Fr. Paul Misner, C.M., arrived in China in 1923 and was appointed to the seminary in Kien-Chang-Fu. He was later assigned to the mission in Fouchow.
Letters Fr. Misner wrote to his confreres in the U.S. describe the political unrest that the missionaries and their people experienced. In early 1933, he relates, “As far as the mission itself goes, we are managing to carry on under handicaps. During the past year, while the Poyang section of the Vicariate has enjoyed peace, the rest of the Vicariate has been the scene of ever-recurring Communist troubles. At present, we are caring for over 400 refugees here, who have been driven from their homes by the Communists.” Two months later, he writes that the number of refugees had increased to 1,100.
In addition to political unrest, the missionaries and their people faced attacks from bandits. The threat of violent attacks from bandits caused everyone to be on edge, as they never knew when they may have to vacate their homes at a moment’s notice.
Fr. Misner’s friend and confrere, Bishop Edward Sheehan, C.M., died unexpectedly in September 1933. Fr. Misner was with Bishop Sheehan and administered the Anointing of the Sick in the hours before his death. In the months after Bishop Sheehan’s death, he writes that the political situation remained uncertain, though the conditions at the missions were relatively quiet. A few residences had been commandeered by soldiers.
By the following November, Fr. Misner believed that “peace is in sight,” providing “a wonderful opportunity for missionary work.” The residences had been recovered from the military occupation and “the work we have done among the refugees has opened up many regions to us, in which priests had never set a foot before, and the people, before very antagonistic, are now friendly towards us.” In order to best take advantage of those opportunities, he pleads for “prayers, men, and money.”
In January 1935, Fr. Misner was appointed Bishop of the Vicariate. He accepted the appointment, despite self-doubts about his suitability for the position. A visit to the United States in October 1937 ended prematurely, as Bishop Misner received word of danger threatening his vicariate. He “knew that his presence would contribute to the safeguarding of property and encouragement of the missioners.”
August of 1938 brought reports from a discouraged Bishop Misner. He reported to Very Rev. Marshall Winne, C.M., Provincial of the Western Province from 1938 to 1950, that finances and personnel issues were negatively affecting the work of the Vicariate. In requesting that Fr. Winne send more American Vincentians to assist in the work of the Vicariate, Bishop Misner outlined qualities that he believed vital for missionaries:
- A solid spirit of faith with a spiritual life that “is not dependent upon the exercise in common of Community life, but can stand on its own feet.”
- Physical health that can withstand the hardships that they will encounter.
- An ability to adapt to a variety of circumstances and “who is not squeamish about his food.”
- A facility toward learning languages would be helpful.
- Someone who has an over-affinity toward alcoholic drink is not a good candidate for work in the missions.
September 1938 was particularly difficult for Bishop Misner. Heightened tensions between China and Japan had increased and Japanese troops were making life difficult for the missionaries. Bishop Misner moved the orphans from Jaochow to his mission in Yukiang, fearing for their safety. The missions were filled with refugees after the fall of Nanchang. By the end of September, Bishop Misner again wrote to Fr. Winne, this time to tender his resignation. “It has always been my conviction, which has been abundantly confirmed by the experience of the past three and a half years, that I am not the man for this arduous office…There is a great opportunity here for evangelical work, but this work requires a leadership and a direction, that I am unable to give.”
Fr. Winne received a telegram dated November 3, 1938, which read:
“NB439 9 Cable via Northern. “Shanghai 3 1034A
LC Winne – Vincentians – St. Louis Missouri
Bishop Misner dead Apoplexy
At age 47, Bishop Paul Misner died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Yukiang, China.
The DeAndrein 1933-1938
Personal letters written by Bishop Paul Misner, DePaul University Archives