By Sharon Essner

This monthly series on the China Missions of the 20th and 21st centuries leads up to the 2023 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Congregation of the Mission Western Province’s ministry in China. We begin with an introduction of the events and people who were key in establishing the presence of Vincentians from the Western Province of the U.S. in these missions.

In 1921, five priests and four scholastics from the Congregation of the Mission Eastern Province of the United States were sent to the Province of Kiangsi (Jiangxi), China. The following August, in a letter to Fr. Thomas Finney, C.M., Visitor of the Western Province, the Superior General, Fr. François Verdier, C.M., assigned the Vicariate of Eastern Kiangsi (Jiangxi) to the Western Province of the United States.

Fr. Finney sent a request for volunteers in October 1922. From among the many enthusiastic respondents, three were chosen for this assignment: Frs. John Lavelle, C.M., Edward Sheehan, C.M., and Paul Misner, C.M. They received notice of their appointments in November, giving them two months to prepare for the journey, which began in January 1923.

At the time of his appointment to the China Missions, Fr. Lavelle was the Superior of St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, CO. Born in Pierce City, MO, Fr. Lavelle attended primary and secondary school in western Missouri. He came to the seminary in Perryville in 1906 and professed vows in the Congregation of the Mission in 1910. He was ordained at St. Mary’s of the Barrens in June 1916. After ordination, he served in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Perryville before being named President of St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.

Fr. Sheehan was Prefect of Discipline at St. Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, MO. He was born in Grand Ridge, IL, and entered the seminary in Perryville in 1903. He professed vows in 1910 and was ordained at St. Mary’s of the Barrens in 1916. His assignments included the University of Dallas, as well as New Orleans and St. Louis, prior to his appointment as Prefect at St. Vincent’s College.

Fr. Misner was Professor of Fundamental Moral Theology at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, MO. Born in Peoria, IL, he entered the Congregation of the Mission novitiate at Perryville in 1911, professing vows in 1913. His ordination took place in 1919 at St. Vincent’s Church in Chicago. He served at DePaul University until travelling to Rome to complete his Doctor of Divinity degree. On his return to the U.S., he served as a professor at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, MO.

Shortly before their journey to China, the three missionaries travelled to Perryville to spend time with the confreres at St. Mary of the Barrens. An article from “The Vincentian,” volume 1, #2, describes the visit:

During the days preceding Christmas, St. Mary’s Seminary, Perryville, MO., had the pleasure to welcome for a visit to their Alma Mater the three missionaries, who were chosen as the first band to be sent from the Western Province. Father Lavelle, Father Sheehan, Father Misner, were happy to call once more at ‘St. Mary’s of the Barrens in Missouri’s wilds,’ for they know full well that her children can never forget her. They themselves had come here years ago as neophytes in the call to the altar, they had knelt in her ancient church and had imbibed deeply of the sacred spirit that pervades its hallowed walls, they had passed through its novitiate and had mastered ecclesiastical lore in its halls of Philosophy and Theology, and they had gone forth from here as the anointed of the Lord. And now they return to bid a long farewell to a place they had learned to love so well, a place hallowed by the sacred remains of Felix de Andreis, their saintly Confrere…All the Confreres of St. Mary’s Seminary were delighted with the visit of our three missionaries…Their visit was an inspiration to all and was a means of enkindling to greater fervor the already burning zeal that has been manifested for our missions in China.”

Sources: The Vincentian, volume 1, #1 and 2.

Next in the series: the missionaries’ journey to China and their initial impressions of their new home.