View of Isidore of Old. Photo courtesy Isidore The Miracle of Jeju, Korea
This article is taken from the book Isidore: the Miracle Of Jeju, Korea by Young Chul Yang and translated by Noel Mackey. The original text has been edited into a shorter form. Fr. McGlinchey is an Irish priest who came to Jeju in 1953. He has been credited with introducing modern farming methods to the island and using the profits to help out the local community.
After a long journey of 9,000 kilometers, he finally set foot on the island of Jeju. On first setting eyes on the island from afar he thought it looked like a treasure island. He did not know how many hours it had taken to travel from Mokpo to the island by an old wooden boat.
He was totally exhausted not realizing how severe seasickness could be. As he stood on deck he had watched the splendid sights for ages. He was watching a scene he had never seen before. In the center stood a great mountain like a pillar with a panorama of small ones spread around it. "Wonderful" was the word that automatically came out of his mouth. He thought that like the mainland the island had also been destroyed by the ravages of war. However, on looking at it from some distance he realized that it was different. "Oh my God since you have given me the task of working in this heavenly land I don't know how to thank you," he said.
As it was still only April and there was a cold wind blowing as the boat sled into the island. After traveling the long journey from his native Ireland he was finally in Jeju. He had reached his destination one year after he arrived on the Korean peninsula. He had become accustomed to hearing that whenever there had been trouble on the mainland that people were banished to this lonely place of exile but as he looked at it from the vast expanse of water it appeared more splendid than he had imagined.
The boat was making a "tolkong, tolkong" sound but when it reached the island he was confronted with a sight worth seeing. Standing in a row were men and women dressed in rags. He wondered how he could make his way through that slippery mud path that was the only way to get from the port to the city. Wearing priestly garb and carrying a case containing some clothes he must have looked quite a spectacle. The voices of the Jeju people rang in his ears as he passed by them standing there staring at him.
Fr. McGlinchey was appointed to Korea in June of 1952. He found this to be absurd as he had never even heard of Korea up until then. He immediately began to search here and there in books to see what he could learn about this country. Korea was in the midst of the June 25th war and the place had been devastated. Despite that, he found that he could not reject the sacred church order to go to Korca and to try to assist its despairing people.
Preparing to enter Korea was not that easy. He was supposed to enter the country by the end of September 1952 but could not get a visa as the country was still in the midst of war. In January of 1953 he finally received the long-awaited permission. Together with the other priests he immediately set out for the city of Cork in the south of Ireland where he boarded a ship that took him to New York after six arduous days at sea. He spent three days traveling across America by train to San Francisco where he again boarded a ship that took him to Yokohama in Japan. The trip across the Pacific took ten days. On April 14th he departed Tokyo and flew to Busan. This was the first day he spent in what to him was the strange land of Korea. He then traveled to Mokpo where he spent some seven months living at San Jeong Dong parish church.
It was at that time the residence of Harold Henry the Archbishop of Gwangju. Under the Archbishop's tutelage, he studied Korean and became familiar with Korean customs. He was appointed curate of the parish of Suncheon on November 23rd, 1953. While there he traveled to Sorokdo, Beolgyo, Boseong and other places in that area saying mass with the people. He had been given the duty of reviving the faith of the people that were exhausted by the war. He thought that was all he was required to do and felt good about his role.
In April 1954 he received a new assignment just one year after he had set foot in Korea. He was sent to Hallim in Jeju where he was asked to show the love of God to the people living in the countryside. Up until then, Hallim had been an outstation of Chungang parish in Jeju city but now Fr. McGlinchey became its first parish priest. Here he was expected to demonstrate God’s love for the people.
As soon as the boat arrived in Jeju he immediately set out for Hallim. He arrived at night and even though there were Catholics waiting to greet him he has no recollection of how he got there. Having arrived in Hallim he found that there was no church there and that the Catholics met for mass in borrowed houses
The first thing he needed to do was to build a church. Providing a place where the people could celebrate mass in comfort was his most urgent task. He found that wearing priestly garb no longer had much significance but was rather burdensome in the situation. He felt that he now needed to tuck up his sleeves and get to work. Let’s take a look at how he described the situation.
“As soon as he arrived he went to inspect the site that had been purchased for him to build a church on. He thought that rather than leave the land idle that they should use it to grow vegetables until such time as they were ready to build a church there. At the time all he had in his pocket was the thousand dollars the Archbishop had given him. He thought that he should also put this money to immediate use. He also thought that he should first take up a spade before taking up a bible. He saw the needs of the starving people in the area to be greater than that of the believers."
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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