China and Taiwan Missions

Using magic tricks to help raise funds, witnessing the Japanese invasion of Ihwang, climbing the Great Wall: the China and Taiwan Missions collections in DePaul’s DeAndreis Rosati Memorial Archives are full of stories and documents that are as whimsical and lively as they are somber and introspective.  The Vincentian voices that emerge from this collection paint a vivid description of China and Taiwan.

Friar Smith with orphans in China
Fr. Smith with orphans in Yukiang, China.

The foreign missionary experience for the Western Province Vincentians began in 1922 when the first group of priests arrived in the Chinese vicariate of Yukiang, located north and east of the city of Kanchow in the southern province of Kiangsi. Along with the Daughters of Charity, the priests strove to minister, build, teach and care for the sick, injured and orphaned. Set against the backdrop of the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II and the rise of Mao and communism in China, life for those in the Vincentian communities could also be unstable and stark. Rev. Stephen C. Dunker, C.M. writes, “Our present danger is from roving bands of soldiers, neither red nor white who are terrorizing the country side [sic].  We fear the mission may be raided and so have made extensive preparations to meet the situation.”1

The confreres not only struggled to adjust to wartime conditions, they were also confronted by a drastically different way of life in China that ranged from the language to the customs to the food to the climate. In many instances, the Vincentian communities were also faced with an anti-Western and anti-Christian society. As the 1940s progressed, conditions continued to worsen economically and the new communist officials grew ever more suspicious that Western perceptions were threats to their emerging regime. As a result, some of the priests compose their letters home in code so as to avoid detection that these might be calls for help.

Friar Bereswill on Great Wall of China
Fr. Bereswill on Great Wall of China.

Nevertheless, the Vincentians established close friendships and found great satisfaction in their assistance to the poor and to victims of war as well as in their foundation of local orphanages and schools which even extended education to women and girls which had not been routine until this time. The missions continued in China until all foreign religious personnel were expelled in 1951. The Vincentians then moved their efforts to Taiwan in order to help with the estimated 2,000,000 refugees from China.

Throughout it all, the Vincentians kept in close contact with their American brothers and superiors. Letters, diaries, artifacts, photographs and later home movies document the Vincentian experience. The China and Taiwan Missions collection is supplemented by letters in the Personnel Files documenting the experiences of individual Vincentian priests who left their home at St. Mary’s of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri to serve in the foreign missions and the China Missions Photographs. Other related collections include the Vincentian Foreign Mission Society and the records of the Edward T. Sheehan Museum and The DeAndrein found in the records of St. Mary’s of the Barrens.

For more information about these collections, contact Special Collections and Archives at: archives@depaul.edu
1 Dunker, C. Stephen, Personnel Files, Box 1, DeAndreis Rosati Memorial Archives, DePaul University Library, Chicago, IL.

2 Replies to “China and Taiwan Missions”

  1. I’m reading the article, The Manuscript as Question: Teaching Primary Sources in the Archives – The China Missions Project by Michelle McCoy. The project conducted by Professor Warren Schultz and Kathryn DeGraff is what should be my focus. However, it’s the correspondence from the missionary priests that I’m interested in because I’m establishing an archive for the Laboure’ Center established by the Daughters of Charity in South Boston Massachusetts. I looked at your listing of special collections and did not see the China Missions correspondence. I did find two photographs of the priests. Do you have or know where there are documents and or photographs of the Daughters of Charity in China? Is it possible to look at any of the letters of the priest. Are any of them available online? Can a request for a copy of a letter be made? I would like to use a letter as part of my presentation on the noted article.

    1. Hello Emilia,

      I’ll forward your question on to Special Collections and Archives who will reply to you directly.

      Alexis Burson
      Humanities & Social Sciences Librarian

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