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The China Mission

Between 1928 and 1957, 64 California Jesuits served as missionaries in China. Below is a time line tracing the historic highlights of the Province's China Mission:

  • 1928: The first Jesuits from the California Province (CP) arrive in China; the group includes two priests—John Lennon and Pius Moore—and three scholastics—Cornelius Lynch, Charles Simons, and Thomas Phillips.
  • Provincial tour of school in Nanking, 19471929: CP Jesuits arrive at Ricci College in Nanking.
  • 1931: CP Jesuits open Gonzaga High School in Shanghai, where they also serve at Sacred Heart, Christ the King, and other parishes. The Japanese invade Manchuria.
  • 1932: So-called Shanghai Incident provides the Japanese with a pretext for waging undeclared war on China. Their bombers devastate the Chinese section of Shanghai; Jesuits remain safe in the French Concession.
  • Celestial Globe built by 17th century Jesuits in Nauking1933: Charles Simons, the Catholic son of Mormon parents, becomes the first California Jesuit to be ordained on Chinese soil.
  • 1935-36: CP Jesuits begin “bush” mission in rural Haizhou area.
  • 1937: Maison Chabanel established in Beijing as Chinese language school for foreign Jesuits. CP Jesuits begin to build the Nanking Institute as a center for university students. In August, the Japanese bomb Shanghai and launch an invasion and occupation known as the “Rape of Nanking,” killing 100,000 civilians. Two CP Jesuits survive 49 aerial bombardments in Nanking but are ordered to leave the city.
  • 1938: Back in California, Father Pius Moore opens CP mission office in San Jose and founds fund-raising organization called American Jesuits in China.
  • 1939: Four CP Jesuits return to Nanking to join international relief committee to distribute food, clothing, and medical supplies to the poor. George B. Wong, the Catholic son of Buddhist parents, becomes the first Chinese native to enter the California Province at Los Gatos.
  • 1940: CP Jesuits extend their missionary activities to Yangchow, a rural area north of Nanking. Simons is shot to death by Chinese bandits.
  • 1941: After Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, CP Jesuits acquire status of “enemy nationals” and are interned at Shanghai and Yangchow. John J. Brennan is among CP Jesuits who begin Chinese language studies at Chabanel.
  • 1942-45: Eventually, all CP Jesuits are interned at Zikawei in Shanghai. Some are repatriated as part of a prisoner exchange and return to the U.S. by way of India and Argentina.
  • Bund, Shanghai1946: With 3.5 million Catholics, the Church in China seems to be on the verge of a renaissance. The nationalist government of Chiang Kaishek establishes diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Missions of southern China report 243,000 baptisms; there are no reports from northern China which is already under Communist rule.
  • 1946-48: California Province sends 12 more Jesuits, including George B. Wong (1946); Everett J. Mibach and John A. Houle (1947); John Palm and Arthur F. Rutledge (1948).
  • 1947: After visiting the China Mission, Provincial Joseph J. King reports that “despite the very upset political and economic condition of China today, our men are doing splendid work and have a magnificent esprit de corps.”
  • 1948: New York’s Cardinal Francis Spellman ordains 13 Chinese priests, including six Jesuits, at St. Ignatius Church, Zikawei.
  • 1949: At the time the People’s Republic of China is proclaimed, 888 Jesuits (Chinese and foreign) are serving in China.
  • 1951-53: Chinese People’s Liberation Army orders the expulsion and temporary banishment of California Jesuits in Nanking, accusing them of being “American imperialists.” More accusations, arrests, and expulsions follow in Yangchow and Shanghai.
  • 1951-57: As CP Jesuits leave China, they relocate to the Philippines, Taiwan, and other Asian nations or return to the U.S.
  • 1955: Only 135 Jesuits remain in China, including 4 Californians who are in prison.
  • Fr. John B. Palm, S.J., visits the children at an arphanage in Zikawei, 19481956: John W. Clifford and Thomas L. Phillips are released from prison.
  • 1957: Houle and Charles J. McCarthy are released from prison. America magazine writes “Out of the anguish of today’s imprisoned missionaries will come the joy of a rich Chinese harvest. So it has been for centuries.”