As World War II raged, the priests of the Congregation of the Mission Western Province continued to serve the people of Kiangsi Province.
In August 1944, less than a year before Japan’s surrender, Fr. Henry Altenburg, C.M., returned to the U.S. after 21 years of serving in China. He had last been in the U.S. in 1934.
In a cablegram to the Provincial in September 1944, Fr. Bill Stein, C.M., stated that “the vicariate has been closed indefinitely, although it is quiet, and all the confreres are well.” Frs. Stein and William Glynn, C.M., became auxiliary chaplains to U.S. forces that were now stationed in their areas. This assignment provided them with plenty of work along with some creature comforts. Fr. Stein stated, “The job here is a real vacation for me. Our Catholic boys really appreciate a priest in their midst. Have just returned from a trip by truck into the mountains to visit a camp where no priest has been for six months. All the Catholics there went to Mass. I will hear the rest of their confessions two weeks from now.” Fr. Glynn reported that all is well, “…but I still prefer my life at Yingtan.”
Fr. Wendelin Dunker, C.M., described the difficulty the confreres encountered when attempting to communicate with other missions.
“We are just about cut off now, so to speak, and I am going to try to get this letter out through some of the flyers… Everything here is just the same as it was and we have had no trouble at all this year… I don’t mind being alone here and I seldom feel lonesome, but I sure did miss my visit at (location censored)…”
In spite of difficulties, the mission schools continued to do well and Fr. Wilfrid Des Lauriers, C.M., planned to start a school in Iyang, according to a letter from Fr. Stein.
In March 1945, Fr. James Lewis, C.M., a missionary who, in October 1923, joined his confreres, Frs. Sheehan, Misner, Coyle, and Altenburg, in the China mission, died on Palm Sunday in Texas after suffering several heart attacks. Fr. Lewis had been injured in a brutal attack by Chinese soldiers in 1928. After a period of recuperation in the U.S., he eventually returned to Yukiang, where he remained until ill health forced him to return to the U.S. after just a few years. Fr. James’ cousin, Fr. Fred Lewis, C.M., was with Fr. James at his home in Canadian, Texas, in his final hours and administered the last Sacraments.
Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Preston Murphy, C.M., a confrere from the Western Province serving with the U.S. Army in Italy, related an account of a visit he’d had from a Fr. Steele, who was returning from China. Fr. Steele had recently been in contact with Bishop Charles Quinn, C.M. “The Bishop was well and told Fr. Steele that he would not leave his people even if the (Japanese) came into his vicariate again…(He) would hide again in the mountains and refuse to be captured.”
On August 5, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and a second on Nagasaki three days later. On September 2, 1945, World War II ended when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s formal surrender aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri.
Confreres continued to serve in the China missions after the war ended. While the threat of violence from the Japanese military may have abated, the missionaries continued to experience deprivation and poverty. Fr. Steve Dunker, C.M., in a letter to the DeAndrein newsletter, dated September 21, 1946, expresses gratitude for the care packages sent by confreres in the U.S.
“After seven lean years, the things you sent are appreciated more than you can easily understand. What a pleasure it is having a good cup of coffee for breakfast instead of tea!… The same holds for tasting a piece of candy, having a slice of Spam, a bowl of soup, or a nip of 50 Grand. But what the men here appreciate more than the pleasure of the palate is the fact that these are gifts from our own Confreres, given at no small sacrifice to their pocketbooks… (knowing) that we are not forgotten, and that Vincentian charity prevails among our Confreres.”
Top photo: Fr. James Coyle, C.M., Fr. James Lewis, C.M., Fr. James Corbett, C.M., and F.r Harry Altenburg, C.M.
Bottom photo: Fr. Clarence Murphy, C.M., Fr. Francis Kunz, C.M., Fr. Thomas Mahony, C.M., Fr. Bill Stein, C.M., Fr. William Glynn, C.M., and Wilfrid Des Lauriers, C.M.