▲ Father McGlinchey is part of Jeju’s living history. Photo by Angela Kim
When Father Patrick James McGlinchey, founder of Saint Isdore Farm in Jeju City, first came to Jeju from Ireland in April of 1953, the war was still being fought on the mainland. He vividly remembers Jeju when he arrived.
“You cannot imagine what Jeju was like in the ’50s and the ’60s,” he told The Weekly at his home in Geumak village on Jan. 6. “It was pathetic. People were committing suicide everywhere, [especially] young people.”
Father McGlinchey, who is now 83, was first sent to Hallim, Jeju City, to build a church. His only mission was to build a house of God and to preach, but he could not stand by while he witnessed the desperate living conditions of the Jeju people.
“People were very poor, but I was welcomed. People brought me eggs, vegetables … when they didn’t have enough to eat,” he said.
With his experience back in Ireland, he knew he could help the people of Jeju develop livestock industry techniques. His father was a veterinarian, so he recognized that Jeju’s traditional methods of raising pigs were not only inefficient, but also unhygienic.
He started to go around the village to try and persuade farmers to adopt a new way of farming. But no one would listen. “I was just a stupid foreigner,” he said jokingly.
By 1957 he had established the first 4-H club on Jeju. One of this international youth organization’s principles is to “learn by doing.” In order to persuade the Jeju people that new farming techniques were valuable, he went to the mainland to buy a Yorkshire pig, which matures faster than a Jeju traditional black pig. He then brought it to Hallim and built a little pig house in front of the church. The sow soon produced 10 little white piglets. No one in Hallim had ever seen white piglets before and Father McGlinchey became famous.
There was no TV, no movie theatre on Jeju then and the white piglets were the center of attention for the village children.
He made contracts with young students and gave each a pig. The contract stated that the pig should be raised separately from the toilet area (traditionally Jeju black pigs were fed human waste) and should be fed well. And when the pig produces piglets, the students could keep all but two, which would be given back to the church.
But it did not go as planned, he said. He didn’t yet have a deep understanding of Korean culture, and the parents, who hold great power over their children, sold most of the pigs.
“I wouldn’t have made the contracts with the kids. I would have tried to persuade parents more directly. That was ignorance on my part,” the Father said.
So, he had to think of other ways to help the people of Jeju. In 1962, he set up the island’s first credit union in Hallim to aid villagers who without collateral had no way to borrow money. He is still proud of the fact that his work has led to the establishment of 26 credit unions all over the island.
As time went on, the Father’s contributions to Jeju society continued. When he first started Saint Isdore Farm as a clergyman in 1959, he naturally had no money and built the farm from scratch. It was “very small and slow,” he said. With the help of volunteers, he managed to build a stone office building.
“By the ’60s there were an awful lot of widows living in the country side. Old people living alone. Very, very poor,” he recalled. One day, he came across a destitute old lady.
“We took her into the office. Next day, she brought a friend.”
Soon Saint Isdore Farm started to take in these old ladies and gave them shelter. They ran out of space, so they built another building, which also filled up. Finally, Father McGlinchey asked the Columban Sisters in Ireland for help. Three Sisters came to Jeju, and the Isdore Nursing Home was established in 1984.
Employment was also soon on his radar. When a 16-year-old girl from Hallim went to find work in Busan and came back in an ash box three months later, he was “very shocked” and “very angry.” He realized that “there’s no better way to help somebody than to create a job.”
“On that principle, we operated here. It was difficult, [but] it saved lives.”
Father McGlinchey invited Sisters from Ireland to teach Jeju women to knit. He purchased sheep for wool and started a fabric factory in Hallim, called Hallim Sujik. Yarn was made by hand with looms. The Sisters taught young women and girls to knit sweaters. Soon, their hand-knitted high-quality sweaters and blankets became well-known in Seoul. The factory hired up to 1,300 people, including those working from home.
Reflecting on his life’s work, the Father said there are few things that he wished he had done differently.
“I would have not have put myself in the position of directly hiring people, paying wages to people as a foreigner. I would’ve spent more effort getting volunteers,” he said elaborating that Saint Isdore Farm’s best work came from overseas volunteers.
Due to his age he recently stepped down as head of Saint Isdore Farm, but he still has many concerns about the island. Jeju has seen significant economic development over the past 60 years, but the Father believes that this has caused the degradation of the island’s society.
“People then were more concerned with one another than now. People are more selfish now than then. Children were more respectful to elders,” he laments.
He also worries that “there are far too many swindlers who cause more pain, loss, and stress to their fellow human beings, in societies, not only in Korea but all over the world.” He emphasized honesty and transparency for anyone who wants to start a business on Jeju.
Father McGlinchey’s contributions to Jeju have been recognized with various awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1975 (for transformative leadership in Asia), and the Jeju Culture Prize in 2002. Looking back at his achieve-ments, from the factory, the nursing home, the hospice, to the clinic, he humbly summed up his legacy and work as being all “for [the] people on Jeju who needed help.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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