour of the Far East included Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and China. In Shanghai, Cardinal Spellman ordained 13 Chinese, with a congregation of 3,000.[5] Chiang Kai-Shek had been inaugurated on May 20 as the first President of the Republic of China. On June 3/4,[6] there was one (or two; the record is unclear) dinner(s) in Nanking attended by President Chiang, Cardinal Spellman, Bishop Walsh, and Msgr. Sheen.

1948-1958: Director, Catholic Central Bureau, Shanghai

While the Cardinal’s entourage was visiting Shanghai, Bishop Walsh stayed at the Catholic Central Bureau, a bureau set up by the papal Internuncio to China, Archbishop Antonio Riberi, in 1947, to organize all Catholic activities in China, including the 140 dioceses, the Legion of Mary, and modern communications. Riberi appointed Bishop Walsh its director in August 1948. Their offices were in a three-story building at 197, Yoyang Road.

Because the Bureau was staffed by people from all over the world — China (with more than one language represented), the United States, and nine European countries — the working language of the Bureau was Latin. This is not as amazing as it sounds since, prior to Vatican II, Latin was the language of instruction in seminaries. (Later, after his 12-year confinement in prison, although he hadn’t spoken Latin during his confinement, when he gave a talk to Maryknoll seminarians on an anniversary of his ordination day, he quoted a verse of the Bible in Latin and then added, “Pardon me for speaking Latin but I am so accustomed to it in my years in Shanghai that I fall into it unconsciously.”)

During the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, Bishop Walsh wrote a letter to Maryknoll headquarters which was received February 1, 1949. He wrote, “I do not know what will happen when the communists arrive, but I intend to remain here as long as the Holy See permits. After all, the communists need to be converted, too.” A Maryknoll spokesman said Maryknoll personnel would remain “until forcibly obliged to stop.” He said that Catholics operated 272 orphanages with 31,000 children, 216 hospitals, 847 dispensaries which treated 15 million people in 1948, three universities, and over 5,000 schools with an enrollment of half a million. There were over 15,000 Catholic churches and chapels. He further stated that over one hundred priests, brothers, and sisters had been executed, many members of the laity imprisoned, and 500 churches and 1,000 schools destroyed or taken over.[7]

In Part 7, we begin with his first years under Communist rule and his arrest in 1958, trial in 1960, followed by his imprisonment.


[NOTE: A link to Part 5 is here]


[1] “General Chiang Kai-Shek Invites U.S. Catholic Missioners to China,” The Bulletin [Catholic Laymen’s Association, Augusta, Georgia], Sept. 30, 1944, p. 1, col. 3,

Other sources give no date, University of California,, or mistakenly give the wrong date (1948) and place (Shanghai), World War II Database,, or crop the photo to show only Bishop Walsh and Chiang, The Catholic World in Pictures, Oct. 2, 1944, p. 1——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-%22martin+t.+gilligan%22——-

[2] “Maryknoll Goes to Africa 1946,” Maryknoll Mission Archives, This webpage has a long quote by Bishop Walsh.

[3] “Spellman Returns from Tour of East,” N.Y. Times, June 14, 1948, p. 11, col 2,

[4] Sheen taught at the Catholic University of America from 1926-1950 when he became National Director. “Biography of Fulton J. Sheen,” Catholic University of America, undated, Both Wikipedia and Brittanica erroneously state that he became national director in 1958.;

[5] Rev. Patrick O’Connor, S.S.C, “Card. Spellman Ordains 13 as Priests in Shanghai,” St. Louis Register, June 11, 1948, p. 1, col 2,——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——–

[6] “Chiang Lauds Spellman,” N.Y. Times, June 5, 1948, p. 4, col. 1.

[7] “Maryknoll to Stay in China,” Catholic Standard and Times [Philadelphia], Feb. 4, 1949, p. 1, col 2,——194-en-20–61–txt-txIN-%22james+e+walsh%22——-


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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