Bishop Edward Galvin – An Irish Missionary in China

By Barbara McCormack, Special Collections & Archives

Last year saw the launch of the exhibition Letters from an Irish Missionary in China – a collaborative endeavour between the Columban Fathers Central Archive and the Russell Library, Maynooth University.

Bishop Edward Galvin
Bishop Edward Galvin

The exhibition told the remarkable story of Bishop Edward Galvin, co-founder of the Maynooth Mission to China Society which later became the Missionary Society of St. Columban and included letters, photographs and articles from the archives of the Columban Fathers, supplemented by primary and secondary sources from the Russell Library. A fantastic collection of artefacts, including Galvin’s suitcase and violin, were also on display in the Library as part of the event.

Artefacts on display during the exhibition 'Letters from an Irish Missionary in China'
Violin on display during the exhibition ‘Letters from an Irish Missionary in China’

Galvin was ordained for the diocese of Cork in the year 1909 following the completion of his studies at Maynooth College. He spent the following three years as a priest on loan to the diocese of Brooklyn in New York before embarking on his journey to China. Galvin allegedly read every single book about China he could find in the Brooklyn Public Library before embarking on his travels!

After spending four years in China working as a missionary, he made a decision to return to Ireland in the hope of recruiting new volunteers from Maynooth College. It was here that he met Professor John Blowick, co-founder of the Maynooth Mission to China society. Galvin and Blowick worked tirelessly to achieve formal recognition of the Society.

Chinese fan on display during the exhibition
Chinese fan on display during the exhibition

The Bishops officially sanctioned the Society at a meeting in Maynooth during October 1916. Formal recognition from Rome followed in 1918, with the first batch of volunteers travelling to China in 1920.

Bishop Galvin's suitcase
Bishop Galvin’s suitcase

Galvin’s devotion to the missionary cause saw him remain in China through periods of political unrest, cholera outbreaks, and floods. He was one of the last foreign missionaries to leave China in the year 1952.

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