Seven Irish priests to be beatified by Pope Francis in Seoul next Saturday

Head of Columbans in South Korea critical of church there and handling of papal visit

Seven Irish Columban priests will be among 124 Catholic missionaries who will be beatified by Pope Francis next Saturday during his visit to South Korea.

The seven men were stationed along the border with North Korea at the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 when they were killed during the communist invasion.

Pope Francis is scheduled to depart for South Korea tomorrow, and will be there until next Monday.

Meanwhile the current head of the Columbans in South Korea Fr Donal O'Keefe has criticised the wealth of the Catholic Church in the country and how the papal visit has been handled. "There has been little or no consultation within the wider the Church as to the content of the visit," he said.


The Missionary Society of St Columban has been in Korea since 1933.

Fr O’Keeffe noted how “in recent times the wealth of the Church (in South Korea) has become a concern for many in the Church who fear that it is now turning in on itself, and losing its prophetic edge”.

He was particularly critical of plans by Pope Francis to visit the Village of Love in Kkottongnae next Saturday. It is run by the Kkottongnae Congregation of Jesus, a Korean religious order which works with the outcasts of society.

Fr O'Keeffe said: "The Pope had heard of their work through the Korean community in Buenos Aires archdiocese, and requested this visit to highlight the mission of the Church to work with the poor."

However “huge controversy surrounds the group in Korea with rumours of corruption and misuse of funds” he said.

Fr O’Keefe said “critics publicly state that the group basically uses the ‘put them away’ approach to dealing with persons with special needs as opposed to the ‘integrate them into the wider community’ approach”.

He also noted that the South Korean government was very supportive of the visit and "this has raised suspicions among many that it (the government) will use the visit to build up its own credibility and popularity. People still remember how the former dictator Chun Dou-hwan used the visit of Pope John Paul 11 in 1984 to validate his own regime".

The seven Irish Columbans to be beatified on Saturday are Fr Anthony Collier (37) from Clogherhead, Co Louth who was killed in June 1950; Fr James McGinn (38) of Bute, Montana in the US and of Irish parents who was killed in July 1950; Fr Patrick Reilly (34) from Drumraney, Co Westmeath who was killed in August 1950; Msgr Patrick Brennan (49) from Chicago of Irish parents, Fr Thomas Cusack (39) from Ballycotton, Liscannor, Co Clare, Fr John O'Brien (31) from Donamon, Co Roscommon, all of whom were killed in September 1950; and Fr Francis Canavan (35) from Headford, Co Galway who was killed in December 1950.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times