They Left Their Hearts–Part 3
In the third installment of this series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Congregation of the Mission Western Province’s mission in China, we meet Fr. Paul Misner, C.M., whose seminary work overseas bore great fruit in the numbers of the ordained realized during his time there.
Fr. Paul Misner, C.M., was ordained at St. Vincent’s Church in Chicago in 1919. While serving as professor of Fundamental Moral Theology at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, MO, he was selected to be among the first Vincentians from the Western Province of the United States to serve as missionaries in China.
In a letter he wrote to the confreres in Perryville, MO, a few months after his arrival in China, Fr. Misner described his experience of Chinese towns and roads. He found them to be quite different from the U.S. system. Narrow, unpaved roads; random placement of streets and buildings rather than clearly designed urban planning; lack of sanitation services; dogs, cats, and pigs running loose; and rice fields hemmed in by dikes, presented a very different environment from the one he came from in St. Louis.
Due to the irregular surfaces and layout of the roads there, travelling these roads presented some challenges, especially for Fr. Misner, who, by his own account was a large man. He describes four primary means of transportation: sedan chair, wheelbarrow, horseback, and walking. Fr. Misner found the first two options unsuitable because of his size, as well as the idea of being “carried by men, when in the full possession of my senses and my strength, does not appeal to me.” He is equally cautious about riding on a horse, which he describes as about the size of a Shetland pony. His primary transportation is walking, though he outlines a couple of difficulties with this mode. First, he has not yet figured out the labyrinthine nature of the roads in China. Secondly, he discovered that if one walks everywhere, it may be presumed that the person lacks the means to pay for the other conveyances and he would “be looked upon with contempt.”
With characteristic self-deprecating humor, Fr. Misner’s subsequent letters depict his adventures as he learns about the land, people, and customs of his adopted country. Meeting the leader of the Chinese Taoists, learning social customs and etiquette, dealing with the ever-present Chinese military, experiencing the use of firecrackers for any celebration — including the Consecration at Mass — the lack of privacy, and the language barrier, are all related as interesting, but minor, inconveniences.
In 1923, Fr. Misner was assigned to Ki en-Chang-Fu to work at the Seminary. The arduous journey from his residence at Anjen to Kien-Chang-Fu, encompassed a distance of over 100 miles, traversed overland, and required several wheelbarrows and a sedan chair in order to transport Fr. Misner and all his possessions.
The Seminary at Kien-chang-fou was the home of the final stage of preparation for ordination in the vicariate of Jiangxi. The work done by Fr. Misner and his cohort there contributed to the increase of native Chinese priests. In 1913, there were 746 native priests. In 1923, there were 1,071.
Fr. Misner continued to work closely with his confrere, Bishop Edward Sheehan, and provided him with the consolation of the Anointing of the Sick when Bishop Sheehan suffered his final illness in September 1933. The following year, Fr. Misner was named as Bishop Sheehan’s successor. He reluctantly accepted the appointment, fearing that he was not equal to the task. Financial and personnel difficulties, as well as attacks from marauders and military personnel, added to the strain he experienced. During a visit to the U.S., he prematurely curtailed the visit, due to
“anxiety concerning conditions in his vicariate…Bandits were said to have been disturbing the citizenry of Jiangxi…(he) knew that his presence would contribute to the safeguarding of property and encouragement of the missioners.”
In 1938, he requested that he be allowed to resign. Less than a month later, he died of a stroke at his home in China.
Sources: “The Vincentian,” vol. 1, #s 10, 11, 12; vol 2 #1
“The Deandrein,” vol 8, #1
“The American Vincentians”