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Columban Fathers celebrate cross-cultural ties

The Missionary Society of St. Columban, with its U.S. headquarters near Bellevue, is celebrating its 100th anniversary through a series of events in the coming year.

The festivities start with a Dec. 2 book signing for a recently published, 431-page history of the North American mission titled, "Be Centered in Christ and Not in Self."

Sister of St. Francis of Assisi Angelyn Dries, professor emerita in theological studies at St. Louis University, was commissioned to document the history as an opportunity to look back on "our accomplishments, on our ups and downs," said Father Timothy Mulroy, regional director. It’s also good to have someone familiar with the order but not part of the society do the writing, perhaps noting things that Columban Fathers might miss, he said.

Invitations have been sent to supporters of the order for the book signing, which will be held at the headquarters from 9 a.m. to noon and include a reception.

And that evening, members of the Filipino community in the Omaha area will sponsor a concert and dinner at the Industrial Social Hall in Bellevue, where Knights of Columbus Columban Council 6192, which supports the order, holds its monthly meetings. Proceeds of the event will go to the Columbans.

"It’s humbling," Father Mulroy said of the Filipino support. "That people take such an interest in what we do and go to such effort."

A third celebration will be July 1, with Archbishop George J. Lucas presiding at a 3 p.m. Mass at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, with a reception afterward.

Founded in 1918 in Ireland by Fathers Edward Galvin (later named a bishop) and John Blowick, the society is named after that country’s greatest missionary, St. Columban. Wanting a strong U.S. presence from the beginning, Father Galvin established an office in Omaha that same year, and the society placed its national headquarters and a seminary in Bellevue in 1921.

The seminary closed in the 1950s, but 13 priests and a number of staff at the headquarters and retreat center continue to publish the Columban Mission magazine in English and Spanish and contact supporters around the country. They also serve local parishes, people in prisons and homeless shelters, and Hispanic, Filipino, Korean, Chinese and other communities in the area.

Father Galvin first served in China, but the society and its 390 priests and 60 lay missionaries now serve in cities across the United States, as well as Ireland, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea, Myanmar, Mexico, Taiwan, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Fiji and Pakistan.

World headquarters for the Columbans moved from Ireland to Hong Kong about 10 years ago. Anniversary celebrations will be held in both places, and around the globe, Father Mulroy said.

"We’re celebrating with each community of faith we have worked with," he said. "We are missionaries, so it is important to celebrate through the people we live and work with."

"It’s a turning point," Father Mulroy said of the anniversary. "(Fathers) Galvin and Blowick, 100 years ago, they founded the society. Now it’s our turn … to go with faith and dedication into a new century, with a strong vision and great purpose and passion for mission."

Serving with humility and love are two important aspects of the Columban Fathers’ approach to mission, walking with and often relying on the people they serve for help learning a new language, culture and meeting other needs, Father Mulroy said. Columban Fathers try to live by the Lord’s words in the Gospel of John, he said: "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35).

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