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Fr Mc Grath Part 2

Quo Primum
Warrior Priest Father McGrath and the Battle for the Soul of China By Theresa Marie Moreau First Published in The Remnant Newspaper A single ring from the doorbell echoed through the rectory on …More
Warrior Priest
Father McGrath and the Battle for the Soul of China

By Theresa Marie Moreau
First Published in The Remnant Newspaper


A single ring from the doorbell echoed through the rectory on Rue Maresca, home to the Missionary Society of St. Columban priests quartered in Shanghai.
It was around 11 p.m., on the night of September 6, 1951.
With a big smile on his face, the Rev. Fr. Malachi Murphy answered the door, expecting friends from Soochow to be on the other side.
Instead, he found eleven police officers, all wearing white caps and drab green uniforms, standing dour-faced on the front steps. One pointed a sub-machine gun. His ten comrades brandished pistols.Stationed around the perimeter of the three-story rectory, dozens and dozens of soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army stood watch. Their job: to make certain no one escaped the rectory. Murphy alerted his superior, the Rev. Fr. Edward McElroy, who promptly greeted his unwelcome guests.
“We want the names of everyone here,” one of the officers demanded of McElroy, who methodically ran down the litany of resident priests, finally coming to the Rev. Fr. William Aedan McGrath.
“That’s the one we want,” an officer blurted. “He’s being arrested on suspicion.”
“On suspicion of what?” McElroy asked.
“Read tomorrow’s paper,” taunted the officer, as he and the others pushed their way inside and advanced upstairs to the second floor, on reconnaissance for Communist enemy McGrath (pronounced mc-GRAW), spiritual director of China’s Legion of Mary, a Roman Catholic laity-based organization founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 1921.
For two hours, the authorities searched McGrath’s room, with its bed, night stand, a book of Gospels and a copy of Thomas à Kempis’ “My Imitation of Christ.” They found nothing. McGrath had anticipated his arrest and had destroyed any evidence that may have incriminated any one. Nonetheless, the officers arrested the priest, pushed him into the hallway, sealed the door to his bedroom to limit access, then escorted him downstairs, where he kneeled before McElroy for absolution.
On his way out, McGrath happened to look at his watch. It was 1 a.m.
It’s now September 7, the vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foundation day of the Legion of Mary, he thought to himself, chuckling. The Communists have selected a good day, today.
For twenty-four years McGrath had lived in China, during a time when the fastest route to the Orient was a six-week-long, stomach-launching voyage aboard an ocean liner. In August 1930, the newly ordained, 24-year-old priest arrived at dock in Shanghai, more than 6,000 miles from his hometown of Dublin. But he didn’t stop there. From China’s international port city, he continued four more days and 700 miles westward on the Yangtze River, which washes across China’s waistline.
At last, he arrived at his destination: the Hanyang diocese, in the province of Hubei, explains McGrath in a series of talks on six audio cassettes, most recorded by the Rev. Fr. Francis Peffley, of the Arlington diocese. McGrath was born in Dublin on January 22, 1906 and died on Christmas Day 2000. Though time has deposited crackles and sputters on the tapes, McGrath’s Irish brogue is crisp, his humor quick and his passion unmistakable as he described his experiences in China.
McGrath landed in the Republic of China around the same time a smalltime thug in the burgeoning Chinese Communist Party began strong-arming his way to secular omnipotence by seizing control of a few ragtag armies that ate and pillaged its way only a hundred miles or so south of Hanyang, where McGrath lived.
Known as a bloodthirsty bandit, Tse-Tung Mao, (who would later be blamed for the deaths of 77 million Chinese) was backed with money and muscle from the Kremlin, the seat of political power in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the USSR’s Communist Party’s Central Committee, had plans for China and looked for someone to head a puppet regime there, wrote husband and wife Jung Chang and Jon Halliday in “Mao: The Unknown Story.”
Megalomaniac Mao looked like promising material.
Born on December 26, 1893, to a wealthy peasant family, Mao’s two-character given names, Tse-Tung, translate to “Shine on the East.” His mother, a Buddhist, performed a “baptism” upon her son, in a ritual during which an eight-foot-tall boulder “adopted” Mao, who was then given his baptismal name of Shisan-Yazi (Boy of Stone).
McGrath heard plenty about Mao and tried to stay out of his path. Around the time the missionary priest had finished his rookie year, he was called to his bishop’s office, where he learned of his first big assignment.
“You’re to be a parish priest. I’m sorry to say there is no church there. I’m even more sorry to say there is no house. I don’t know what you’ll do, or where you’ll live, but do your best,” said the Most Rev. Edward Galvin, who co-founded with the Rev. Fr. John Blowick the St. Columban missionary society in 1918.
Off McGrath went, 100 miles north, where he stayed for the next sixteen years. He had twenty-four mission villages to cover. Without a car or even roads, he walked one day’s journey from one village to the next, where he bunked down for a few days with parishioners in their mud-and-straw huts. It took two months to cover his parish, where he baptized, instructed, heard confessions, buried the dead, blessed graves. Whatever needed to be done, McGrath did it. He had no choice. There was no one else.
After a few months and already completely emotionally exhausted, McGrath pleaded with Galvin to send him back-up. A priest. A nun. Anyone. Galvin told him there was no one. Desperate, McGrath tried Catholic Action, a lay apostolic movement Pope Pius XI had promoted. He undertook this task, and his endeavor, which he later referred to as “McGrath’s Folly,” almost took him under. After reprimanding a group of parishioners, they took revenge by writing nasty letters about him to all the bishops in China.
Again McGrath pleaded with his bishop for help. Unable to send a priest, the bishop sent a book, “The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary,” put together almost entirely by Frank Duff, who had founded the Legion of Mary on September 7, 1921.
Still stinging from his failed attempt with Catholic Action, the last thing McGrath wanted to do was try to coax parishioners to help him out. Nonetheless, he decided he’d give it a go, half-expecting and half-hoping it would fail – just to spite the bishop. For his first group, McGrath rounded up six uneducated peasants. For six months, he absolutely forbade the men to tell their wives about the meetings, which were held, in secret, once a week at midnight. This way, McGrath reasoned, no one would know when it failed. If word got out about a second failure, that would be just too much.
Long after the village dogs had stopped barking and everyone in the village (except the six men and McGrath) had fallen asleep, the first meeting began with all seven kneeling and praying five decades of the rosary. McGrath followed the handbook and assigned to each of the men evangelization tasks that he had no time to do. The following week, villagers were still in the street at midnight, so McGrath – on the QT – ordered his six recruits to return in two hours. So at 2 a.m., the second meeting began. It had been a success. His apostles had accomplished all their tasks.
That was McGrath’s introduction to the Legion of Mary. Formally, he joined the Legion by making his act of consecration to Christ through Mary, as suggested by St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716) in his book “True Devotion to Mary,” in which he explains that the best way to get to Christ is the way He came to the world – through His mother.
Before McGrath knew it, his Legion grew and grew, but China was in utter turmoil, being ripped apart by the Chinese Communists and Nationalists, as well as thousands of Japanese invaders.
Mao aimed the crosshairs of his site on his target, political enemy Kai-Shek Chiang, known as the “Generalissimo,” who headed the Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party, formed by a number of Republican groups (and Communists) several tumultuous years after the Republican Revolution of 1911 that ended 2,000 years of China’s dynastic rule.
In 1927, the Nationalists had split with its Communist contingent because of the Communist’s (especially Mao’s) incitement and sadistic fondness of mob violence, inspired by Karl Marx’s idealized class struggle about which he wrote in “The Communist Manifesto,” published in 1848.
The Japanese, by 1931, had invaded Manchuria, a region in northeast China. The invaders wanted to get their hands on China’s natural resources of coal, iron, gold and giant forests. When thousands of Japanese soldiers marched into the village where McGrath lived, they gave him boot. He was forced to leave his parish and return to Hanyang around 1938.
That’s the end of the diocese, he thought. For without me, it’s bound to fail.
After two and a half years, McGrath was permitted to return. And what he found in his diocese greatly surprised him and, perhaps, hurt his ego a little. Not only had the diocese survived without him, it flourished. The legionaries had done everything – baptized, instructed, witnessed marriages, everything except offer Mass and hear confessions.
McGrath’s diocese wasn’t the only thing that flourished in China.
So had Mao’s power. Since January 1, 1937, Mao had holed up in Yenan, an ancient city enclosed by thick walls. Beginning in 1942, Mao began his “Rectification Campaign,” the “Yenan Terror,” Chang and Halliday wrote, describing how Mao ordered thousands of his young Chinese People’s Volunteers thrown into prison caves carved into the loess mountains of Yenan. There, his victims would be “spy-proofed,” during which they endured endless interrogations, brainwashing sessions, thought examinations, physical torture, even death. Mao …