by H. J. Felsecker, M.M.
Maryknoll's Co-founder, Bishop James Anthony Walsh, from the very first years of the Society, was interested in establishing a mission in Japan. On one of his first journeys to the Orient he made the acquaintance of Rev. Joseph Defrennes MEP, who urged him to send missioners to the land of the Rising Sun. In 1929 he stopped in Tokyo where the Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Edward Mooney (later Cardinal of Detroit) assured Father Walsh that he would seek a suitable mission district for Maryknoll in Japan. Subsequently, Archbishop Mooney wrote to Father Walsh to the effect that the Vicar Apostolic of Osaka (Most Rev. J. B. Castanier MEP) has expressed a desire to divide his mission territory, the Vicariate Apostolic of Osaka, which embraced the civil prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, Hyogo, Mie, Shiga, Nara, Okayama and Shikoku. Both the Apostolic Delegate and Bishop Castanier felt that the civil prefectures of Kyoto and Shiga would prove a worthy challenge for the American missioners.
Bishop Castanier was a bit reluctant to give up this ancient capitol of Japan (Kyoto), which has preserved to this day many of the ancient traditions of old Japan. The city of Kyoto could well be called the 'Rome of Buddhism' as it is the headquarters of the two largest sects of Buddhism (Higashi and Nishi Honganji), and within its limits contains several thousand Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.
Saint Francis Xavier had preached the gospel in this city of Kyoto and it was here that he made his first contacts with civil authorities of the country. In this capital of Japan several churches with a good number of Christians existed up to the time of the persecution of Hideyoshi. More than a hundred years were to pass before missioners returned to Japan. The work of evangelization was resumed by the Paris Foreign Mission Society shortly after the Meiji Restoration (1860). In 1868 the Gothic cathedral was erected in the city of Kyoto and it served as the center of the Church's activity in Kyoto until 1966 when it was torn down and a new cathedral erected.
Bishop Castanier of Osaka fully realized that, with his limited resources of both personnel and money, he would hardly be able to do justice to the task of making Christ known to the many millions of people in his exceptionally large territory. Conscious of his responsibility as a missionary Bishop, he realized the necessity and advantage of seeking cooperation from other Mission Societies. Mindful of the interests of the Church, he felt that any division of his Vicariate should have a large city as its center. On the basis of the consideration, Bishop Castanier agreed with the Apostolic Delegate that Kyoto would be the most logical center, though at the time it had but one permanent church building and one rented house as a mission. Outside of the city itself the prefecture had churches in the cities of Maizuru and Miyazu, which lay to the extreme west along the Japan Sea coast. To the east of Kyoto lay the prefecture of Shiga, which had but one rented mission station (in the city of Otsu); this prefecture of Shiga with no Church-owned property would be added to that of Kyoto in order to form the mission territory to be offered to the Maryknoll Fathers.
The Superior General and his council, upon receipt of this offer, and also subsequent to further correspondence with the Apostolic Delegate and the Bishop of Osaka, decided that before a new ecclesiastical division be formally set up by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, it would be well to send a few Maryknollers to Japan for the study of the language and customs preparatory to undertaking missionary work in the proposed territory. This plan of Maryknoll was acceptable to both the Apostolic Delegate and Bishop Castanier, and so the first Maryknollers were assigned to Japan in the month of May 1933. The three men who formed this first group were Fr. William Whitlow, Fr. Everett Briggs and Fr. John Walsh.
Prior to the arrival of this first group, several Maryknollers (Frs. John Swift, Leopold Tibesar and Henry Felsecker) had been sent to Japan for the purpose of language study; however, they were only preparing for missionary work among Japanese people in places outside of Japan (Korea, Manchuria, Seattle and Los Angeles). Since the Superior General wanted someone with some experience in Japan to start off the newly assigned Maryknollers, he wrote to the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Raymond A. Lane, the Prefect Apostolic of Fushun, Manchuria, and directed him to send Fr. Henry Felsecker back to Japan for a short period of time in order to help the new men in getting started. In June of 1933 Fr. Felsecker went to Tokyo and with the help of Father Joseph Hurley (subsequently Archbishop of St. Augustine's, Florida) found a suitable house for rent in the Araijuku district of Omori-ku Tokyo-city.
In the latter part of August 1933 the first Maryknollers assigned to Japan arrived in Yokohama. The senior of the group was Father William Whitlow of New York City (died in USA Dec.31, 1957). He was accompanied by Father Everett Briggs from Allston, Massachusetts and Fr. John J. Walsh from New Haven, Connecticut. All three had been ordained in June of that year.
The rented house in Araijuku (Omori-ku, Tokyo) was equipped with the bare essentials for living, but an important asset was a capable cook recommended by Fr. Hurley of the Delegation. The fact that the cook had a fair knowledge of the English language proved of real value after Fr. Felsecker left to return to his work in Manchuria. The newly arrived missioners had hardly unpacked their
suitcases when Fr. Felsecker took them to the Apostolic Delegation, the residence of the Archbishop of Tokyo (Most Rev. Alexius Chambon MEP), several schools under Catholic auspices and also two mission churches. After a few days, tickets were purchased for the trip to Osaka to pay their respects to Bishop Castanier and to have a look at their future mission field.
The train trip to Osaka took eight hours for the approximately 275 mile journey. Bishop Castanier welcomed them most heartily. The day after their arrival the Bishop personally accompanied them on a tour of the city of Kyoto, which is situated some forty minutes by electric train from the city of Osaka. After a visit to the church in the center of the city, the Bishop guided them on a tour of several temples and then by cable-car to the top of Mount Hiei. During that day the Bishop repeatedly stated that these Maryknoll missioners were God's answer to the 'Oratio Imperata Pro Propagatione Fidei' which was said each morning at Mass by all priests in the Vicariate, and that they were getting the best city in his entire Mission.
Pleased with the warm welcome extended by the Bishop and without any premonition of the difficulties which lay ahead, the Maryknollers returned to Tokyo to begin in earnest the study of the Japanese language at the Naganuma School in the Kanda Area of Tokyo. Father Felsecker returned to his mission work in Dairen, Manchuria during the month of October (1933) after spending close to two months getting the newly assigned Maryknollers established.
Some weeks before the arrival of these first Maryknollers in Tokyo, the Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Mooney had gone to Rome. On his way back to Japan via the USA, he received notice of his transfer to the diocese of Syracuse N.Y. Some months later, Msgr. Paul Marella, auditor at the Apostolic Delegation in Washington D.C., was appointed to succeed Archbishop Mooney as Apostolic Delegate to Japan.
After his consecration in Rome, Archbishop Marella stopped off at Maryknoll and requested that he be given the loan of a Maryknoll priest for some months. The Superior General assigned Fr. H. J. Felsecker and immediately cabled word to that effect to Father's Mission Superior, Msgr. R. A. Lane. And so in December 1933 Father Felsecker returned to Japan to assist the Apostolic Delegate.
The second group of Maryknollers was assigned to Japan in June of 1934. It comprised Frs. William Mackesy (Lynn, Massachusetts), Clement Boesflug (Bismark, North Dakota) and Joseph J. Daly (Worcester, Massachusetts). In early 1934 Rev. Patrick Byrne, a member of the Maryknoll Council, formerly Prefect Apostolic of Peng Yang Korea, and subsequently Apostolic Delegate to Korea, was appointed Mission Superior of Japan Maryknollers. Shortly after the arrival of Father Byrne in the fall of '34, Fr. Felsecker was attached to the Japan Mission and Father John J. Walsh was transferred to the Fushun Manchuria Mission.
Some years before the first Maryknollers were assigned to Japan, the Japanese military set into motion their plans to expand the Empire. In September of 1931 the so-called Manchurian incident occurred and led eventually to the establishment of the independent state of Manchukuo. Not long thereafter the military machine began the invasion of China proper. A wave of intense and exaggerated nationalism swept over the country; the power of the military made itself felt in all facets of Japanese life. Many areas of the country were declared military zones into which access of foreigners was either forbidden or made extremely difficult. The movements of foreigners were carefully watched, mail was censured, anti-foreign articles appeared in newspapers, and the local populace was discouraged from associating with them. Americans seemed to be the special object of this campaign and hence a question arose as to whether it would be prudent for American missioners to be given a mission territory at this time.
On the one hand, Fr. Byrne the Maryknoll Superior, was convinced that American missioners could do effective work even under difficulties. His own love and understanding of the Japanese people, the friendships which he so easily cultivated, his determination that was 'now or never' for Maryknoll in Japan, motivated his every prayer and act to that end; namely, that Kyoto would be the center of Maryknoll's activities in Japan.
On the other hand, the Bishop of Osaka was beginning to have his doubts about the advisability of Americans undertaking missionary work in his Vicariate or any other place in Japan. Some of the priests of the Osaka Vicariate felt strongly that it would not be of benefit to the Church to have American missioners at this particular time. However a staunch and loyal friend of Maryknoll was found in Father Fage MEP, the French procurator of the Vicariate and pastor of the church in Kobe. He was always most helpful and hospitable to all Maryknoll missioners who passed through the port city of Kobe on their way to Maryknoll missions in China, Korea and Manchuria. Fr. Fage was a true friend of Fr. Byrne and all Maryknollers up to the time of his tragic death during the bombing of Kobe. His remains were found in front of the Blessed Mother altar in his fire-devastated church together with those of his catechist, Mr. Furuya, the father of the present Bishop of Kyoto. As a lasting tribute of Maryknoll's appreciation for Fr. Fage's interest in Maryknoll, Fr. Byrne arranged that the Society make a substantial contribution for the re-construction of the main altar in the Kobe church.
Opposition to the transfer of Kyoto to American missioners also arose among some of the Kyoto Catholics. It went so far as to send a cablegram to Cardinal Fumasoni-Biondi, the Cardinal-Prefect of Propaganda Fide, advising against any change in the status of Kyoto, especially so since part of the Kyoto civil prefecture included a very sensitive fortified zone (Maizuru-Miyazu) and hence would be 'off-limits' to foreigners. In view of these adverse pressures, a certain degree of doubt and hesitation was felt in Rome and also by some members of the Maryknoll Council in New York. Notwithstanding all this, Fr. Byrne was adamant in his determination that Maryknollers would staff missions in Kyoto. He busied himself all the more in gathering facts and opinions favoring his cause.
The Apostolic Delegate (Archbishop Paul Marella) was fully aware of all these cross-currents. A complete dossier embracing both sides of the problem was gathered by the Apostolic Delegate; to this was appended a very through and penetrating report drawn up by Fr. Byrne which had been translated from English into Italian before presentation to Rome through the Apostolic Delegate. Since one of the main arguments against foreigners in the Kyoto area was based on the presence of the fortified zone (Maizuru-Miyazu), the Apostolic Delegate recommended to Rome that these areas be omitted from the territory to be given Maryknoll and remain under the jurisdiction of the Osaka Bishop.
Even before the above-mentioned reports were sent to Rome, a letter from Propaganda Fide dated June 10, 1935 was received by Bishop Castanier on July 1, 1935 requesting that he welcome Maryknollers into the civil prefecture of Shiga. Fr. Byrne, upon receiving word of this letter, immediately went to Osaka in order to make arrangements for its implementation. He also paid a visit to the main city of Otsu (Shiga Prefecture capital) and found a large house which would prove suitable as a temporary center for the Maryknoll priests. The Japanese house was known as SAZANAMI BESSO and was situated on the shores of Lake Biwa in a section of Otsu known as ZEZE. Upon his return to Tokyo, he at once made preparations to move the Maryknollers from the Omori house to the to the SAZANAMI BESSO on the shores of Lake Biwa.
At this time, Father Whitlow, who was gaining practical experience in the language at the TB Hospital of the Japanese Visitation Sisters at Shichirigahama (near Kamakura), was notified to get ready to move to Shiga; Fr. Boesflug was then sent to take his place at Shichirigahama. Fr. Mackesy, who was getting practical experience at a mission in Chiba-city, was to remain there temporarily.
On the 25th of July, 1935 the Maryknollers vacated the house in Omori-ku and moved into the Sazanami Besso in Zeze (part of Otsu-city in Shiga prefecture). Very quickly suitable places for mission stations were rented in Otsu-city (in front of the prefectural government building) and in Hikone-city. Fr. Whitlow was assigned to Hikone (the large Japanese house surrounded by a beautiful Japanese garden burned to the ground two years later). Father Everett Briggs became the first pastor in Otsu. The third member of the first group of Maryknollers assigned to Japan, Fr. John J. Walsh had already gone to Manchuria, while Fr. Felsecker, who had been transferred from Manchuria to Japan, remained at the Apostolic Delegation in Tokyo.
The third group of Maryknollers was assigned to Japan that same year (1935). Fr. Michael McKillop (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Fr. Clarence Witte (Richmond, Indiana) and Brother Clement Hansen (St. Mary's, Kansas) made up the group. In April of 1937 Fr. John Morris, the former Prefect Apostolic of the Maryknoll Mission in Korea (Peng Yang), arrived in Japan.
Soon after settling down in the rented house in Zeze, Fr. Byrne began to look for a suitable site for a permanent Maryknoll Center in the area. With God's help he found an old farm-house on the shores of Lake Biwa at a place known as KARASAKI. Two acres of land and an old rambling farm house lent themselves to the magic of Fr. Byrne and before long the farm land and the old building took on the appearance of the present Maryknoll Center on Lake Biwa. Permission could not be gotten to erect any new buildings, so he completely renovated the old ones by pushing out the walls a foot or two, raising the ceilings, and converting lean-to-sheds into rooms. A typical Japanese 'ike' (pond) between the house and lake was filled with hundreds of loads of sand brought in by barges from another part of the lake; the stones which lined the 'ike' (pronounced 'ee-k') were used to build a wall at the water's edge and also a very solid boat-house (on top of which some years later, Fr. William Pheur, the Regional Superior, built a large recreation room). The entire project occupied almost an entire year; the space between the house and lake-front was sodded, the paths outlined around the yard and a tennis court was built. To this day, the property at Karasaki remains much the same as it was after Fr. Byrne finished his renovation and is being put to good use as a rest and Retreat House for Maryknollers not only in Japan but also Maryknollers from other regions in the Orient.
During the last war, the Prefectural authorities in Shiga forced the Bishop of Kyoto to sell the property to them for use as a home for children. But some months after the war ended the first Maryknollers returned to Japan and they were able to re-purchase the property from the Shiga government due to the kind assistance of a Chaplain in the U. S. Army (Fr. Cornelius McArdle C.P.).>
Before the Karasaki house was completely renovated, word arrived that Maryknoll Sisters had been assigned to Japan. To make room for the Sisters, Fr. Byrne decided to move the priests into the unfinished Karasaki House and let the Sisters take over the Sazanami Besso in Zeze. The Sisters arrived in June of 1937. Sister Mary Rachel was the first Superior. She was accompanied by Sr. Mary Edward, Sr. Marie Barat (Japanese), Sr. Maria Hostia and Sr. Eleanor Francis. In October '37 Sr. Rachel went to the Philippines and Sister N. Dolorita took her place as Superior.
In the Spring of 1937 all Maryknollers in Japan were anxiously awaiting the decision of Propaganda Fide. The documents drawn up by the Apostolic Delegate and Father Byrne had been sent to Rome some weeks previously. After years of zealous prayer, patient preparation, and anxious waiting, this long-awaited cablegram arrived from Rome. It announced that Kyoto Prefecture (except for the fortified zones of Miyazu and Maizuru) and Shiga Prefecture to the east of Kyoto were henceforth to be the responsibility of the Maryknoll Fathers. This announcement occasioned prayers of gratitude and quite naturally a deep consciousness of the challenge and difficulties which might lie ahead.
The decree from Propaganda Fide (dated August 24, 1937) which established this new Maryknoll Mission territory also stated that Rev. Paul Furuya, at the time assistant priest at the main church in Kyoto-city (St. Francis Xavier), would henceforth be incardinated into the Kyoto Mission, and that Rev. Peter Kobayashi, at the moment priest in charge of the rented mission station in the Nishijin section of Kyoto-city, would remain for a period of at least one year to assist the incoming Maryknollers. Father Furuya became the first Bishop of the Kyoto Diocese and Father Kobayashi, some years after his return to the Osaka diocese became the Bishop of Sendai.
Soon after the cablegram from Propaganda Fide arrived, Fr. Felsecker was moved from the Apostolic Delegation in Tokyo to the Maryknoll House at Karasaki.
The first assignments to the city of Kyoto sent Fr. Felsecker to the main church in Kyoto (St. Francis Xavier) as Assistant to Fr. Paul Furuya, who became the pastor (succeeding Fr. Hutt, MEP who left for Osaka-city) Fr. William Whitlow became assistant to Fr. Kobayashi in the Nishijin area (rented house as residence and chapel).
Fr. Clarence Witte replaced Fr. Whitlow in Hikone (Shiga Prefecture), where he remained until the outbreak of the war in the early winter of 1941. The original rented house burned to the ground during Fr. Whitlow's tenure. A second place was rented near the railroad station, but when it proved unsatisfactory, Fr. Witte found a larger place within the grounds of the old Hikone castle and while there, erected a building which housed a sewing-school. This same property was used for a while after the war until property was purchased at the present site outside the castle grounds.
In late 1957 a Japanese house was rented in the northern part of Kyoto-city (Koyama Hatsune-cho) and Fr. E. Briggs was placed in charge. In August of this year Fr. Thomas Barry (Roxbury, Massachusetts) and Fr. William Murphy (Syracuse, N.Y.) arrived in Japan and took up residence at the Maryknoll House at Karasaki to study the language.
In February of 1938, SAZANAMI BESSO, the first residence of Maryknoll priests in Shiga and then occupied by the Maryknoll Sisters, was completely destroyed by fire. As a result, the priests vacated the Karasaki Maryknoll Center and the Sisters moved in; they remained there until late in September, when a rented house was made into a convent (Takeyamachi); it had formerly been a restaurant and needed not a few alterations.
About this time Sister M. Camilla arrived to take the place of Sr. Eleanor Francis, who was transferred to the Philippines.
In November of 1940 Sr. M. Edward and Sr. M. Hostia were reassigned to the USA, thus leaving only two Maryknoll Sisters (Srs. Dolorita and Camilla) in Kyoto. They started a Women's Hostel at a former Protestant mission-house situated near the present Nishijin church in Kyoto.
Father Thomas Barry and Brother Clement Hansen made room for the Sisters at the Karasaki Maryknoll House after the fire which destroyed Sazanami Besso by moving into Kyoto-city to the rented mission-station at Koyama Hatsunecho.
Fr. Joseph Daly, who until this time was Assistant at the Hikone mission and taking care of another rented mission-station at Notogawa a few miles away, started a new mission-station in the Fushimi district of Kyoto. Not long after opening this mission, Fr. Daly, for reasons of health, made a trip to Shanghai and during his absence Fr. Barry took up residence in this house until it was destroyed in a rather mysterious mid-night fire in early 1939.
As a result of this fire, Fr. Barry was assigned to be Assistant at the main church under Fr. Furuya, while Fr. Felsecker was made pastor of the mission-station at Koyama Hatsunecho in northern Kyoto.
At around this time, Fr. William Murphy began a mission in a rented house in the city of Kusatsu in Shiga Prefecture. Property was also purchased in Otsu-city (present site) and Maryknoll's first church building was begun. Fr. Briggs was pastor at this time having replaced Fr. Boesflug, who had returned to the U.S.A. Shortly before this trip, late 1937, a house was rented at Ryuanji (next door to the Ryuanji station of the Arashiyama line) and Fr. Mackesy was recalled from Shichirigahama to take charge. In the spring of 1939, Propaganda Fide detached the civil prefectures of Nara and Mie from the Osaka Vicariate and attached them to the Kyoto Prefecture Apostolic. Fr. Mackesy was appointed pastor of the only church in Mie Prefecture in the city of Tsu, while Fr. Felsecker was made pastor of the only church in Nara Prefecture, which was in the prefectural capital of Nara city.
Fr. William Whitlow replaced Fr. Mackesy at Ryuanji, while Fr. P. J. Byrne took up residence and became pastor of the rented mission-station at Koyama Hatsunecho in northern Kyoto.
When Fr. Kobayashi returned to the Osaka Vicariate, Fr. Michael McKillop was appointed pastor of the Nishijin rented mission-station.
About this time property was purchased near Takano bridge in northern Kyoto and plans were made to build a rectory, the lower floor of which would serve as a chapel until a church could be built. Fr. Byrne supervised the building of this rectory and during the entire war lived therein under house-arrest.
In early 1941 Father Ernest Mailhot was sent as Assistant to Fr. Felsecker in Nara and took over when Fr.Felsecker left on this decennial in July of that year.
At the outbreak of the war in December of 1941 the priests and Brother in Kyoto-city and Otsu were placed under house-arrest in the rectory of the main church at Sanjo Kawaramachi in Kyoto.
Only Fr. Byrne was permitted to remain in his own rectory at Takano-bridge in the northern part of the city; he spent all the war years confined to the church property under the strict surveillance of the local gendarmes. He was not permitted any visitors and like the rest of the populace suffered many privations. He did manage to offer the Holy Sacrifice daily thanks to the wine and altar breads smuggled to him by Msgr. Paul Furuya, who had become Prefect Apostolic in 1940.
The Maryknoll priests and Brothers in Shiga Prefecture at the outbreak of the war were interned in the rectory of the Otsu church (not the present rectory, which was not purchased until after the war), which was in a rented house near the present Sisters' Convent. It was here that Fr. Briggs underwent a rigorous fast to protest against the harassment of his catechist and parishioners by the police.
Father William Mackesy in Mie Prefecture (Tsu-city) was taken to the local jail when the war broke out and remained there until March of 1942, when he was transferred to the internment camp in Kobe.
In Nara-city, Father Ernest Mailhot was placed under house arrest until removal to the internment camp in Kobe in March of '42. Father Mailhot was filling in for Father Felsecker the pastor, who had left on furlough in July of 1941 after completing ten years in the missions of Japan and Manchuria (Dairen).
Thus all Maryknollers in Japan with the exception of Father P. J. Byrne were gathered at the Kobe internment camp preparatory to repatriation to the USA on the ASAMA MARU, which left Yokohama on June 26th, 1942. In Portuguese East Africa at Mozambique the passengers on the Japanese Asama Maru were exchanged for the Japanese citizens brought there from the USA on the SS. Gripsolm. The Maryknollers who were thus repatriated arrived in New York at the end of August after a lengthy and dangerous trip.
In retrospect it should be mentioned here that all foreign Ordinaries (Vicar and Prefect Apostolic and Mission Superiors) resigned their posts in 1940 and Japanese were appointed in their places. Thus the Hierarchy of Japan became completely Japanese. Father Furuya was appointed Prefect Apostolic of Kyoto. Father P. J. Byrne became one of the missioners, as Fr. William Whitlow was Society Superior at that time.
Status at outbreak of War:
Fr. P. J. Byrne at Takano parish in North Kyoto.
Fr. W. Mackesy pastor at Tsu in Mie Prefecture.
Fr. W. Whitlow on vacation in the Philippines.
Fr. C. Witte pastor in Hikone-city Shiga Prefecture.
Fr. M. McKillop pastor at Nishijin church in Kyoto-city.
Fr. W. Murphy at Takano Church with Fr. Byrne.
Fr. H. J. Felsecker on furlough in the USA.
Fr. E. Mailhot pastor of church in Nara-city.
Fr. T. Barry at Sanjo Church in Kyoto-city.
Fr. E. Briggs pastor of Otsu Church in Shiga Prefecture
Fr. J. E. Morris at rented house for Korean work near Daitoku-ji in northern Kyoto.
Fr. E. A. Koechel at Dominican House in Kyoto-city.
Fr. A. J. Merfeld at Karasaki Maryknoll House Shiga Prefecture.
Brother Clement at Karasaki House.