Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mayknoll HIstory in Japan After Second World War

By H. J. Felsecker 

            The surrender of Japan to the Allied Powers on August 15th, 1945 found only one Maryknoll priest (Rev. Patrick J. Byrne) in Japan. During the entire war, Fr. Byrne remained under house-custody at the Takano church rectory in the northern part of the city of Kyoto. He was able to celebrate Mass daily, but only his faithful housekeeper was permitted to attend. At that time the present church had not been built; the lower half of the rectory served as a provisional chapel. In the front yard a bomb shelter had been excavated and covered with about one yard of earth; into this shelter Fr. Byrne and his housekeeper found refuge each time air-raid alarms sounded. Fortunately, the city of Kyoto was not bombed, but thousands of U.S. bombers passed over the city. 

            During the years of the war Fr. Byrne suffered considerably from lack of nourishing food; however he was not worse off than the majority of the people in the cities. He had many visits from the Military Police and Special Police in charge of foreigners. The present Bishop of Kyoto (Most Rev. Paul Furuya) paid a number of surreptitious visits and kept Fr.Byrne supplied with altar breads and Mass wine - he also saw to it that Fr. Byrne received enough money to pay for his sustenance. Fr. Byrne occupied himself with composing a Japanese grammar for 'boobs'; he followed the ups and downs of the war by reading the English edition of the Japanese Mainichi newspaper.

(The following is a statement of Bishop Furuya recorded by Brother Clement Hansen M.M.).

            When Japan's surrender was announced on August 15th, 1945, the cities were devastated and the people panicky. Faced with the landing of foreign troops, the people feared the worst: looting, theft, lawlessness and molestation of women. Great fear was rampant throughout the country, but especially in the big cities. Thousands of young women were given vials of poison which could be used in time of personal danger; a general exodus of women from the cities got underway - trains were jampacked. The few autos remaining in the cities were loaded with people and possessions heading for the mountains. It was a time of panic and despair. 

             Aware of these conditions and also of the possibility of a revolution, a Tokyo ASAHI newspaper reporter visited the Archbishop of Tokyo (Most Rev. Peter Tatsuo Doi) looking for someone who might possibly do something to calm the populace and save the day. He was aware of the prestige of the Catholic Church and asked the advice of the Archbishop as to what might be done - as to whether or not there was in Japan a trustworthy American who might do something to calm the people. He sought an American that understood the Japanese people, who had been misled by propaganda of the military - one who loved the Japanese people and would be willing to give assurance that the incoming occupying troops would not cause undue suffering. 

             The Archbishop replied that he thought such a person was available in Kyoto - a Father Byrne, missioner of the Maryknoll Foreign Mission Society, who loved and understood the Japanese people and who, when last heard of, was under house arrest in Kyoto.

            The anonymous ASAHI newspaper man at once made the arduous trip to Kyoto. He contacted Bishop Furuya at the Catholic cathedral and explained his mission. The two then went to visit Fr. Byrne; it was the first overt meeting of Bishop Furuya and Fr. Byrne since the start of the war. Even though Fr. Byrne was quite weakened because of malnutrition, he immediately agreed to cooperate - in fact he felt it was his duty to do whatever possible to stem the panic and assure the people that the incoming troops were not the 'monsters' pictured in their newspapers during the war years. 

             For two days, Bishop Furuya, Fr. Byrne and the newspaper reporter worked diligently to prepare radio addresses to the Japanese people and the yet-at-sea incoming army of occupation.

           The next problem was to get to Tokyo where the broadcasts could be put on a nation-wide hookup of radio stations, and also sent by shortwave to the troop-carrying ships at sea. The trains were almost impossible to board - the interiors were packed with fleeing people and even the exteriors had many people clinging to the sides and on the tops. (Not a few of these were suffocated when the train passed through tunnels along the way.)

           So that Fr. Byrne and the reporter might be able to get a train, two policemen went to Osaka, where the train originated, and occupied seats as far as Kyoto, where Fr. Byrne and the newspaper man got on. When the train arrived in the Kyoto Station they were not able to board through the door because of the pandemonium and panic caused by people anxious to depart from the city. He pushed through an open window and occupied the seat being held by the two kind Kyoto policemen. As a lone American on that train he ran a calculated risk, but arrived without incident after a slow fifteen hour trip. (Today's trains make the trip in two hours and fifty minutes!)

            To the advancing troop-ships he sent by radio the following:

         "The war is over. What can I say, first of all, to the Japanese people whom I have loved, and who loved me as a brother for more than ten years?... What can I say to you, the soldiers of my native land, regarding these people? Their feelings will naturally be mixed with many emotions as they look upon the victors entering their homeland where their dwellings have been destroyed, their sons and relatives killed or maimed. It is only natural that they look with anger, fear, mistrust and frustration at your arrival... You are on trial before the eyes of the world. Any violence or immorality, any unjust or criminal act on your part will not only be a stain on your own character but also on that of the nation you represent; such deeds would go down to make a most inglorious page in history. I believe that all of you, leaders and soldiers, realize this full well and that you will prove it by coming into this land as well-trained troops....".

To the Japanese people he said on a national hook-up of radio:

            "I, an American, speak to you Japanese in the name of these soldiers who are about to enter your land, to assure you that you need have no fear. They are not coming to these shores as invaders with tanks and bayonets and bullets, but merely as representatives of their country to occupy Japan and to help once more to reconstruct and build on a new foundation of democracy. The eyes of the world are on this army of occupation; you may rest assured that they come peaceably. I believe I may assure you people of Japan that the Army Chaplains will do everything they can to remind our soldiers of their moral responsibility. The Military Police, too, will carefully protect your interests, and will arrest anyone who is found violating the law....". 

           When an article appeared in the ASAHI newspapers on August 20th (1945) based on the radio broadcasts of Fr. Byrne, the people, who had been in a state of despair, found renewed hope. They saw Fr. Byrne a savior for the whole of Japan. He held out the assurance of an orderly occupation. He represented a living and credible spark of hope for the future and thereby earned their lasting gratitude.

            There were those among the occupying forces who misinterpreted Fr.Byrne's address to the incoming troops. However, Fr. Byrne made it a point to contact the higher officers of the Occupation forces soon after their landing. The sincerity and earnestness of Fr. Byrne was most evident, the deep purpose of his addresses was comprehended and the general conclusion was that he had done a noble task: smoothing the way for the successful occupation which followed and also calming the fears of the populace, which in turn engendered a spirit of cooperation and prevented covert acts of reprisal. 

            Subsequently Fr. Byrne became a trusted and lasting friend of General Douglas MacArthur, whom he was able to visit at will. On many matters the General sought the advice of Fr. Byrne and accepted not a few of the suggestions made by and through Fr. Byrne.


            Msgr. Paul Furuya was Prefect Apostolic - the only priest at the cathedral. He had spent some days in jail during the war, because he spoke openly about peace in one of his sermons. The prefectural authorities in Shiga-ken forced him to sell the Maryknoll property at Karasaki (on Lake Biwa) for the sum of 80,000 yen (exchange rate at that time was 4 yen 28 sen per US dollar). The Monsignor put the entire sum in the bank and, even though hard pressed for funds during the war, he never touched this money. After the war he turned it over to the Maryknoll Fathers. 

            Maryknoll regained possession of the Karasaki property through the kind cooperation of a U.S. Chaplain (Rev. Cornelius McArdle C.P.), whose mere presence during the negotiations undertaken by Fr. Byrne and Fr. Felsecker with the prefectural authorities carried great weight. A sum of 60,000 yen (exchange rate at this time 15 yen for 1 US dollar) was given to the civil authorities. The remaining 20,000 yen remaining from the sum received when the property was forcibly purchased by the Prefecture of Shiga was to be used to rehabilitate the property, which had been considerably run down. 

            Eventually the repairs to the house and garden were done by Japanese laborers in the employ of the Military Police detachment of which Fr. McArdle was chaplain. In return the Military Police under the guidance of Fr. McArdle made use of this property for about three months as a place of rest and recreation and then turned it over to the Maryknoll Fathers.

             Father Byrne remained at this time as pastor of the Takano church in northern Kyoto. Gradually the Catholics started coming back to Sunday Mass and not a few Japanese came for catechetical instruction. Fr. Byrne was dividing his time between Kyoto and Tokyo. At this time he was also Society Superior and was anxious to begin some Maryknoll work in Tokyo.

            In 1946 the General Chapter of the Society was convened at Maryknoll N.Y. Even though Japan was not to be officially admitted to the Chapter, he made the trip in order to make known his views about the future prospects of Maryknoll Japan

           When the war ended the KYOTO-fu section of the diocese was staffed by Msgr. Paul Furuya and Fr. Patrick Byrne:

           MIE Prefecture was taken care of by Fr. Nansaki, a Japanese priest loaned by the Nagoya Prefecture Apostolic. He lived in Tsu-city. The mission buildings had been devastated by a bomb which landed nearby and the rectory which had been built just before the war started was in a dilapidated condition. In fact it had to be torn down later as it was unsafe as a residence.

            SHIGA prefecture had one priest, Fr. Yorogi from Hokkaido, who was not in the best of health. He lived at the TB sanatorium staffed by Japanese Visitation Sisters in Kusatsu. When possible, he took care of the needs of the Catholics in Otsu and Hikone.

            The first task was to staff the missions which had been started before the war. Fr. Byrne urgently requested Maryknoll to send missioners of Japan. 

            General MacArthur urged Fr. Byrne to 'flood the country with missioners - even to ordain at once a couple a hundred Japanese, if necessary' so as to prepare a Christian foundation on which to build a lasting democracy. However, the lower echelon of SCAP policy-makers decreed that no missioners could enter Japan who did not speak the language. They also decreed that such returning missioners would have to furnish their own logistic support and not expect help from the Occupation forces.

            Maryknoll responded by assigning Fr. Joseph Hunt, Fr. Leo Steinbach and Fr. H. Felsecker in October of 1945. These three Maryknollers had been working among Japanese before the war: Frs. Hunt and Steinbach in Korea and Fr. Felsecker in Japan.

            It was not until late in January, 1946 that arrangements for their trip to Japan were finalized and transportation became available. The three Maryknollers sailed from Seattle in February of 1946 on a Liberty freighter which took 29 days to reach Yokohama without any intermediate stops.

            Their arrival in Yokohama on March 17th, 1946 was a source of consternation to the American officers in charge of the port. There was a two day delay before these first civilians not attached to the Army or State Department were permitted to set foot on solid ground. After several days of consultations, an American officer in charge of land transportation arranged for a special coach to be attached to the Japanese train which went from the Yokohama station to Kyoto.

            In the early morning three Army trucks came to the ship with a dozen Japanese laborers to take the missioners' baggage to the train station. The Japanese train was delayed for about ten minutes while the baggage was put into the coach. A ten hour ride brought them to Kyoto where the special coach was detached and placed aside an auxiliary platform.

            Fr. Felsecker telephoned the cathedral rectory and got in touch with Fr. Byrne, who immediately solicited the help of an Army Chaplain (Fr. Gefell). A three-quarter ton Army weapons carrier was sent to the station and the task of loading and unloading began. Four trips had to be made by this truck before all the baggage was piled up in the cathedral rectory. Only one item was missing: a second-hand portable typewriter. 

            It was a joyous reunion for all. Fr. Byrne met his first Maryknoller in about five long years and the newly arrived were glad to get back with the people whom they worked among in years gone by. Fr. Hunt was appointed pastor of the Nishijin parish (which had been without a priest during the war), while Frs. Steinbach and Felsecker were assigned to the cathedral. Before the end of 1946 the following Maryknollers arrived in Japan:

Fr. William Pheur     curate at Takano.

Fr. John Walsh         pastor at Takano.

Brother William        in residence at the cathedral.

             Fr. M. McKillop came to Japan as a representative of CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES to act as Catholic representative on the LICENSED ASIA RELIEF ASSOCIATION (LARA) set up by SCAP Command Allied Powers).

            Fr. W. Kaschmitter arrived in December. He stayed at the Karasaki Maryknoll House studying and improving his knowledge of the language until May of 1947, when Fr. Byrne called him to Tokyo. Arrangements were made with a Mr. Hiraki by Fr. Byrne to let Fr.Kaschmitter live at the Fukuda-ya (next door to the present Maryknoll House in Tokyo). He stayed at this place until January 1948, when he moved into the small cook's house built on the property, which was to become Maryknoll's. 

            From the time of Fr. Kaschmitter's arrival in Tokyo he served as news editor for the Missionary Bulletin, which had just been started by Fr. Roggendorf S.J. When the latter's work at the Jesuit University became too heavy, Fr. Kaschmitter took over the editorship of the Missionary Bulletin. At the same time he founded a Catholic news service entitled TOSEI NEWS, which is still being published (1971) but under different editorship. His two main tasks concerned these publications until he left for Europe in February, 1956. During that period he also substituted for Fr. Tibesar for one year as Secretary General of the National Catholic Committee. Fr. Kaschmitter was also instrumental in establishing a Catholic Secretariate for Emigration and the Catholic Fire Insurance.

            Fr. Leopold Tibesar arrived in Japan in December, 1946. Fr. Byrne told him to report for work to Fr. Roggendorf S.J. and since the Maryknoll House was not yet started, he took up residence with a Catholic family (Inukai).

            He was appointed Assistant Director of Education, helped establish the Missionary Bulletin and obtained permission to establish the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Japan. In March of 1947 he was made Director of Charities of the Tokyo Archdiocese and two months later Assistant Director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Committee of Japan.

            When the Catholic Chaplains of the Occupation Army developed a plan for a Catholic Club in the heart of Tokyo on the sixth floor of the Mitsukoshi Department store, Fr. Tibesar was made the Director of this project. It developed into the Ginza Catholic Church, where more than five hundred baptisms were administered in the ensuring years.

            In October of 1949 the Apostolic Delegate appointed him to the post of Secretary General of the National Catholic Committee. The present NCCJ building in Tokyo was erected during his five years in this office.

            In 1955 he became pastor of the Fushimi parish in Kyoto and subsequently pastor of the Katsura church. After suffering from a severe heart attack, he returned to the USA, resided at the Maryknoll House in Seattle and continued his work among Japanese residents in that city. Subsequently he moved to Los Altos and on a visit to His sister (a Maryknoll nun) in Monrovia, he suffered a severe heart attack and died there.

            Fr. William Mackesy took up the post of Catholic Advisor on Religious matters to SCAP.

            Fr. Patrick Byrne's appointment by the Holy See as Apostolic Visitor to Korea was announced on June 26th, 1947 and he left for Korea on October 9th.

            Fr. McKillop was appointed Society Superior in place of Fr. Byrne and Fr. Felsecker replaced Fr. McKillop as Catholic representative on the Relief Committee (LARA).

            Before leaving for Korea, Fr. Byrne was looking for property in Tokyo to establish a Maryknoll Center there. Mr. Hiraki offered his services - it turned out that he was out to 'feather his own nest'. However he did point out several available sites and Fr. Byrne was determined to obtain the property we now occupy.

            It took more than one year to obtain the necessary documents, deeds and title from the Japanese government. It was government land and once had been leased by the Austrian government to house their ministry, which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1921. The necessary papers were obtained only after the diocesan lawyer (Mr. Hori) was asked by Maryknoll to find out what caused the long delay.

            It seemed that Mr. Hiraki was trying to establish personal ownership of some 300 tsubo of land - the remaining 2,400 tsubo were to be registered in the name of Maryknoll. The official in the land registration office thought this rather strange and so refused to give the deeds until the matter was taken care of by Mr. Hori and all the land registered in the name of Maryknoll. (Mr. Hiraki later on was given one million yen - and subsequently some 200 tsubo of land. Eventually part of the land of the original buildings were sold to Sophia University (Jesuit University).

            During the year that Maryknoll was trying to obtain the necessary title to the property, it was deemed advisable not to build a suitable Maryknoll Center. Instead a small house which would eventually serve as servants' quarters was built. Into this small house Fr. Kaschmitter moved from the neighboring Fukuda-ya and was joined by Brother Theophane, who had just arrived from the USA. Foundations for the Maryknoll House were staked out in October. On March 11th Brother Theophane moved in as night watchman, and on March 31st Fr. Kaschmitter evacuated the small servants' residence and moved into the new Maryknoll House. At the same time, Fr. Felsecker, the newly appointed Society Superior, moved from the Dai Ichi Hotel into the Maryknoll House.

            A most noteworthy development in Kyoto immediately after the war was the charity work of Fr. Steinbach during his years at the cathedral parish in downtown Kyoto. No sooner was he assigned to Japan than friends in the USA sent or brought to him used clothing and monetary gifts to be given the impoverished people in Kyoto. With the money he bought rice and had it shipped to Japan. Clothing and food were distributed to the needy every Saturday afternoon. Representatives of some l,200 families who had received tickets from the city Welfare Department lined up along the street flanking the cathedral to receive their portion of the food and clothing which Fr. Steinbach had gathered for them.

            Some 8,000 families were on the relief rolls of the city. Out of this number 1,200 received aid at the church on Saturday afternoons. Clothing, fish, charcoal fruit, firewood, rice, canned goods and medicine were among the items distributed weekly. Some 150 farming villages contributed periodically from the farm products which they could not otherwise send to the cities because of a lack of transportation facilities.

            Fr. Steinbach got some help from soldiers, who for a while were able to make use of Army vehicles to transport these donated foods. Later on five different Japanese trucking companies took turns in furnishing weekly transportation - and finally Father bought a used Army truck and trailer to do the job himself.

            The St. Vincent de Paul Society, which he established to help him in this tremendous weekly task, was made up of young men of the parish. Some forty of them took their turn to help out on Saturday afternoons and also in going to the outlying villages during the week to solicit donations and collect them. Fr. Steinbach arranged for various groups to come to the church for a party and always managed to have something for them to carry home. More than a thousand children flocked to the church every week-end for talks on religion, games, singing and always a little gift of candy or clothing.

            A special Mass was arranged for the children for each Sunday morning - never less than a thousand were present. Outlying villages were visited regularly and some of these places became mission stations and today are country parishes. In the autumn of 1951, when the need for relief had died down, Father Steinbach moved to one of these country villages and established the first church at Aodani (Kyoto-prefecture).

            Father John Murrett arrived in Japan in December of 1946 together with Frs. Kaschmitter and Tibesar. He had been assigned to teach English literature at Kyoto University. He began teaching in April of 1947 when the new school term began.

            As a professor he was assigned a house on the campus. The President of the University (Dr. Ochiai) told Fr. Murrett: "Give them all the English you can. But you have something else more important: the teaching of your religion that will keep today's students from following the red line."

            Hardly was he settled down in his teacher's house on the University campus when a student showed up and asked if he knew of any foreigner who could give him a job for the summer just for his food. Fr. Murrett gave him a job as handyman around the property and in September when school reopened he asked to be permitted to stay on. Another student arrived with a request for lodging and he was followed by two more.

            When one of the students' dormitories was destroyed by fire, Fr. Murrett told his boys to take the first ten burned-out boarders they came across and bring them to his house. He intended to take care of them temporarily, but as it turned out they all asked to remain until graduation. The house was a cottage 'built for two' but in less than no time the fourteen boys had things moved around to make room for all of them. There was nothing deluxe about the place, but it was better than most of them had before. All of them were most helpful and grateful to Fr. Murrett.

            At one time the number grew to eighteen! Larger quarters were essential. The Marist Fathers had a large Japanese house in Kyoto near the Heian Shrine (Okazaki) and since they were taking over Nara Prefecture, they were in the mood to sell their Kyoto property. Maryknoll bought this property and it was known as VILLA MARIA until 1968, when it was sold after Fr. Murrett's return to the States because of health and old age. From the time of purchase this house was able to house as many as 46 students at one time and it proved to be a very successful missionary work among students.

           Fr. H. J. Felsecker, who upon his return to Japan after the war was appointed pastor of the cathedral in Kyoto, in the fall of 1947 was assigned to take Fr. McKillop's job as representative of Catholic Relief Services, with residence at the Dai Ichi Hotel in Tokyo and offices in the Marunouchi section of downtown Tokyo. (Fr. McKillop had been appointed Mission and Society Superior and took up residence at the Takano church in Kyoto).

            All relief work in Japan was done through Licensed Agency for Relief in Asia (LARA), which was set up by the Public Health and Welfare section of SCAP. Catholic, Protestant and Quaker relief organizations had one member each on this Committee and their logistic support was guaranteed by SCAP. High-ranking and influential Japanese laymen made up a working committee.

            This committee worked in close cooperation with the Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry. Weekly committee meetings decided on allocations of relief goods. Periodic inspection trips were made by the American committee members to all parts of the country to inspect the institutions to which their relief goods were consigned and to investigate their needs. Regular reports were made to their parent organizations in the USA, to the Japanese Ministries concerned and also to SCAP.

            Millions of dollars worth of clothing (new and used), food, medicines and animals (goats and cows) were distributed free of charge without any discrimination as to race, color or creed. The larger part of relief goods were sent to institutions: hospitals, orphanages, old folks homes, widow's homes, etc. However a certain percentage was allotted to churches and was distributed at the discretion of the American committee members. The program proved to be very successful and was highly thought of by SCAP and the Japanese government.

            The Japanese government took care of all internal expenses - unloading the ships, warehousing, trans-shipping, trucking to institutions and office expenditures. Cost of ocean freight was first paid by the US government, but later on this was assumed by the Japanese government.

              Fr. Felsecker continued to represent Catholic Relief Services on this LARA committee during the five years he acted as Society Superior (May 1950 to May 1955) and for two years after he returned to Kyoto to become pastor of the Takano parish. He also received an Imperial decoration for his work.


1 comment:

  1. What happened to Villa Maria after Fr. Murret returned to USA?