St. Columban

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St. Columban is the patron of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. He is recognized as one of the great pioneers in western European civilization.

“A life unlike your own can be your best teacher”

Irish monk, missionary and pilgrim, Columban or Columbanus was born around 545 in the shadow of Mount Leinster in the South East of Ireland. He lived in the monastery of Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland for more than 20 years before crossing the Irish Sea with 12 companions to become ‘pilgrims for Christ’, to evangelize and live the Gospel in places and among people far from his homeland.

Columban found a Church divided and distant from the values of the Gospel and became an outspoken advocate of unity and dialogue, driven by his unwavering faith in God and his belief that we are all called to communion around the table of the Lord. He became a catalyst for change, embracing the cultural tensions and differences he encountered and challenging the status quo of the Church and civil authorities. Columban’s mission was noted for his remarkable zeal, having once been described as “traveling through Europe like a flaming torch enkindling the fire of God’s love in the hearts of men.”

Amid hardship and persecution Columban founded monasteries at Annegray, Fontaine and Luxeuil in France, in Bregenz on the banks of Lake Constance in Austria and in Bobbio, south of Milan, in Italy, his final resting place. St. Columban’s Feast Day is celebrated on 23rd November.

Columban’s great contribution to the Catholic Church was the new spirit in European monasticism he instilled, a spirit of total commitment to Christ and to the values of the Gospels.

“Columban is to be reckoned among those exceptional people whom Divine Providence is wont to raise up in the most difficult periods of human history to restore causes almost lost.”

Pope Pius XI

“Let us be for Christ, not for ourselves”

The Missionary Society of St. Columban was founded in Ireland in 1918 by two Irish priests – Fr. Edward Galvin and Fr. John Blowick – as a mission to the people of China. Galvin and Blowick took inspiration for their mission from the example of St. Columban – the first Irish missionary and pilgrim to leave Ireland to evangelize and live the Gospel among other cultures and peoples – and chose him as Patron Saint of the Society.

Today, the vision of Galvin and Blowick has extended to the USA, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Korea, Myanmar, Japan, Fiji, Peru, Chile, Britain, Pakistan and Taiwan and the Columbans have become an intercultural community of priests, lay missionaries and co-workers called by God to places where differences meet.

Columban missionaries are drawn to the side of the poor, the marginalised and the suffering Earth – the signs of division and disharmony in our world today. Columbans are catalysts in addressing the causes of poverty, advocates and activists for the care of God’s creation, uniting with civil authorities, other faith communities and the Church – the ordained, religious and lay people – to share Gospel joy with all.

St. Columban’s Legacy

Columban left behind the challenge, as a Missionary Society, to live not by a set of rules, but a commitment to God and to one another, irrespective of our differences of opinion, our diversity of language, culture and religious experiences, which enrich us and draw us closer to God; to give of ourselves to furthering the presence of the Kingdom of God in our world today.

In his homily during his visit to Ireland in August 2018, Pope Francis said, “I think of Saint Columbanus, who with his small band of companions brought the light of the Gospel to the lands of Europe in an age of darkness and cultural dissolution. Their extraordinary missionary success was not based on tactical methods or strategic plans, no, but on a humble and liberating docility to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It was their daily witness of fidelity to Christ and to each other that won hearts yearning for a word of grace and helped give birth to the culture of Europe. That witness remains a perennial source of spiritual and missionary renewal for God’s holy and faithful people.”

Columban’s legacy has not only been recognised by the Church. Columban was the first to coin the phrase “totius Europa” (the whole of Europe) in an effort to bring communities together at a time of much turmoil and conflict. Many centuries later, political and religious leaders in Europe came together in the aftermath of two world wars to start building a lasting peace and safe environment for all. Robert Schuman, French Minister for Foreign Affairs in the 1950s and one of the founding fathers of the European Union said Columbanus “is the patron saint of those who seek to construct a united Europe”.