Fr. Paul J. W. – SSC
Missionary to Koreans for
If you are penitent, you love. And if you love you are of God. All things are atoned for, all things are saved by love.
If I seem happy to you, you could never say anything that would please me more. For men are made for happiness, and anyone who is completely happy has a right to say to himself "I am doing God's will on earth." All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs were happy.
The book is basically about how I, a born compulsive gamble, became a priest, against all odds.
A few years after I arrived in Korea, as a missionary my childhood gambling developed into a full- fledged compulsive gambler.
After about 20 years of problem gambling, I was finally able to stop gambling and start Gamblers Anonymous in Korea, which was very badly needed there.
There are now 58 Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-anon (family meetings) all over South Korea.
In 2015, they celebrated their 30 year anniversary, and 541 members attended.
Praise for the Book
Thank you so much for letting me read your autobiography. What a life and faith journey and story. You drew all the parts of your life together so well.
I can imagine it was hard work remembering all the details and historical sequences. Reading the text was effortless. You draw the reader in very well.
I feel I have met your parents and family members and that I was present at all those key times in your life. There are beautiful descriptions and detailed recollections and you describe the more difficult parts of your life with great courage and honesty.
Thank you for sharing your journey.
With all good wishes,
Fr. Finbar Maxwell
EARLY YEARS ON THE FARM
I am Father Paul J. W. I am a Catholic priest and a member of a Foreign Mission Society. I was ordained on December 20, 1958 in Milton, Massachusetts, near Boston. It will be clear later why I do not use my full name.
Today is December 30, 2006. A few minutes ago it struck me that I should write a bit about my life story. That thought had never occurred to me before. I am seventy-five years old and I think I have had an interesting life. I realize that everyone who has lived that long must have experienced many things that other people would be interested in hearing about. I am not sure that anyone will really be interested in hearing my story, but what the heck? I have a computer and lots of spare time, so why not give it a try?
I was born on a farm near Fonda, Iowa, about ninety miles east of Sioux City. My parents were Louis and Mary Lillian W.
I was the last of seven children. My oldest brother had died at the age of seven, long before I was born. When I was born, there were three sisters and two brothers.
A few days after I was born, the doctor said I would not live through the night. I do not know exactly what the problem was, but I was told in later years that my mother did not have enough of her milk to nourish me and another mother was called in to assist.
I was also told in later years that my oldest sister and another girl in her class missed going to a dance and stayed home to be with me.
Anyway, I survived and I recall many things about the farm where we lived. We had no electricity, phone or running water. The house was two stories, but small. There was a cook-stove in the kitchen that burned coal, wood and corn cobs. In the winter we also used a small heating stove in the living room.
The wind used to blow through the cracks in the walls. There were no storm windows, so when it got down to twenty degrees below zero outside, it was not all that much warmer in the house.
In order to keep a little warmer at night, our parents would take the warm lids off the cook stove and wrap them in newspapers and put them in the beds to keep our feet warm.
Each year Mom and Dad stuffed our mattresses with straw from the last oats harvest and made them nice and fluffy. That too helped to keep us warm. My father did the farming with horses that pulled the farm equipment. It was not a good farm. I think it was only about one hundred acres, and some of it was poor soil.
The cow pasture was very sandy and in later years was turned into a nine-hole golf course. Years later, I played sixty holes on it on my 60th birthday and sixty-five holes on my 65th birthday.
We had a few milk cows, some pigs and chickens. So there was always meat, eggs and milk. I still do not like to drink milk, because it was always hot in the summer and the only way to keep it even a little bit cool was to lower it into the well. I recall my mother telling me that the little kids in China would love to have it. I was not trying to be a wise guy, and I really did feel sorry for the little kids in China, so I asked my mother why she did not wrap it up and mail it to them. We had a mail box at the side of the road near the house and Mr. Kelly would bring our mail most days and pick up letters and packages we wanted to send off. I thought he must be a great man to be doing all that, so why not ask him to send the milk off to the little kids in China?
Many years later I visited China for about ten days and I looked in a number of shops to buy milk, which I wanted to give to the poorer looking children on the streets. None of the stores sold milk, so I still do not know whether the kids in China would have liked it or not. Most kids in Korea did not like it when it was first introduced as powdered milk in the relief goods from the USA in the mid-1950s after the Korean War.
My mother raised all kinds of vegetables, bought various kinds of fruits, and made jams and jellies and canned everything. She made all our bread and butter. In the winter time when there was ice in the horse tank, she made ice cream. About the only food our parents bought in stores were coffee, sugar, salt and pepper. She could make anything, and there was seldom any money to spend on store food. The canned things were canned in jars and stored in an underground cave that we also used for shelter when it stormed and looked as though a tornado might be coming.
When I was four and five years old my favorite pass time was playing with our dog, Jack, and our cats. There was not much money to provide toys and I did not need them anyway.
Our Catholic church and school were about ten or fifteen minutes-walk away. Usually we walked to school, church and down town, but sometimes Dad hitched up a team to the grain wagon and we rode, especially during bad weather.
I still often recall the sound of the laughter of children when they were at recess, before I started to school. We could not see the school from our house, due to many tall trees between us, but we could see the steeple and the cross on the church, next to the school. It sounded like school would be fun. I started school about one month after my sixth birthday. I did not like school from the very first day. My brother, Louis, was one year ahead of me. The first recess, which I had thought would be the fun part, turned out to be the opposite. I could not find Louis and I feared he had gone off and left me with all those kids I did not know or trust. But within a few days I liked the other kids, so things were not too bad after that.
(my parents Louis Richard and Mary Lillian W.)
(my mother and I, at age five when we
still lived on the farm)
WE MOVE TO TOWN
We moved to town when I was seven years old and in the second grade. The farm we had lived on was owned by a man who was interested only in money, so he rented it to another man who had a tractor and could probably make more money for him.
My parents sold the few horses and got enough money for a down payment on a two-bedroom house, with electricity. The payments would be ten dollars a month for the next ten or twenty years. The great depression was on and my father worked on the Public Works Association (PWA) and earned a dollar a day, but was allowed to work only fifteen days a month. My mother sold Avon products and gathered the social news for The Fonda Times, the local weekly newspaper. She was able to bring in more money than my father, but there was never anything left over after making the house payment and small necessities.
In later years when Dad was not well and unable to work, Mom worked at various jobs including waitress in restaurants, a grocery store and as a clerk in the post office.
It was great having electricity which enabled us to have a radio, toaster, electric iron and washing machine. It took a number of years before we got running water, a phone and refrigerator. We got our water for drinking and cooking from a neighbor three houses away. They had a well with a hand pump. It was the only well on our block and the owner, Mrs. Cuppy, allowed all of us to use it. Members of each household took turns carrying buckets of water home from the well. We had a large cistern and rain water from the house roof drained into it. That provided our bath and laundry water.
My parents kept about five milk cows from the farm and housed them in a barn at the edge of town. They bought a 1928 Chevy for $50 to get them back and forth each morning and evening to go and milk the cows and deliver some of the milk to a few people who bought a bottle or two a day. Also, Mom used the car to get around town to do her other jobs with the Avon and news reporting.
Even though I loved living in town and quickly made friends with about ten kids my age who lived nearby, I still did not enjoy school. I did not find anything about it interesting and it only kept me from doing the things that I did enjoy, like hunting, fishing and gambling. Yes, gambling. I first gambled by matching pennies with my father when I was four years old, and I can still remember the thrill of taking a chance and winning four cents. When I asked my father to continue, he said, “No, that is enough. We will stop now.” It took me about forty-five years to say that and really mean it. I truly believe that gambling was in my blood. I spent a very big part of my childhood gambling with other kids and even with adults at the local pool hall.
I always enjoyed doing part time jobs, like delivering newspapers, shoveling snow off sidewalks, mowing lawns, working at a gas station when I was twelve and at a hard ware store and dance hall when I was in high school. Those jobs kept me in spending money for recreation and many of my needs, such as clothes, school books etc. But most of all, I always needed to have money in my pocket for the next game of pool or cards. It never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with spending so much time and much of my hard earned money gambling. Most people in our town gambled, including our Catholic priest, who was often in the pool hall playing cards for small money. Our parish had annual bazaars that consisted partly in bingo and raffles. So why should it occur to me that gambling could be a danger to anyone? It was only in later years, when I was a missionary in Korea, that I realized that my gambling was out of control and was a big problem.
When I was in the fourth grade, I was often sick and had to stay home from school. The local doctor, Doctor Paterson, mentioned enlarged heart, leakage of the heart, and rheumatic fever and recommended that I be taken out of school for one year. I was told not to walk upstairs or run or exercise too much.
That turned out to be one of the best years of my life. I felt good most of the time and did not miss anything about school. I listened to all the soap operas on the radio every day. I can still recall the names of most of them, such as, “Stella Dallas”, “Young Widow Brown”, “Lorenzo Jones” etc. But most of all I enjoyed and remember many of the stories on the “Bible Hour”.
One man in the town, John Downing, had a horse-drawn wagon and earned his living by hauling away garbage, ashes from the stoves and whatever people wanted to be moved from place to place. John was a nice man and allowed me to accompany him on his rounds whenever I wanted to. He was good company. I do not know whether he could read or write, and that question never even entered my mind at the time.
It was in the middle of the following year that I returned to school and the fourth grade. But of course my class was now in the fifth grade. Fortunately for me, some of my best friends had failed and were still in the fourth year class.
Also, the prettiest girl and the one that would have a great influence on my life, had passed into the fourth grade. Her name was Kathleen and I really had a crush on her, but I was always very shy and never got around to telling her how I felt until early in our last year of high school.
Anyway, we finished the fourth grade, and everyone passed into the fifth grade.
It was that year that Kathleen’s father died suddenly of a heart attack. He was still a young man. That month four fairly young Catholic men in our parish died suddenly. The whole town was in shock.
I was at home, sick, on the day Kathleen’s father died. But I was back in school a few days later and I never forgot seeing Kathleen crying after the word came to our classroom that another man had died. I have always been sorry that I could not console her, but I just did not know how. That lack of confidence was to repeat itself many times during our next seven years of school. I am sure now that that was a gift from God. Otherwise I am certain that I would never have become a priest.
When we were in the sixth grade, the fourth grade boys were being trained to be altar boys. I had missed that opportunity when I missed part of the fourth grade twice, so I asked the Sister in charge to let me join the boys to become an altar boy. She said she would check it out, but she never mentioned it to me again. Two years later, when I was in the eighth grade and fourth grade boys were being trained, I made my request again, and was allowed to do so. I loved serving Mass, but I do not think the thought of becoming a priest had yet entered my mind.
THE TOWN OF FONDA
To back up a little prior to the eighth grade, I would like to write a little about my home town. Like hundreds of small towns in the Midwest, it was a wonderful place to grow up in.
The population was about a thousand, with another thousand living on farms within a five-mile radius. Most of those farmers did their shopping, selling, school and church in Fonda. Most of the people who had lived there for very long knew everyone else. This included everyone knowing about all of everyone else’s business too. All of the people were first, second or third generation Europeans.
The largest church was the Catholic church. There were three Protestant churches. The town and surrounding farms were about half Catholic and half Protestant. During my time everyone seemed to get along well together, but it was commonly known that there were a few former Ku Klux Klan people and a few very anti-Catholic families, but none of them would admit it in public.
The Catholic school consisted of twelve grades, taught completely by Sisters from Mount Saint Clare, Clinton, Iowa. The public school also had twelve years. The building was bigger, but the number of students was about equal to the Catholic school. The Catholic students were allowed to use the public school gymnasium for basketball games, and the auditorium for school plays. But the Catholic students were not yet allowed to ride on the public school buses.
We had a great swimming hole. And I do mean hole. When the area was being settled, much of the land was low and wet, so it had to be drained for farming. Our swimming hole had provided the clay to make the tile pipes to bury in the ground to drain the swamp water into a man-made river or dredge, as it was called.
The former owner of the tile company had donated the land to the town. There were natural springs of water oozing up from the bottom which eventually filled the hole with water. The town built a diving tower in the middle and a diving board. There were two brick bath- houses, and a life guard was on duty during the summer swimming season. Kids even came from other towns to swim and hang out.
We had two railroads. They were used mainly to move grain and cattle to the cities. Each had passenger trains, which were the major transportation for anyone going beyond a couple hours car drive.
The cattle sale barn held sales every week. It was not only a place to buy and sell cattle, but an important part of the social life of the farmers.
There was one movie theater and two pool halls. There had been a bowling alley for a few years, but it had closed about the time I was ten years old.
There was one bank and two drug stores. Prior to my time, there had been two banks and two or three small hotels, like the ones we still see in the old western movies.
The postal service delivered mail to the farmers, but the people in town had to go to the post office to pick up their mail. In fact, the people in town who do not live on a street traveled by the country mailman still have to go to the post office to get their mail.
We also had two lumber yards, two grain elevators, three car sales and repair garages, two ball fields, three hardware stores and a variety of the usual kinds of stores that every small town has.
After World War Two, the old dance hall was opened again by a new owner, who called it the Sunset Night Club. There were dances on Sunday nights, and sometimes on one or two other nights a week, depending on whether there was a special reason for people to be celebrating. People often came from nearby towns, as did the orchestras.
East side of Main Street
(Aerial view of Fonda, Iowa)
Every year my greatest joy was when school closed in late May for summer vacation. I would be so happy that it hardly occurred to me at the time that we would have to return to school again in August.
For the first few summers, I spent most of the days and evenings at the swimming hole, fishing in the dredge, playing pool and cards, working at odd jobs or visiting various relatives who still lived on farms in the area.
My brother, Louie, and I had a big pigeon pen we built back of the garage. We made many trips on our bikes to nearby farm barns and caught pigeons. We had about one hundred at one time and fed them by gathering grain from the grain elevators that had dropped on the ground when being shifted from trucks or into boxcars on the trains. After keeping the pigeons locked up for a number of weeks or months, we let them loose and enjoyed seeing them fly around and then return to the pen.
In 1945, before the war was over, it was easy for kids my age, fourteen or fifteen, to get jobs that only full-grown men would normally do. That summer I worked on the railroad for seventy five and one-half cents an hour, nine hours a day. Early in the mornings, when it was still very chilly, we loaded onto motorized “hand cars” and went to areas of the track that were in need of repair. It was then that I learned the meaning of the term “gandy dancer”. The word Gandy came from the name of the company that manufactured the shovels and the other tools we used. We jacked up the tracks, pulled out the old ties, and slipped in new ties, shoveled gravel under the new ties, and then, with one foot on a shovel and with a dancing motion, pushed the gravel tightly under the tie. I loved the work and being with all the other workers. I was the second youngest of the crew, but I did my best to do as much work as everyone else. By the end of the summer, the palms of my hands were covered with thick callouses, and my arms and back were very brown.
Many years later I wrote a little poem regarding working on the railroad. The poem does not at all reflect my good feelings about that summer, but I was thinking of what I thought Johnny Cash might say about it.
I got dirt in my eyes
and sand in my hair.
I’m hurtin’ all over,
but I know you don’t care.
I been tampin’ them ties
and spikin’ them rails.
I been pumpin’ them jacks
and luggin’ kegs of nails.
But you’re the boss
and you’ll suffer no loss,
if the train runs me over
and I wind up in clover.
So come the end of the day
I’m gonna’ draw my pay
And I’m goin’ back home
never more to roam.
I’m gonna’ marry that gal
for whom I once fell.
There'll be no bills
‘cause we'll just live in the hills.
And I won’t need a job
cause we’ll just eat corn on the cob.
And when it’s all over
and I wind up in clover
my friends will all say,
“he did it his way
he left the track
and he never went back”.
BACK TO SCHOOL
As far as school was concerned, the next four years were much the same as all the others. High school was high in two respects. That is, the four years of high school were on the second floor of the building. There were about ten students in each of the four classes. Our class had six boys and four girls. For the first time, we moved from room to room for different subjects.
I recall many humorous tales from those years. Sister Robert was the principal and my favorite teacher. She had been teaching at the school a few years at a time over a period of about twenty years. One morning I was late for school and all the kids were gone to the church to attend a funeral. I did not want to be going into the church late, so I just waited in the classroom where my first class would be held. When the other students finally arrived, they went into the assembly room for the morning prayers, and then our class came to the room where I was waiting. After about ten minutes into the class, Sister Robert came to the door and called me out to the corridor and asked me whether I had set the clock in the assembly room ahead. I told her no and she said someone had taken it off the wall, set it ahead and did not hang it back on the wall properly, and when someone slammed the window closed, the clock fell and broke. After I got back to our class room I asked my best pal, Tom Lilly, what was it all about and he said, with his usual big smile, that he did it. About ten minutes later, Sister Robert called me out into the corridor again and said that I must be the guilty one, because, so she thought, she was back from the church before I had arrived in school. She did not realize that I was already in our classroom.
So again, I told her that she was mistaken. She gave me a little slap on the side of my face which would hardly have brushed a fly away. So, I said, “If you are going to hit me, hit me, and do not be pawing at me like a little kitten”. She could not hold back her smile, and said, “Well, this problem is too big for me to solve, so I will just have to call in Father Howley”. Still looking her in the eye, I asked, “Sister, have I ever lied to you before?” She said I had not and walked away. That was the last time it was ever mentioned until after our class graduated from high school and the Sisters invited our class to a meal at the convent. It was then, to the laughter of everyone, that Tom told the Sisters that he had set the clock ahead.
Around the summer when I was still about fifteen years old, one of the boys who used to wait on tables at our little nightclub did not show up for work. I was asked to fill in for him and was later given the job for good. The job consisted basically in delivering glasses of soda to the tables for people to mix with their Bourbon. At that time, except for beer, drinking alcohol outside the home was illegal in Iowa. All liquor had to be purchased at a state owned liquor store and drunk at home. So the people who came to dances or parties brought their own bottle and did their best to make sure they did not have to run the risk of taking part of a bottle home after the dance. Often friends would offer me a drink when I was serving the soda. I usually would not have time to sit with them long enough to drink a mixed drink, so I learned to down a straight shot of Bourbon with no difficulty.
The bartender at that time was Joe Carey, a younger brother of the owner. He had been a Navy officer and commanded one of the landing craft at Omaha Beach on D-Day. I enjoyed his war stories and we got to be good friends. About two years after I started that job, Joe moved to Davenport, Iowa and I became the bartender. We were allowed to sell beer on weekdays, but not on Sundays, as we did. Of course it was also illegal for one my age to be selling the beer even on weekdays, but no one minded, not even the town cop, who would drop in for a drink most nights.
VOCATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
At the beginning of the last year in high school I started attending Mass every morning before school. I do not recall just what got me thinking so seriously at that time, but I am certain the thought of becoming a priest had not yet come along.
Around September of the last year in school, a man from Chicago came to the house selling correspondence courses in drafting. The one class that I had found so easy in school was geometry. That seemed to fit in with the drafting course. I had never planned on going to college. This course and maybe one year at a special drafting school might provide a good future. It cost $50 to sign up and $10 a month after that. For the first time in my life, I really liked studying something. I spent two or three hours every night studying and doing the assignments, and discovered I was good at it and it was fun. Prior to this experience, I and most of my pals never did any homework. We had to take a few books with us when we left the school every afternoon, but the books never got beyond the gas station across the street and we picked them up again the next morning.
After about four months of the course and still attending Mass every morning, this new discovery that I could seriously study something and actually enjoy it started to make a big change in my attitude about life, responsibility, God and the future.
I went through a few weeks of confusion and fear. My mother could see there was something wrong and tried to talk to me about it. I did not know what to say, so I just said there was nothing wrong. I think I did have a lot of thoughts about becoming a priest, but it was all very confusing and even now I cannot recall exactly what was happening.
One morning in January or February of 1950, Father Howley, our Pastor, stopped me in the corridor in school and asked what I thought I might want to do after graduation. He did not seem at all surprised when I told him I thought I would like to become a missionary priest. That did surprise me that he did not seem surprised. He said that he knew a group of missionaries in Omaha, Nebraska. Most of them were from Ireland, like himself, and their major seminary was in Bellevue, Nebraska.
He suggested I take a day off school and we go to Bellevue and check it out. A few weeks later we did. Even though I had not imagined what to expect, meeting some of the priests and hearing them talk about the missions in China and Burma, it did fit right in with the few ideas I had.
Of course, one of the big worries was that I had never really learned to study properly, and there would be nine years of difficult study in various seminaries. Father Howley assured me not to worry about that.
After we got back to Fonda, my mother asked me what the trip to Omaha was about. I told her and she was very pleased that I wanted to become a priest and that now she knew why I had been acting so strangely the previous few months.
About a month later, a priest from the seminary came to our house with entrance exams for me to take. He sat out on the back steps visiting with my Father and timed me on each of the exams. I knew I had done very poorly. He returned to Omaha and I did not hear from him for about a month. Then he wrote that I had not done very well and to do another set of exams. I could time myself on them or go to one of the priests in our parish and ask him to time me.
I went to the priests’ house and only the assistant pastor was home. After I did the tests, he read what I had written and said I had not done very well and asked whether I would like to change some of my answers. I still do not think he was serious, but only testing me. But at the time the only thing I could think of and told him was “No, if God really wants me to be a priest, He will take care of it.” I mailed the papers back to Omaha and a month later I received a reply that I had been accepted and to report to the minor seminary in Silver Creek, New York on September 7, 1950. Years later I figured that they had deliberately given me every opportunity to cheat. My poor show on the written exams was obvious proof that I did not cheat. So I think I was accepted on the grounds of honesty and, like I figured, God took care of it.
Father Howley advised me not to tell anyone about my plans, because it might cause a strain on me the last few months of high school. That summer Tom Lilly and I worked for two months with a company building a scaffold and shingling the church roof. Then we worked for a month painting the trim on the church tower and a few buildings around Fonda.
By the end of August, it was time to start preparing for the train trip to the seminary. I had told a few people of my plans, so most of the people in town knew about it. The students in our high school took up a collection and gave me a nice suitcase and some cash, for which I was very grateful, as the things I needed to buy had used up a large part of my summer earnings.
The night before leaving home, Kathleen and I went to a dance at the Sunset Night Club. It was always a respectable and wholesome place. I was never a good dancer and never really tried to learn. I had been more interested in working there as waiter and bartender.
After the dance, we walked to Kathleen’s house and we kissed goodbye. She would be leaving for the convent in Clinton, Iowa in another few days.
The missionary society I was going to was only about thirty years old and had been founded by an Irish priest who had been working in China for a number of years. Years later, when the communists took over China, all of the missionaries were expelled, but the our missionaries continued to work in about fifteen other countries.
(Tom Lilly, my best pal in school.
High School graduation, 1950)
(my High School graduation, 1950)
OFF TO THE SEMINARY
The superior of the Mission Fathers in Omaha arranged with one of the students from the Omaha area to meet me in the train station in Chicago and look after me for the remainder of the trip to the seminary in Silver Creek, New York. That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Charlie O’Rourke. He had already been in the minor seminary for four years of high school and was returning for his fifth year, which would be called first year of college, even though it was not actually affiliated with any college.
Since I had finished high school, I should have been joining his class, but it did not work out that way, because I did not know any Latin. So I had to repeat fourth year high school and spent most of the study time on Latin.
Joe Carey, the man who had been the bartender whom I replaced at the Sunset Night Club a few years before, had come to Fonda to visit family members. He was going to Chicago to attend a convention and offered to take me to Chicago. That was great. We drove to his home in Davenport, Iowa and I spent the night at the YMCA. The next day we arrived at the convention center and I think I attended a movie or two while Joe was at the convention.
My train was not until 11 PM. We arrived at the station with time to spare and found Charlie at the information desk, as planned. After ordination we both were assigned to Korea. He went in 1958 and I a year later. We did not work in the same diocese of Korea, but I often visited him and we hunted pheasants.
That night on the train to Silver Creek, Charlie talked about the seminary, the other students and football. I think those were his favorite topics. In the wee hours of the morning, when our train was still about forty miles from Buffalo, we could see the seminary off in the distance. I was already feeling home sick, and asked myself, “What am I doing here?”
After getting to Buffalo, other students gradually turned up from various directions and we all got on another train to the seminary and arrived about 5 PM. There were about fifty students. Some of them had been there for a few years. Some were arriving for the first time in a seminary, and some had been transferred from another Columban minor seminary in Boston, which had been closed and would be used as the college the following year. We were all gathered in the chapel and the rector of the seminary led us in a prayer and gave us a little welcome talk.
After supper we were all lined up to go to the chapel again and asked to surrender our cigarettes. I had been smoking since I was eight years old, as most of the boys in Fonda did. Fortunately, I had given up smoking during the previous Lent, so I knew I could survive without it.
I think we had a day or two to get acquainted and get accustomed to the area. Then classes started and I was put with the fourth year high school students. I had no problem with that. There were four or five of us who would be having special Latin classes with Father Jim Lennihan.
He had worked in China for many years. On one occasion he had been kidnapped by communist bandits and held for ransom. Years later I heard some of the details of his capture when I was working in Bishop Tom Quinlan’s diocese in Korea. Bishop Quinlan had worked for ten years in China before coming to Korea. His story was that the bandits wanted a train full of guns and ammunition. When they soon realized that that was out of the question they asked for a boxcar of medicine. After days of back and forth communications, it was agreed that the missionaries would pay $200 for each of the two missionaries. They were being held in a remote area much further north on the Yangtze River. To get there, make the exchange and get back safely would not be an easy thing to do. So the Fathers arranged for an English gunboat to take them there. It worked.
On the return trip the captain held a supper party for all. One of the customs for such parties was that anyone who mentioned the Queen of England or his profession would have to drink a glass of port wine. Towards the end of the trip the radio man sent a message to all ships on the nearby Pacific Ocean that the priests had been ransomed and that the Catholic Church had drunk the British Navy under the table.
Anyway, that was not the end of Father Lennihan’s troubles. In later years he was working in Mexico and some Masons beat him almost to death and left him for dead. Getting me for a Latin student was probably not much better than either of his former experiences.
My failure to learn how to study and remember what I had studied was really evident and making me wonder had I made a big mistake in being there. One day Father Jim said to me that I had a memory like a sieve and would never get through the coming years of study without a system.
Father Jim’s way of teaching was to spend the class writing Latin grammar rules on the blackboard and expecting us to read his poor handwriting and write it down.
It was a rather hopeless situation. Three or four other students joined our special class, and one by one was put back a year and did Latin with that class. Most evenings Father Jim would open the door of the study hall and call the three of us to follow him out for more Latin. He also got us for a few hours every Sunday afternoon and free day. I had really had it and certainly had not learned very much Latin. Besides the notebooks full of Latin grammar rules, we had translated about 20 pages of Julius Caesars’ Wars. By the final exam the following spring, there were still three of us in the special Latin class. I knew that my being allowed to continue to study to be a priest was going to depend on how I did in that exam. Just before the exam I said to God that it was all up to Him now. I had done my best, I thought. “Please God, just get me through this,” was my prayer. I knew that the Holy Spirit was not just going to do the exam for me. He needed something to work with so we could do it together. About ten minutes before the exam I picked out one page of the Julius Caesar we had translated. The page was half taken up with a picture. I decided that that might be the big question, so I asked one of the other students, Bob Sweeney, who had been studying Latin for a number of years and was really good at it, to run through it for me. He read it off like it was English, but slowly enough so that I could learn it. A few minutes later I went into the exam room and there it was on the exam sheet. It was easy to remember how Bob had translated it. I came through with flying colors.
The English professor failed me in English. But it was not really I who failed. It was he who failed to know that we were constantly being taken out of evening study time and had no chance to read the books that we were supposed to give reports on.
When I had left home the previous year, I did not know we would get home every Christmas, except for spiritual year, for a few weeks and every summer for three months. Having passed that Latin exam, the failing mark in English meant nothing. It was now time to go home for the summer and take all my belongings, because the following year would be in Milton, Massachusetts. It was called first-year college, even though it was not affiliated with any college.
SUMMER VACATION &
FIRST YEAR “COLLEGE”
It was great to be back in my hometown for the summer. My parents, oldest brother Lawrence and his wife Teresa and family still lived in Fonda. Many other relatives lived nearby and we got together for meals and cards often. Our parish was building a new school gym and I got a job helping with the construction. It consisted mainly in shifting sand and bricks and sometimes driving nails into boards. I liked all that and especially being out of doors with my shirt off in the hot sun. Some evenings I went fishing with friends. On weekends I sometimes played poker with friends at the American Legion Hall.
By the end of summer I was enthusiastic to be on my way to the second year in the seminary. Again, I got a ride to Chicago with a former Fonda man who lived in Chicago and was visiting Fonda.
We arrived in Chicago late in the evening, as it had been about an eight hour drive. We went directly to the train station and I set out for Boston about midnight. Charlie was not with me this time, as his class was to go to Bristol, Rhode Island. I do not recall how I got to the seminary after arriving in Boston, but most likely I had arranged to meet with some of the other students in the station and we went by bus to the seminary. This was the way we arranged it in years following when I was in the major seminary for six years.
Our college year was a few miles from Milton. The property was a number of acres, with two large houses, which had previously been owned and occupied by Howard Johnson, the ice cream man.
We students lived in and attended classes in one of the houses. The larger house was for the priests who taught our classes and helped with Masses and fund raising in the area. Our chapel and dining room were also in that building. There was a tennis court, which was something new for me. I did get to enjoy the game a little in later years. Also, there was a pool table in the basement where we lived. There were about 15 students. Some had been in the minor seminary in Silver Creek for one, two or three years. So we had been together the previous year. Four or five new members had arrived. Some had already done a few years of college, but all needed more Latin.
There were about seven priests teaching us different subjects. Some of them had worked in various mission countries, but due to bad health could not stay there. Some had done special college courses to enable them to teach us. But basically, none of them had become priests in order to become teachers. Their first desire was to be missionaries in other countries. But all of them were enthusiastic in trying to prepare us to be good missionary priests.
I am especially indebted to Father Joe McGlade, who taught us a system of association to remember things. The previous year, Father Jim Linnehan had told me I would never get through the years of Theology studies, if I did not get a system. Father Joe and his system were a godsend for me. He taught us how to memorize ten simple words that we would never forget and then how to associate ten new words or ideas with them. This was just what I needed to prepare for exams in later years which would sometimes consist in writing for two hours to answer one question.
Over the next two years, I developed it in such a way that I could memorize a hundred words or ideas in about fifteen minutes. Sometimes I had a few hundred associations memorized for one exam. As long as I had covered the course and arranged the material well for memorizing, I figured there was no way I was going to fail an exam.
But due to two mistakes I did fail two exams in the next six years. The first one was during the first year of philosophy on a Church history exam. Our class and the class ahead of us did the same courses together. The following year we would do the next material with the class behind us. Anyway, some of the class ahead of us assured our class that there were only three possibilities for the big question. That is, the French Revolution, the Thirty Years War and Gallicanism. The professor would name two, and tell us to write about one. I was prepared to write for hours on the first two, but ignored the third. Yes, you guessed it! We got only the third possibility and I got a 15% on the exam. A few days later when the rector, Father Richard Stokes, met with us individually to give the exam results, he asked what happened. I told him and he advised me never to leave a flank open like that again. I remembered that advice well.
The other exam was a few years later when I failed in Church Dogma. I had prepared the material well and the day before the exam we had the choice of going on a hike or staying home to study. I decided to go on a long hike with some of the others. I memorized a seven hundred point outline on the hike by using my system of association. But the next day instead of getting one big question, we got ten little questions. With just one big question, all I would have had to do was go through the seven hundred points in my head and find the association where the answer to the question began, and then write until I came to the association where the answer ended. It would be as easy as having it all written out before me. But with the ten questions to find the right starting points, it was more difficult and I went blank. In future years I always made a separate mental list of the associations where each possible answer began and I never got another bad grade.
Three years later, the day before the Church history exam, Sister Robert, who had taught me in high school, came for a visit. Her nephew had brought her and we spent most of the afternoon sightseeing. I had prepared well for the exam except for one part. That evening, 15 minutes before lights out, I memorized about twenty points on the council of Bal. It was not a big council and most people would never have heard of it. The next morning that was the only question on the exam. I got an 85, which was like an A plus in other ways of grading. When I got to the rector for the report, he was in shock and said, “How did you get an 85?” I reminded him of his advice three years before. He was even more surprised, because some of the big gun students who got 5% or 10% had already convinced him that it was an unfair exam.
Years later, when the rector and I were both stationed in the bishop’s house in Chun Cheon, Korea, we retold the story often.
After that year in Milton, our class went to Bristol, Rhode Island for spiritual year, which was similar to novitiate in religious orders. The seminary in Bristol was situated on Narragansett Bay. The high light of that year was a thirty day retreat. When we began it, we thought it would be a full thirty days of silence and prayer. After about the first ten days, I got a terrible surprise one morning when I was taking a walk down by the bay. One of the classmates, Jude McGeough, came running down the hill shouting his head off. I was sure he had cracked up and was completely off his rocker. It turned out he was spreading the word that we had a free day and the notion there would be no free day for thirty days was not true.
The studies that year were light and the year passed quietly, without any problems. We spent much of our outdoor free time cutting down trees and sawing up the logs to burn in the fireplace at the old clubhouse during daily recreation periods. The property had once been a nine-hole golf course and the clubhouse remained as a storeroom and recreation room. Most of us had never been around a fireplace before, and it was nice to spend a few hours there playing bridge and smoking. Since everyone was over twenty-one, smoking was allowed during recreation times.
We did not get home for Christmas that year. All of us received many boxes of chocolates from friends and relatives, and I put on about twenty pounds in a few weeks. But I took it off again during Lent. It was a nice year. In May we went home for the summer. A few of the students were advised that they did not have a vocation to become a priest, so only nine of us would be going on to attend the new major seminary in Milton, Massachusetts the following September.
Summer vacation in Fonda was again a nice change. It was much like the previous summer and the five summers that would follow. I worked for a professional house painter for two summers and then on my own, hiring one or two helpers, the last four summers. I liked the work, and it gave me the freedom to attend Mass every morning before going to work. Also, I could take a day off and go fishing whenever I thought the fish might be biting and I had worked enough days in a row to need a rest.
It was always great to spend the time with my parents, who were starting to get old. Most of my childhood friends had moved away to get jobs in bigger towns.
When August came, I again made my preparations for the train trip to Boston. But this time I would not be going to the same seminary as two years before. The major seminary in Omaha had closed and we were entering a beautiful new building for our last six years in the seminary. The studies would consist of two years of philosophy and four years of theology. There were about eighty students. The students who had been attending the seminary in Omaha were transferred here. With our class being the youngest, we had five senior classes ahead of us. It was great getting to know them and the professors we had not met before.
The grounds were still not developed for sports. They had been graded and were still covered with stones and mud. The double tennis courts were in place, but our ball field was just a grassy area next to the seminary I had attended the second year.
My afternoon recreation usually consisted in playing various ball games or manual labor every other day. There were many dead trees to be cut down and burned. Also, the big grass field was a fire hazard that might spread to the nearby wood, so each year I organized a number of the students and burnt the grass so that we could keep a fire from spreading into the woods. One day when we had the fire burning well, a fire truck drove up and the firemen started squirting water on the fire. I walked over to the fireman and asked him why he was doing that. He said that a man driving by thought the fire was out of control and had called them. Then he asked “Did I have a permit to be starting the fire?” I assured him the fire was not out of control, but might have been, if some careless person had started it accidentally when we were not there. I did not have a permit, but I did have permission from the priest in charge of the property. So the fireman said we were doing a fine job, but to get a permit from the fire department the next time. Each year the fires to clear the grass off the field or to get rid of the dead trees we cut down came to be known as Whitie’s Big Burn.
There was an area near the tennis courts that was very low and constantly filling up with stagnant water and mosquitoes. It would have taken a number of expensive loads of dirt to fill it, so no one was doing anything about it. There was a drainpipe about eighty feet away, but it seemed to be uphill from the waterhole. One day I was walking on the road nearby and I discovered from the lack of pressure on my legs that it was actually going downhill. I was convinced it was an optical illusion. So I got two large pans of water and set them on bricks and ran a string from one pan to the other to get a level reading and discovered that the hole of water was higher than the drain pipe. Everyone laughed when I started digging a ditch to run the water into the drainpipe. But they laughed at themselves two days later when they saw the water run down the drain. I have always been very proud of that small feat, even though it did not really amount to anything.
Many years later the seminary was closed and became a nursing home. I visited there in 2004. The tennis courts were removed, with preparations being made for a building. The woods and the brush were so thick that one could not even walk over to the spot where I had so cleverly drained the hole of water. So what the heck! That is just another lesson to show that most of the material things in this world are very temporary and do not really amount to anything.
There is not really all that much to write about the six years in the major seminary that I have not already written. I loved the seminary life and the discipline. The studies were boring most of the time. During the whole six years in the major seminary I recall only a few times when a professor asked a student a question. Once the Canon Law professor asked a question and I gave the correct answer. Later, another student asked in amazement. “How did I know that?”
ORDINATION & FIRST
SOLEMN HIGH MASS
I was ordained on December 20, 1958. My brother Louis and his wife Loretta brought my parents to Milton for the ordination. There was snow on the ground and it was cold. Richard and Mary Walsh, cousins of my pastor in Fonda, were there with their three children and a few of their relatives. It was a wonderful day.
That night before going to bed, I gave thanks to God for all His blessings. But it was difficult to get over the fact that this was the final closing of the door with any future with Kathleen. It was a mixture of great joy and great sadness. Now, after fifty-seven years, my feelings are still much the same. I think that is a very good proof that feelings are not the most important. The most important things are the choices we make to do what God wants us to do and be. During all these years I have never once regretted saying yes to God and becoming a priest.
The next day a classmate, Father Bob O’Rourke and I offered our first Masses separately, but at the same time at different altars in the seminary chapel with all the other students present. Afterwards, my relatives and I drove to New York City to spend two days sightseeing. After a night in a hotel, we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and I offered my second Mass. After breakfast, we drove to an area where we could see the Statue of Liberty. It was the first time my parents and Loretta had seen an ocean. We went to a show at Radio City that night. I do not recall what program it was, but we did enjoy it and it was a nice experience for us Iowa folks.
The next day we set out for Iowa. Christmas was near. I recall we spent at least two nights in motels before getting to Chicago on Christmas Eve. I had said Mass each morning at whatever church we could find. I especially recall how nice the priest was at one of the parishes in Ohio. He gave us a grand welcome and brought us in for a delicious breakfast after Mass.
We stayed in a motel in Chicago Christmas Eve. My classmate, Father Frank Holecek, had arranged for me to offer my three Christmas Masses at the school in his home parish. There was only our group there. After the Mass, we enjoyed another delicious breakfast at Father Frank’s house, with him, his parents and siblings. It was well we did have the nice breakfast because it had not entered our minds that we would not find a restaurant in operation until about 5 PM on the rest of the trip to Fonda.
It was wonderful to get to Fonda that Christmas night. Our parish had been making grand preparations for my first Solemn High Mass. Doctor Thielan had donated a new carpet for the altar area and new Mass vestments. The whole parish was invited for the Mass and dinner to follow. Many neighboring priests came for the big day. There had been only two priests ordained from our parish before and both were there to take part in the Mass. Everything went well and everyone gave me a wonderful welcome. In some of the pictures taken at that time, my parents looked many years younger. During the month at home I visited some of the Catholic schools in the area and gave talks to the students.
I mentioned above that only two others from our parish had become priests. Some students had attended seminaries for a short time, but not for long. In the few years following my ordination six or seven boys from our parish went to seminaries and two were eventually ordained for our home diocese, Sioux City.
After the month at home I returned to the seminary. We still had to attend classes until June. After returning to Boston and getting back into the studies, we were eager to be told which mission country we would be going to. In those days there was no discussion about it. The superiors decided it and the rector notified us. The notifications usually came about March, but one morning in early February, the rector Father Stokes stopped me before class and said he wanted to meet with our class. I was the oldest in our class, so I was automatically the senior and usually got the job of passing on messages.
Father Stokes did not even hint what it was about, so I feared that Father Frank Holecek had goofed up again and we were going to get an unpleasant lecture. We were really surprised when Father Stokes read out two names and then said, “Philippines”. He read out two more names, mine not included, and said “Korea”. My heart dropped, because that was where I really wanted to go. The Korean War had ended just four years previously and there was a big conversion wave happening there. Most of the newly ordained during the previous few years had been sent to Korea because of the conversion wave and to replace the seven Columban priests who had been killed in the war. The next priest on the list was assigned to Burma. Then, I jumped with joy when Father Stokes said, “Paul W., Korea”. I had not realized he was going through the names in alphabetical order.
That day was really the beginning of a new outlook on life for me. So much of my thinking started to change. It was hard to really realize that now I was actually going to be a missionary and follow in the footsteps of so many great priests. June could not come fast enough. Fortunately we did not have to take any exams in June. With so much excitement and trying to learn more about our mission country, our minds were not very intent on the class work. Finally, June came and we got to go home for a month. I do not remember anything about that month. But I do remember much about the next six weeks.
The three of us, who were going to Korea had to go to Washington, DC to attend classes at Catholic University on teaching catechism. This was really stupid. We had just finished nine years of studies and were in no mood for any more at that time. It was very hot in Washington and the whole six weeks were a waste of time and money. We got absolutely nothing out of the classes and did not even attend many of them.
Father Holecek had an old car he had driven from Chicago. We drove it to New York City one weekend and met with two Korean priests who were attending classes at Fordham University. They invited us to have supper at a Korean restaurant. It was my first time eating Korean cooking and I loved it. Everything was delicious. But the red pepper on the kimchi almost burned my lips off. I was very fortunate that the Korean food agreed with me, as it was a good advantage after I got to Korea and often had meals in homes and restaurants. Some of the priests were never able to even have any Korean cooking on the table. Just the smell of garlic and red pepper sickened them. The only two foods I did not like when I first arrived in Korea were octopus and tubu, or tofu, as it is called in America. But I eventually learned to like both. Squid is very similar to octopus, and I liked it from the very first. As far as I know, I never ate dog meat until my last year in Korea. It was delicious.
One of the two Korean priests was Father Charles Kim, the older brother of Cardinal Kim in Korea. Father Charles had spent a year at our seminary in Milton studying English. He had taught me the Korean alphabet and that was all the Korean I knew before arriving in Korea the following December.
I met Father Kim in Korea a few times in later years. The other priest, Father Ri, who later became the Bishop of the diocese of Pusan, Korea.
My two classmates and I got back to Washington DC for Monday classes and shortly after that the six weeks were over and Father Bill Greene went home to Connecticut and Father Frank and I drove back to Chicago. I got a train home to Fonda from there.
A NEW WORLD
Our trip to Korea was all arranged by boat from San Francisco. Father Frank Holecek was traveling through France, but the other nine of us, two Americans, and seven Irish arrived at the Columban Fathers’ house in San Francisco in mid-October. The weather was beautiful. My oldest brother Lawrence had spent a couple years there working in the shipyards during the war. I recall that he often spoke of the cold, damp weather. So I was pleasantly surprised it was so nice. I guess we hit the right time of the year.
I had a list of names and phone numbers of relatives and friends to look up. Our boat, a freighter, was to leave in one week, so there was time to see a few people and sights. As it turned out, the boat was delayed and we had a wonderful three weeks. Various friends and relatives took me to different places almost every day or evening and sometimes to their homes or places like the redwood forest, Napa Valley wine country and Fisherman’s Wharf.
One of my cousins, Teresa Peters and her husband Jim lived in Marin County. I got to cross the Golden Gate Bridge a few times on different days with them.
A second cousin, Ivan Mullins and his wife Olga and family lived in the Whittier area. I spent a few days at their house. Their three sons were great kids, and everyone made me feel very much at home.
Finally, our boat was ready and we set out at night. I recall that when we were passing Alcatraz Island, before going under the Golden Gate Bridge, someone had a radio on the deck and it was playing the old song, “Give Me Five Minutes More”. I felt that it applied not only to us, but also to the inmates on the island.
Our boat’s first stop was to be in Japan. We passengers were two to a cabin. My cabin mate was Father Pat O’Connor from Ireland. We would later be assigned to work in the same diocese in Korea. He was a great storyteller and I enjoyed hearing his many humorous tales of the seminaries in Ireland and some of the quaint students.
Our captain directed the boat on a northern course to avoid storms. We had only one sunny day during the eighteen days to Japan. It was too chilly and windy to sit out on the deck. We spent most of the time in our cabins, writing Christmas letters or in the dining room playing cards.
There were no recreation facilities like movies or exercise room. The meals were alright, but for many months afterwards I could still smell the kitchen sink. The cook always dumped coffee grounds down the sink and the smell was in the air for the eighteen days it took us to arrive in Yokahama, Japan.
The sea was always rather calm, so no one got seasick. But it was very boring and to this day I often say that I never want to see another boat unless my plane crashed into the ocean. We did not even see another ship or island the whole trip to Japan.
During one night about two days before arriving in Japan, we hit something and damaged the propeller shaft.
So we had to go into dry-dock in Japan for a few days.
Two of our priests from the Tokyo Columban House came and brought us to Tokyo for the few days. Some of the priests there had been in the seminary with us, so it was fun hearing their stories of the two or three years they had already been in Japan.
The house was cold and I caught a cold, so the stay was not so pleasant. But I was able to go to a few places and see a bit of Tokyo and have a meal at a Japanese restaurant.
When the boat was repaired, we were taken back to it and set out for Kobe, which was nearby. We stopped in Kobe to load on a few thousand cases of Japanese beer for American soldiers in Korea. We got there early in the morning and were allowed to go ashore. The captain told us to be back on the dock by 4 PM. We went off in different directions and just walked around sightseeing. About noon, one of the sailors from the boat located us and said there was a change of plans. The beer was all loaded and the ship was going to leave early, if all of us could be found.
All but two were found, so we got aboard and the captain took the ship out of the harbor to reduce the price of being in the harbor all day. One sailor was left on the dock to bring the remaining two priests out to the ship when they returned.
We went around the southern end of Japan and it took us about four days to get from Kobe to Incheon, Korea. The sea was rough. I never got sick, but I did not feel comfortable the rest of the trip. Possibly that was because I still had a bit of a cold.
We arrived at the port of Incheon on December 4, 1959. It was the port where General MacArthur had made his famous invasion-landing in the early part of the Korean War.
The place was very bleak and chilly. The tide there was about twenty feet, so we did not get very close to the docks. Workmen came out on a little boat to take us and our many trunks and boxes to the docks. Priests in two vans came from our Columban house in Seoul to bring us in. We did not keep a close enough eye on the workmen, so some of our belongings were swiped. It was hard to blame them, as there was great poverty during and after the war. Most people did not have any job and many were almost completely dependent on relief goods from the USA.
The drive to the house took about two hours on a rough, gravel road. Father Morris Foley had a shortwave radio and it fell out of the back of the van, but the group in the following car picked it up and it was not even broken.
Our house in Seoul was built on a small hill in a nice area. There was a high wall around it, as was the custom for most nice houses. It was an old house and had been occupied by Japanese army officers during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to their expulsion by the Americans at the end of World War Two in 1945. There were four Columban priests living in the house. On most weekdays there would be a few of the parish priests in to buy groceries, take care of some official matter with the government, or just for a few days rest from their parish. Many of the priests from the boondocks areas might not get into Seoul more than once or twice a year. There was one TV in the house and the only English station was the American Army station. There was not much on it, but it was really a lifesaver. The highlight of the evening would usually be an old TV Western. Some of the same programs appeared a few times a year. I think I saw some of the old Cattle Drive programs about ten times.
Four Korean men did the cooking, cleaning, laundry and all the other jobs around the house and yard, including trapping rats, cutting weeds and feeding the watchdogs.
There was someone on duty all the time to open and close the gate. It was not safe to just leave the gate open all the time.
Among the many poor people, there were hundreds of former North Korean soldiers roaming around the country. When the armistice was signed, the South Korean president, Syngman Rhee, refused to return the captured soldiers back to the Communist North, except for the real communists who wanted to go. The gates of the prison camps were thrown open and the soldiers were let free to roam the country, begging and stealing. That was much better than forcing them to go back to the North. As years went by they were gradually absorbed into society.
KOREAN LANGUAGE STUDIES
After a few days in the house, the ten of us started our Korean language studies. There was not yet a language school that we could attend. Nor was there a good grammar published. We did have dictionaries but even they were not so good. The Japanese had tried to eliminate the Korean language and force everyone to learn Japanese. Those who held any kind of government job had to take a Japanese name. Our Korean teachers had no training in teaching, especially language teaching. One lady, Rosa, had studied in the USA and spoke English well. It might have been better, if she had not known so much English, because she spent far too much of our class time practicing her English instead of teaching us Korean. The morning class usually started off with, “Well, my husband, Charlie, came home drunk again last night”, etc. etc. and she would go on for a long time.
In the afternoon a very bright college student, Paul, who had never visited the USA, did a much better job.
On weekends we ten new priests took turns offering Mass at American army camps. Army chaplains’ assistants and their Korean drivers usually picked us up on Saturday afternoons and drove up to various army camps. After checking into a barracks, we would be taken to a mess hall or officers’ club for supper. Then we went to the chapel for confessions and Mass. The next morning each of us would have Mass at two or three of the many chapels in the area.
On my first Christmas I had three Masses at Camp Casey, next to a town called Tong Du Cheon. It was near the communist line. After the three Masses, I was very hungry, but before getting back to a mess hall, we went to the dedication of a small Korean chapel that the American Catholic soldiers had helped the Korean Catholics build. The people were very poor, but had prepared a simple party. I was offered two cold, half fried eggs and a piece of very doughy cake. Even though I was hungry, I did not feel like eating it, but I did not want to hurt their feelings, so I got it all down, and everyone was happy.
After that, I was taken to the officers club for a big Christmas turkey dinner. It was a wonderful meal, but I really did not enjoy it fully, knowing that the people who had shared their simple breakfast with me were not going to get a second breakfast themselves.
About a week later I got sick. For about five days I had a fever and was very weak, but did not know the cause. Two different Korean doctors were called in and both said I just had a cold. I was getting in rather bad shape and one of the Columban Sisters, who was a doctor, came in and said I had the measles. I was twenty-nine years old and had never had any kind of measles before, and could have died.
After a week or two I was back at classes. I was still not well and lost about forty pounds over the next few months. For the next three years I developed a few more health problems which led to over twenty years of poor health.
I am now going to skip writing all about tonsils, sinus, surgery in Hong Kong and very many trips to doctors over the next five years, which I am sure no one wants to read about anyway.
The language studies finished after seven months. I had learned many words and some grammar, but could hardly put two words together.
YANG YANG PARISH
Four others from our class and I were assigned to Chun Cheon Diocese, bordering on the communist line. Bishop Thomas Quinlan was in charge. He and all the other Irish priests had been locked up by the Japanese during World War II until 1945. When the communists invaded South Korea in 1950, he and many other Columban priests were captured. Six were killed and three were marched into North Korea. One died there and Monsignor Quinlan and Father Phil Crosby survived three winters and were released in Moscow at the end of the Korean War in 1953. Both returned to Korean and worked for many more years.
The five of our class arrived in Chun Chon on July 4, 1960. It was a hot day, but the one thing that has stuck in my mine the most about that day was our first visit to the Bishop’s office. The only thing I remember that he said was, “If any one of you ever has a problem with the pastor, I will presume the pastor is right.”
I was assigned to be an assistant to an American Columban, Father Tom Sullivan, in a parish on the east coast called Yang Yang.
It was eight miles north of the 38th parallel, which had been the dividing line between North and South Korea, until the beginning of the Korean War. It was a large part of the territory that the UN forces liberated from the communists. By the time of the armistice in 1953, the territory on the east coast from the 38th parallel for about fifty miles north was liberated. During the time the communists controlled that area, Yang Yang was known as Little Moscow, because so many of the people there had become communists after 1945 when the Japanese were kicked out.
On the west coast, South Korea actually lost a small amount of territory south of the 38th parallel, which brought the communists a few miles closer to Seoul.
Before the end of World War Two, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met in Yalta. This meeting is referred to as "The Yalta Conference". The Japanese had occupied Korea from 1910. At the Yalta Conference it was agreed that Russia would occupy Korea north of the 38th parallel the US and England would occupy south of the 38th parallel after the surrender, and send the Japanese soldiers back to Japan. This was done in 1945, even though Russia sent many of them into slavery in Siberia. Shortly after that, Russia established communism in the North and in so far as they could stopped people from going south into the free part of Korea. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded the south. The war lasted almost four years and when the armistice was signed, it was agreed that the division of Korea would no longer be the 38th parallel but the line held by the opposing armies. The line now became about fifty miles north of the 38th parallel on the east coast and about twenty miles south of the 38th parallel on the west coast. As a result, South Korea got back much more territory than they lost.
The church that had been in Yang Yang, before the communists from North Korean had taken over was destroyed. Father Timothy Ri, the Korean pastor, was executed by the communists.
A Columban priest, Father Pat McGowan, built the new church after the armistice. He had already built a new one fifteen miles north in a larger town called Sok Cho where he was still pastor. I replaced him there about sixteen years later.
Our house was small. We had a diesel stove for heat and a wood-burning cook stove. There was no electricity, but we did have a phone, which was really a blessing. I eventually learned that a phone was much more important than electricity. When one is in the boondocks and isolated in many ways, a phone is a great blessing. We often looked forward to visits from other Columban priests or were planning a short visit or meal at another nearby parish. This would have been very difficult without a phone.
There were two mission stations nearby where we said Mass every Sunday. We had two Sunday morning Masses in the parish church.
Father Tom had been in Korea for a little over six years. He was a great reader and storyteller. In later years he also did a good bit of writing.
We were together for only a few months, until he went back to the USA for a year off. At that time the tour assignment was for seven years. Then one year at home to get one’s health, sanity and finances back in shape. Father Tom was replaced by Father Jim O’Brien, who had been two years ahead of me in the seminary.
There were two Korean Sisters in the parish. Father Tom had built them a nice convent. They looked after all the catechism classes for new converts and the children of the parish.
I had done a fair bit of hunting when I was a kid and Father Jim had done a bit too, but he could not hit the broad side of a barn with a 12-gauge shot gun. Jim had a jeep which we often drove the short distance to the ocean to shoot at the ducks when they flew in after feeding on small fish in the East Sea. We rarely got any ducks, but it was something to do and fun trying. There were pheasants around too, but the cover was too thick and even when we did shoot one, it was hard to find. It was about this time that I bought a used Volkswagen van from one of the priests who was going home to Ireland after his first seven years in Korea.
Shortly after, I took a trip down the coast and visited some of the other parishes. On my return trip I spent the night at Father Pat Healey’s parish in Muk Ho. There was a big rain that night and the next day when I was about halfway home, the road along the ocean was blocked with tons of rocks from the mountain slide due to the heavy rain. I had to return to Father Pat’s.
The road was cleared the next day and I got to the river at the south edge of Yang Yang. I had driven through the wide, shallow river to get out of town a few days before. There had not been a bridge there for many years. The river was now deeper and wider. I watched a big army truck go through and the water seemed to be only two feet deep. I should have realized that two feet of running river had a lot of force behind it.
I had bought a fifty gallon barrel of kerosene and I figured that would help to keep the van from floating away. A few people asked for a ride across, so they got in and I drove into the river slowly, and almost immediately we started floating down stream towards the ocean. I kept my foot on the gas to keep the engine running and the water out of the exhaust pipe. We floated a few yards and then hit a sand bar. Fortunately it was solid enough to give traction to the tires and we kept moving towards the far shore. It was about sixty or eighty feet across and we made it.
Father Jim and some people had been watching us from the distant churchyard. They were really worried, because they knew that two women had drowned the day before trying to wade across.
OF BUK PYENG
When I got up to our house Father Jim told me that the Bishop had phoned to say that he was appointing me temporary pastor of one of the parishes I had just visited. The priest there was due to go on vacation in Ireland after his first seven years in Korea. Since it was only a temporary assignment I was not worried about it. I could offer Mass and give the Sacraments, and that was the main thing. I could also perform corporal works of mercy, like taking people to hospitals in my Volkswagen and help distribute American relief goods to poor people.
So I was very happy with the assignment and within a few days I had my belongings loaded into the van and took off for the parish, in the town of Buk Pyeng. It was about fifty miles south, along the ocean. The church was only a few years old and there were about three hundred Catholics. Some of them were descendants of Catholics who had fled the persecutions in Seoul about a hundred years previously. During the persecutions, about 10,000 of the early Catholics in Korea were martyred by the government of Korea.
A young man in the parish who was good at English helped me prepare my sermons in Korean. There were two girls who taught catechism to the children every Saturday or Sunday. The bishop sent me a catechist to teach doctrine to converts and to be my right hand man in all that needed to be done.
He had been in the North Korean communist army. He was shot in the arm and surrendered along with a number of other soldiers. A Maryknoll priest used to visit the prisoner of war camp he had been in and some of the prisoners wanted to become Catholic. He was one of them and he got a catechism from the priest. He told me that he had to do most of his studies in the toilet, because some of the prisoners were such fanatical communists that they would kill any prisoner who would try to become a Catholic or cooperate with anyone in authority at the prison camp.
There were no Sisters in the parish yet, but we built a convent and two Korean Sisters came about a year later. One of the girls, Maria Hong, who was teaching catechism to the children, later joined the order of Sisters. Many years later, after she had become a Sister, she was assigned to work with me in another parish.
And many years after that, when I was living in an apartment in Seoul, working to start Gamblers Anonymous, she was working in the parish. That was a rare coincidence, because she might have been working in any of hundreds of other parishes elsewhere. She had been in Germany for a few years learning to be a nurse and worked in a hospital.
Now, let’s get back to my parish again. There was another parish about five miles north of me and another five miles south. That was great. Both the pastors were from Ireland. One had been in our seminary in Boston and was only two years ahead of me. All three of us liked to hunt and owned a shotgun. We got together once or twice a week for hunting or swimming and supper, at one of the three parishes. Often visitors came from other parishes or from Seoul.
I was on my own for about one year, and then another priest, Father Frank Mannion, who had gone to Ireland the previous year, returned to Korea and replaced Father Walter Nugent, who was doing temporary duty as pastor in the parish of Kang Neung, about twenty miles north of me. Father Walter had been in Korea one year longer than I, so the Bishop assigned him to be permanent pastor of my parish.
SECOND LANGUAGE COURSE
We were together for about six months and then I was given permission to do six months of language studies. I had hoped to do it in Seoul, where there might be a better chance of having a proper language teacher. But the Bishop did not give permission for the other four of our class to go, so I was sent down south to the other Columban diocese of Kwangju. My five classmates who had been assigned there had done a second language course there the previous year. I joined the three priests who had arrived in Korea the year after me. The priest in charge, instead of hiring a teacher who spoke English and had some training as a language teacher, hired a man who had been a friend of the Bishop in previous years and was out of a job. So again, the whole seven months became a waste of time. I spent more time studying Chinese characters and hunting pheasants and geese than studying Korean. I enjoyed studying the Chinese characters and practicing writing them, but that too eventually turned out to be a waste of time, because I was not able to keep it up during the years following, so I just forgot most of it.
BURSAR IN THE BISHOP’S
HOUSE CHUN CHEON
The following spring, I returned to my diocese and was appointed to the Bishop’s house to be the bursar. This was basically to keep track of finances, keep the books, and send money to each of the priests each month. Also, I was to be in charge of the domestic help and purchase groceries and other supplies. Grocery shopping was a big part of the job, because there were no good stores in the city, and I had to go to Seoul about once a month to do the shopping at special stores or wherever I could find things on the “black market” that had been sold by American soldiers, who peddled most of the things they had bought at the army post exchange (PX). The army camps and air bases were always supplied with enough food to take care of their highest possible needs. But usually their numbers at meals did not come up to the limit and there were usually large amounts of frozen meat, canned goods etc. to be either thrown away or sold illegally on the open market. The second was by far the better of the two no matter how one might judge it. That was where I bought most of our food, and at a very low price.
A big part of Bishop Quinlan’s work was building churches. Some of the old ones needed to be replaced due to the war. And new ones needed to be built due to the large number of converts being baptized. Often the American army and local government officials helped to do this. Our contacts with the military and government often called for dinner parties. Helping to put on these parties was part of my job. They were usually very enjoyable, but most of all it was an opportunity for many non- Catholics to learn that priests and our Bishop were human beings too and our main interest was to help people in various ways.
There was a Catholic chaplain at the army camp, but he needed another priest to offer Sunday Mass at the missile sites. I did this for about two years. This was one of my contacts with the military. We had various contacts with different groups of the military. Sometimes pilots flew the Bishop or me to different places, because the roads were so bad and travel by car or bus took so long.
This often called for parties for the pilots. This was not only to thank them for their help, but to express our appreciation for all the good things the American military had done for Korea and the missionaries. Sometimes the engineers supplied bulldozers and trucks to level sites for building new churches. So we had parties of appreciation for the engineers.
By special permission from the commander, I was allowed to use the army PX to buy some things for our house and many of the other priests.
I was having lots of trouble with the Volkswagen van, due to very rough roads, so I sold it and bought a Land Rover, which was much more reliable.
It was during this period in my life that my love of gambling got out of control. I spent many evenings at the officers club playing poker or shooting dice. Usually the stakes were not high enough to hurt anyone. I still regarded it as a legitimate way to pass the time and associate with other people. But there were times when the stakes got a little too high and I think that some spectators were scandalized that a priest was in the game. I did not fully realize that a serious gambling problem was being created. For about a year it was very enjoyable and I usually won. So it was not a financial problem and the winnings were not large enough to hurt the other players. But I well remember the first time I lost a few hundred dollars in a poker game. I felt very guilty, but not enough to stop playing.
My health continued to get worse and I was often back and forth to the Columban Sisters’ clinic for medicine and tranquilizers.
It was during this time that our superiors in Ireland decided that our tour of duty would be cut from seven years to six years.
During the last year of my three years working in the Bishop’s house, the Second Vatican Council was on and Bishop Quinlan went to Rome to attend it. Father Thomas Stewart, the Vicar General, was put in charge of the diocese. He was a doctor of canon law, and a very hard worker. But he had no understanding of what I was going through. Before Bishop Quinlan left for Rome, he told me that I could go back to the States at any time, and did not have to wait until my time would be due in December.
Father Pat Healey had been appointed to replace me, so I wanted to wait until he came so I could break him into the job. The priest who had the job before me had not done so for me, and that is one of the reasons why the job was so difficult for me.
Before Father Healy arrived to replace me, one of the Korean priests in a boondocks parish got sick and Father Stewart wanted me to go to the parish and hold down until he got well. I knew I was not well enough to do that, so I refused and told him that I was free to go back to the USA any time and that is exactly what I would do instead of waiting to help Father Healy to settle in, if he insisted.
He relented and I waited until Father Healy learned what needed to be done and how to do it.
YEAR IN THE STATES
Then I went to the USA for a year of rest and rehabilitation. My year at home started with a stop in Japan for a few days. The only thing I recall of that visit was going to see the movie, “Doctor Zhivago”. It was too depressing for me. I had seen so much poverty and sadness for six years in Korea that I did not need to see any more of it at that time.
After Japan, I and three or four of the classmates I was traveling with stopped in Hawaii for a few days. The weather was beautiful, so we spent most of the time at the beach. I do not recall anything else about it. My health was very bad. I was going through a lot of anxiety and stress. I was still having dizziness from the Hong Kong hospital episode and was not well enough to even drive a car for almost a year. I was actually afraid of the culture shock that lay ahead of me when I got home. I knew things would be very different, because I was very different. I was anxious to see my parents, brothers, sisters and hometown friends, but I wished the year at home were already in the past.
My first stop in the States was at our Columban Fathers’ house in San Francisco, where I had spent such an enjoyable three weeks six years before. One of the first things I did in San Francisco was phone my mother and she laughed and asked, “Where did you get the Irish accent?” Later I phoned my cousin in Marin County. She was not home, so I called her husband’s office. The secretary answered and I heard her saying to him, “An Irishman is on the phone wanting to talk to you.” Most of the priests I had been around for six years were from Ireland and I had not realized I had picked up some of the Irish accent and many Irish expressions.
From San Francisco, I went on to Omaha. Cousins met me at the airport and brought me home to Fonda. I could not figure out why everything looked so much smaller. The streets had become shorter and so many things looked so different. I learned later that that was a common phenomenon for people returning to their childhood area.
After a week or two in Fonda, I went to Omaha and checked into Saint Joseph’s hospital. The first thing was to get my tonsils removed, for the second time. That was a big part of the reason for my bad health.
Before the end of the year I was driving a car again, but I still did not feel up to par. The doctor gave me a supply of mild tranquilizers and agreed that I could return to Korea. I did not think he was right, but I was afraid that if I did not return to Korea at that time, I might never get back.
One of my classmates was not so fortunate. He had gone through great psychological problems the whole six years in Korea and was not allowed to return. Later, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and a Bishop in Connecticut got him relieved of all his duties and privileges of the priesthood. To this day the Columban Fathers continue to support him in a retirement home in New York.
SECOND TOUR IN KOREA
PASTOR OF INJE PARISH
I returned to Chun Cheon Diocese. After the Vatican Council ended, Bishop Quinlan returned to Korea and retired to one of the parishes on the east coast. The Vicar General, Father Thomas Stewart, became the bishop. He assigned me to be assistant to Father Frank Mannion in in Kang Neung, which was about twenty miles south of the first parish I had worked in six years earlier. I was there for nine weeks, but during that time I used all the tranquilizers that the doctor at home had given me. I was really getting depressed and anxious. Then one day when I was out for a walk, a call came from Bishop Stewart appointing me pastor of the parish in Inje.
A few days later a letter came telling me to be in Inje on a certain day and I would become pastor the minute I arrived in the parish. The day I drove my Land Rover Jeep on the four hour trip to Inje, the snow was piled about six feet high along the side of the roads. I arrived in Inje about supper time. No one knew I was coming, as there was no phone. Father Jack Lynch was the pastor and he was not home. The cook, Teresa Hoang, prepared supper for me. Father Jack arrived home the next day, surprised that I was there. He was just finishing his first seven years in Korea. I had met him a few times before. We became close friends over the following thirty years before he died.
The land for the church in Inje had been purchased by the diocese before the communists took over that part of the country after 1945. They built a theatre and communist indoctrination center on the site. American air force bombers knocked it down during the war and only the foundations remained.
When Father Jack was appointed the pastor in about 1954, the only Catholics there were one small group of old Catholics about ten miles south of the main church.
There were ten mission stations in the parish, which covered the whole County of Inje. There was one American army camp about nine miles south of the main church. I offered Mass there every Sunday for about ten soldiers. Koreans from three of the ten mission stations were near enough to attend Mass there too. I offered the Mass in English and gave a sermon in Korean, after giving it in English.
I offered Mass in each of the mission stations a few times a year. There was one right next to the communist line where I went only two times a year, because it was difficult to get permission from the Korean army, Korean CIA and police to go there. One time I had all the permissions and had driven almost all the way to the little chapel when I was stopped at one of the Korean army check points and asked for proof that I had permission to bring the Land Rover. This was really ridiculous. The trip was about thirty miles and no one would expect anyone to walk it. But the stupid soldier was in charge and he had the rifle, so the catechist and I had to turn around and go home. This sort of bad treatment was rare. Usually the officials and the ordinary people were helpful and went out of their way to assist us when we were trying to help them in any way.
The main church was large and looked very impressive on the side of a hill, looking down towards the town and river. My living quarters consisted of rooms all along one side of the church, all under the same roof, so that it was basically one building. All in a row, there were two bedrooms, bathroom, sitting room, kitchen and one more bed room.
There was no electricity, phone or running water. But there was a kerosene refrigerator, which was really a blessing. I could buy meat in Seoul and keep it frozen after I got it home. By the end of my four years there, I had electricity, phone and electric refrigerator, but still no running water, just a well with a hand pump. In later years when I became pastor of another parish with a well and a rope to pull up the water, I got an electric pump and had the water piped into all the buildings.
I still had my shotgun, but hunting around there was too dangerous. One shot might get a person shot by some of the Korean soldiers who were always on guard against communist infiltrators from the north. I eventually gave the shotgun and $100 to get electricity put in all the rooms.
Some of the mission stations did not have chapels, so I offered Mass in homes. During my four years there, I bought land and we built chapels in three of the mission stations.
A big part of my work was fixing up marriages. Many of the Catholics, for various reasons, were not properly married in the Church. Some of them had been separated from their spouse during the war and then just started living with someone else.
There was no good hospital in the area, so I often brought sick or injured people to hospitals in distant cities or to American and Korean army doctors in the area or the Columban Sisters clinic about four hours away.
My health gradually improved during those four years. But my gambling problem did not. When I had nothing to do in the evenings, I usually went to the American army camp for supper. Often there would be a movie, card game or dice game after supper.
Sometimes there would be officers visiting from other camps. I enjoyed visiting with them and hearing some of their war stories.
I especially recall an Air Force pilot, a Captain, who was suddenly sent to Korea immediately after the American spy ship, the Pueblo, was captured by the North Korean navy. His job was to check out the area by air in case the US decided to make a military attack to free the Pueblo. He did not have a plane and neither did the Americans in the area. But the Korean army did have a few reconnaissance planes, and for a bottle of scotch, he got one of the pilots to give him tours of the area.
One of the stories he told was that, during the Seattle World Fair, he was flying a jet fighter as part of an air show. Something went wrong and he had to bail out, and the multi-million dollar jet crashed into a nearby lake. He said he had never felt so foolish.
Another story was that a few years previously, when he was still a young airman, he walked into a bar in San Francisco one evening. He sat at the bar and ordered a drink. An elderly couple, noticing he was in uniform and alone, invited him to join them at their table. After a few drinks and a pleasant evening, he thanked them and went back to his hotel. Then he noticed he had left his cigarette lighter on the table in the bar room. It was not worth getting a taxi to go back for it.
About two weeks later he was in New York City and again strolled into a bar room. He sat at the bar and ordered a drink. He had noticed that there were only a few people in the room and they were sitting at tables a few yards away. Suddenly someone came beside him and tapped on the bar. A voice said, “Here is your cigarette lighter.” I have no doubt that this story is true and I have told it many times.
There were two Korean army Catholic chaplains in my parish, and I welcomed them to live in the mission stations near their army camps. They offered Mass in the chapels and instructed many people for baptism. During my four years there, we baptized about 1,500 people. Most of them were adults.
The chaplains often came to my house. They had a hard life and I always welcomed them. Sometimes we had parties for their army commanders, and that too gave them more influence in doing their work. The chaplains usually were assigned to the area for only one year, so I got to know many of them over the four-year period. Years later I met some of them after they became pastors in their own dioceses and they helped me in my work.
(Legion of Mary picnic - Yang Yang parish, 1959)
(Visiting the little chapel in Myranae dedicated
to the early Korean Martyrs)
(Summer catechism school for country children - Inje parish)
(Sok Cho parish baptisms)
I recall many of the people I baptized during that time, but especially Raymundo. He was about thirteen years old and lived in a very poor village about seven miles from me. He had TB and used to get free medicine from the local government clinic near the church. Often the clinic did not have medicine to give, so I started getting it for him at the Columban Sisters’ clinic in Chun Cheon. I do not recall when I first met him, but I think it was after he started coming to Mass and taking instructions to become a Catholic. Later, his parents and younger siblings joined him in the seven-mile walk to church every Sunday. They were nice people and very poor. Raymundo’s father was a barber, but I think most of the people in their poor village would not be able to afford a haircut very often.
I eventually baptized the whole family. Raymundo got over the TB, but the TB infection in his back turned into staph infection and he was in a bad way. There was no Korean doctor to help him. I was due to return to the States for my year off and turn the parish over to a Korean priest. I knew that the Korean priest would not have much influence with the American army, so I got the doctor at the American army camp to accompany me to the village to see him. The doctor was originally from Puerto Rico and he told me he had never seen such poverty as there was in that village. There was not much he could do for Raymundo, but he took a sample from the open wound in his back and I took it to an American doctor at the Presbyterian Hospital in Wonju, about four hours drive from my church. The doctor asked me to bring him in and he would try to help. I took Raymundo to Wonju and the doctor said he could operate and maybe it would help. This was going to cost money, even though it would be a rock bottom price. I was due to leave for my vacation in the States and had about $500. I offered that and the doctor said that would be enough.
After getting Raymundo’s parents’ consent, I brought him back to the hospital and left him. The following Sunday afternoon on my final departure from the parish to Seoul, I stopped at the hospital. All was set for the surgery.
Nine months later, after I returned from the US I contacted Raymundo. The infection was all cleaned out, but some injury was done to a nerve in his back and that hampered his walking. But he was very happy and looking forward to a good life. He was really a brave and special young man.
A few years after that, the whole family moved to the east coast, to a poor farming area near the communist line. This was the area where the United Nations’ forces got a large amount of territory back from the communists during the war.
I had no more contact with them until about five years later when I became pastor of the parish about 40 miles south of them. Raymundo had married and became a barber. He heard that I was in the area and rode a bus down to see me. He was still the happy kid he had always been. About another year after that, I visited the parish where he was living and the pastor there informed the family that I would be there. The parents and some of the children and Raymundo’s one or two children came to see me. It was a nice meeting, except for the fact that one of Raymundo’s brothers had become an alcoholic and died very young.
A few years later, when I was living in Seoul, I got a call from the parish where Raymundo lived, telling me that Raymundo, his wife and one child had been murdered by a drunken bum in the village who broke into their home and demanded money to buy more booze. When Raymundo refused, he tied them up, stabbed them with a knife, and doused the room with kerosene and set it on fire. One child hid and escaped to tell the story.
Many years later I met one of Raymundo’s sisters, who worked at a church near where I was living in Seoul. She told me that he used to spend most of his free days going around the village and countryside giving free haircuts to old people and shut-ins who could not get to a barber shop.
I think this is a good place to mention that I firmly believe that I had two vocations. One was to be a missionary priest and the other to be a compulsive gambler. As I write this, at age seventy-five, I can honestly say that I thank God for both callings and the grace He gave me to deal with each successfully.
It was towards my last year in Inje parish that a casino opened in Seoul. Although there were hundreds of illegal gambling rooms all over Korea, this would be the first legal one. It was only for foreigners. Koreans without foreign passports would not be allowed in. When I heard about it, I was determined to go there as soon as I could be free to make the trip to Seoul. That would be the first of many trips to the Walker Hill Casino in Seoul. Again, I did not regard it as something bad. I was not yet interested in golf and I felt that I needed some recreation.
I was not playing for high stakes and I usually won at dice and black jack. But as the months passed, the desire to go there and the amount gambled increased. It was not long until I realized I had a big problem. No matter how much I promised myself “Never again”, there was always that, “Just one more time”.
After the end of my four years in Inje, I went home for vacation. This was the time when I visited Raymundo in the hospital on my way to Seoul.
For the first twenty years I was in Korea, I spent much of my vacations at home in Fonda playing poker and shooting dice. Again, I regarded this as legitimate recreation, even though I did start to realize that I was surely giving scandal to the people in my hometown. When I look back on it, I realize that was part of the sickness and what I had to go through before I could stop and eventually help other compulsive gamblers to stop gambling and make new lives for themselves.
During those years I did four more years working at the Bishop’s house in Chun Cheon under Bishop Thomas Stewart.
My final four years in that diocese were as pastor of Sok Cho on the East coast. It was during those eight years that my gambling did the most damage to my life.
When I finished in Sok Cho, I went home for vacation and was determined to stop gambling for good. I resolved that if I gambled again, I would go to Omaha and attend a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and get all the help I needed to stop.
That was probably the best year of my life, at the time. And every year since then has gotten better.
I got a job as part-time chaplain at Offutt Air Base. I made a trip back to Las Vegas and gambled away the first month’s pay. Then, the following month in Omaha I went to the racetrack most afternoons after I finished work at the chapel.
Finally, I decided to follow through on the promise I had made to myself before I left Korea two months earlier. I checked out the phone book and got a number to call. I promised the person who answered that I would be at the meeting the following Wednesday. But on Wednesday morning a visitor arrived at our mission headquarters in Omaha and wanted to go to the horse track. So I took him. I won a few hundred dollars and that was the last time I ever set foot on a horse track or bet on a horse.
I went to the meeting the following Wednesday and from that day on I did not gamble for three and one half years. I was in the States for almost a year and continued working at the air base chapel from July until January. That was a wonderful experience and I met many wonderful people.
It was my first experience doing real church work through English, instead of my very limited Korean language. It gave me a new lease on life.
In January, I went to New York and attended a three-month renewal course with about twenty-five other missionaries from various missionary societies, who had worked in various mission countries.
That too was a great experience. The chaplain in Omaha wanted me to come back and help out for one more summer. I wanted to do that, because it would be so much better to apply the new things I had learned through English. I wrote to the Columban superior in Seoul and requested four more months out of Korea. He replied that I could do so, but then I would have to go to a parish just north of the one I had last been in. But, if I returned immediately, I could become pastor of a vacant parish on Che Ju Island, about ninety miles south of the Korean mainland. The priest who had been there had to leave after only two years, as he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The parish had been vacant for a month.
This offer was too good to turn down. I arrived back in Korea just after the student riots in Kwangju City, Cholla Nam Do, in May of 1980. The President, Park Chung Hui had been assassinated by his bodyguard the summer before and a worse scoundrel, Chun Do Won, also an ex-army general had taken over the government. In order to make a point with students and anyone else who might go against him, he pretended that the people in Kwangju were about to start a communist uprising. He sent in a small group of Korean soldiers to antagonize the people, and the students rose up and drove them out of town. Then Chun Do Won completed the rest of his plan and sent in many more soldiers who had been fed liquor and drugs to tear up the place. They killed hundreds of students and anyone who happened to be on the streets. It was an absolute barbaric slaughter. Later, Chun Do Won suppressed the newspapers and all opposition politicians. He put out the lie that the American officials had backed his barbaric actions for the sake of national security. Two people from the American Embassy later told me that they had hand delivered 10,000 letters to influential Korean people denying that lie. But of course most of the Korean people did not get the truth until years later. After Chun Do Won and his successor, Ro Tai Ou, finished their corrupt terms as president, they were arrested and sentenced to many years in prison, but the following president had them released after one year for the sake of saving face for the country.
When I arrived in Che Ju, the weather was beautiful. It was far enough south so that the summer come a few weeks earlier than on the mainland.
The name of the town where I would be living was Hallim.
The island was volcanic with a few high mountains in the middle. The roads were narrow and rocky. The whole island was one diocese, with about twelve parishes, with a Korean Bishop. There were about eight Columban priests and seven Korean priests.
Hallim parish had been started right after the war by Father Patrick J. McGlinchey, from Northern Ireland. He was famous on the island for the great work he had done and was still doing to help farmers. It would take at least one or two books to describe all the great work he had done, so I will not even attempt to give any more details on his life and work. He is still there, after fifty years, doing social works, but now mostly retreat work for thousands of people who come to the island from the Korean mainland every year.
The Columban Sisters had a clinic just across the road from the parish church. The Sisters also ran a weaving factory to give employment to young people, who might otherwise have to go far away from home to find a job.
The Poor Clare Sisters had a monastery in the hills about five miles from the parish house and church. Father McGlinchey lived near there and offered Mass at their chapel daily. The Sisters’ chapel also served as a mission station for the Catholic people of the area.
On the bishop’s first visit to me, he asked me to be the ordinary confessor to the Poor Clare Sisters. Hearing the confessions of a dozen holy Sisters once a month certainly would not be a big job. Some of the Sisters were American and some were Korean.
There were Korean Sisters working in most of the parishes, but not in mine. Two Korean ladies had been doing the catechetical work for many years, but the bishop wanted me to get the people to build a convent and he would get two Korean Sisters from Seoul. We eventually got that completed after two years. Not as simple a task as it might seem, but we got it done.
The head Catholic in the parish also owned and managed a hardware store. He was a nice enough man, but not really qualified to be representing the Church. But he did do me a good service by freely coming to visit me most evenings and talk in very simple Korean that I could understand. I had never experienced that in my twenty years in Chun Cheon Diocese. I learned more Korean during those three years than in many years previously.
There were four mission stations. One was a few miles south of the main church and the head Catholic there was a farmer and a heavy drinker. He did some good work and we got along alright. But a couple years after I moved off the island, he got into too much gambling and took poison to get his wife off his back, because of his gambling losses. Everyone said he did not really mean to kill himself, but he did take too much poison and he did die.
The other three mission stations were north of town and I tried to say Mass at each of them once a month. But the turnout at one was so poor, that I closed it after a couple years, and told the few people who were coming to Mass to get the bus to the other nearby chapel when I offered Mass there.
There was a casino in the city, about half an hour drive from my parish. I had gambled there a few times in past years. It was a big temptation to me, so every time I had to go to the city, I made sure I wore my priest clothes and did not have more than about ten dollars in my pocket. When I drove past the casino, it felt like a magnet physically drawing me to it.
There were two very poor golf courses on the island, but I was not really interested in golf at the time. One of our Irish priests lived in the city and was a good golfer. I golfed with him a few times.
There were lots of pheasants, but I no longer had a shotgun.
I had hunted there a few times when on vacation from the mainland. On one hunting trip in eight hours of hunting in three days, I shot thirty-nine pheasants. I shot some of them from the window of a Jeep and some from the back door of Father Charlie O’Rourke’s house, where I was visiting. Yes, that is the same Charlie O’Rourke I first met in the train station in Chicago in 1950, thirty years earlier.
The pheasants were nice to eat and the farmers were happy to be rid of them, because they sometimes ate the grain in the fields. We gave most of them away. The people in those days rarely got to eat meat, except on special occasions when they butchered a pig. There were no beef cattle at that time. There were oxen to pull the plows and wagons. I suppose the only time anyone would eat one would be if it got injured or was too old to work. Dog meat was popular and tasty, but expensive.
The Columban Fathers owned a vacation house in Cheju City. One retired Columban priest lived there and looked after it. On Monday evenings the Columban priests and some of the Korean priests gathered there for supper. In the summer, Columban priests from the mainland often came for vacations. There were nice beaches and the water was clear. There was one airport with just one runway. Sometimes when it was too windy or there was a cross wind, the planes could not go. Often, people who had come from the mainland for a few days’ vacation or business got stuck for many days or had to go back by boat.
I usually got to Seoul every few months for grocery shopping or just to get away and relax at the Columban headquarters in Seoul and visit with other priests. Often there were visitors from the States or other mission countries and it was always nice to meet old friends.
My Father had died at age eighty-four about ten years previously when I was doing my second tour, working in the Bishop’s house.
After I had been on the island for about two years, my mother back in Iowa died at age eighty-six. She had been in a nursing home for about two years or more, and was blind. I did not go home for the funeral. It would have been too difficult to make all the preparations in a short time and get home in less than three or four days. I knew my brothers and sisters would take care of everything and did not expect me to make such a difficult trip.
My greatest consolation was the firm belief that I would eventually be with my parents again in heaven. My parents had lived great lives. It was never an easy life for them, but their faith in God was their greatest asset. They passed that faith on to each of us kids and that has always been the mainstay of our lives.
During the thirty years since I had left home for the seminary in 1950, I rarely failed to write home every week. After my father died, I usually wrote Mom twice a week. For many years after she died it often happened that I would unconsciously say to myself when something interesting occurred, “I must remember to mention that the next time I write Mom”.
I had not thought about that for a long time, but just writing it now brings tears to my eyes.
RELAPSE INTO GAMBLING
Even though I had not gambled for over three years, the urge was always very strong to go to the casino. Of course there were no Gamblers Anonymous meetings in Korea, so I did not have the support of weekly meetings or being able to talk to someone who would understand. I had read one time that the loss of a loved one or any big crisis in a compulsive gambler’s life could easily set him off, especially if he was not attending the weekly meetings.
I did not think about this at the time, but it is a fact that around that time I decided I might be able to gamble just a little and not lose control. I decided to take just $100 and go to the casino and gamble for no more than one hour. If I won or lost $100 in less than an hour, I would stop and come home.
I won the hundred in less than an hour and went home. I was really thrilled and convinced that now I could return to my favorite recreation and not overdo it. I did this a few times during the next few weeks, but each time I was tempted to go for more and for longer. After about fifteen times, I was winning about $500, but I realized I was starting to lose control. I went to Seoul for a few days and went to the casino three or four times.
I had caught a cold in November and it hung on until spring. One Sunday morning during Mass my nose got so plugged up I felt as though I would suffocate. I had to leave the altar and go outside. The Columban Sister who was the doctor at their clinic was at Mass and she came to help me. I started to have an anxiety attack or something like that, and she calmed me down and I went back and finished Mass. We talked it over later and due to the fact that I was having such a hard time with the cold and seemed to be getting in poor health generally, I welcomed the doctor’s suggestion that I go back to the States for my vacation. Our official tour had been reduced to four years, but anyone who wanted to go after three years and could be replaced was free to go. So I phoned my superior in Seoul and got permission to leave. I think that this was all in God’s plan too.
I got back to Omaha and went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting as soon as I could. The people there were not at all surprised that I had started gambling again. They were actually surprised that I had lasted three and one half years, without any Gamblers Anonymous meeting to attend.
I was in the States for about nine months and did not gamble. I spent most of that time in Omaha so I could attend weekly meeting. After I returned to Korea I realized I would need weekly meeting, if I were going to avoid gambling. I went to the superior and told him what had happened. I also pointed out that many Koreans were addicted to gambling. Divorce, prison, and suicide were often the result of their gambling. I requested that I be assigned to start Gamblers Anonymous for Koreans. One of our Columban priests in Seoul had already started Alcoholics Anonymous and was working at it full-time, giving talks, meeting with Korean alcoholics and establishing weekly meetings.
My superior said he would arrange for me to talk to his counselors at the next council meeting. When the day for the meeting arrived, I had my little talk well prepared. I talked for about fifteen minutes and the bottom line was that I had not gambled for nine months, but could not promise I would not gamble the next day. I could only promise I would do my best not to gamble that day, and I would need a weekly twelve step meeting to do that. If they decided against me going into that work full time, then I told them to assign me to any job they wished.
KOREAN GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS
The next day the superior, Father Mike Dodd, told me he was assigning me to start Gamblers Anonymous for Koreans. We agreed that I would live in a Columban parish in Seoul and help in the parish part time.
But first of all, I hired a professional language teacher, Jacob Kim, to teach me more Korean language and to translate some of the literature into Korean. This would take a few months.
I chose to do it at the headquarters, where I was already staying. Jacob came five days a week and taught me grammar and how to talk much better, for about two hours each day. That was about all my head could take. I tried to memorize words for as long as I could every day.
I was really starting to think in Korean. The word order of a Korean sentence is almost completely backwards to English. I quickly learned to compose more complex sentences in my head without going through the mental process of translating in my head. I really regretted that I had not had a good language teacher twenty-five years before.
But looking back on it, I might not ever have become a full blown compulsive gambler, if I had known the language better and been able to get involved in parish work and Korean life more fully. Again, I think this was all in God’s plan too.
After about two months, we still had not decided where I would live and work. Father Mike suggested I consider one of the parishes on the north side of Seoul. I went there and checked it out. The pastor, Father Paul Kenny, agreed and I was ready to move in right away. But then, Father Mike said to wait, as another possibility had arisen. One of the Columban priests, Father Jack Roche, was due to return to Ireland for vacation, but he wanted to wait a few more weeks, because Pope John Paul 23 was coming to town to canonize one-hundred four of the early Korean and French martyrs.
There was no one to replace Father Jack, so I was to be the one. I moved into the parish on May 12, 1984. This actually turned out to be a Godsend, as I was much better off on my own the next six months than I would have been in the other parish. After six months I was given an assistant, Father Bill Sweeney. We were together for six months and then I received permission to move into an apartment in Seoul and do my Gamblers Anonymous work full time.
That year in the parish was really a new life for me. It was in Inchon Diocese, run by an American, Bishop McNaughton, who belonged to the Maryknoll Missionary Society. It was all American members and very similar to our Columban Mission Society, which was mostly Irish.
When I had been in Iowa the previous year, my sister-in-law, Teresa, dragged me to the golf course thirteen days in a row. I really needed a hobby to replace the gambling and eventually I got to love golf. I am still not very good at it, but sometimes, at age seventy-five, I still walk 18 holes five days in a row and feel great. In Korea, I played mostly at American army camps for a very low fee with some of the other Columban priests. It was a great help to keep me from thinking about gambling.
Jacob continued to come a few times a week to teach me language and translate more Gamblers Anonymous literature. Then we translated the little booklet used at the meetings. Jacob added about twenty pages of his own ideas to it in order to better explain the whole idea to Koreans, as all of this would be completely new to them. I figured I would have to leave it to others in the future to translate all the other literature and really get things going in a big way, if that was ever going to happen.
I had no idea of the big picture or the success we would have during the next twenty-three years. I had not even suspected that we would have fifty-eight meetings all over South Korea and a few Korean meetings in America by 2016. But all this came about a little at a time and involved many things I had never expected. Thousands of problem gamblers and family members have phoned me and other members seeking help for themselves or for a compulsive gambling friend or family member.
After we got the first little booklet printed and a few hundred copies made, the big question was what to do with them. I had already decided to give talks in churches wherever priests would consent, and give out the little booklets. I did this at a few of the Sunday Masses in nearby parishes, with no big visible results.
Jacob said it often appeared in the Korean newspapers that the police arrested habitual gamblers for gambling illegally. At this time the Koreans did not even have a word for compulsive gambling, and it was just regarded as a bad habit. So there was a vice squad department at police stations for arresting habitual gamblers. They were usually fined or given short sentences in jail.
The money lenders at the hundreds of illegal gambling houses in Seoul were not treated so lightly. I suppose this was because they were the ones who had the most money to cough up and they were the ones who made life so miserable for the families of gamblers, who could not repay the loans and astronomical interest demanded.
On weekends when Jacob was not working, he went all over Seoul and nearby areas and delivered out little booklets to police stations, telling the police that if they really wanted to help problem gamblers, give them a booklet and tell them to phone us.
FIRST KOREAN G.A. MEETING
This worked in a way we had not counted on. A newspaper reported got hold of a copy and called me. He wanted to do an article on gambling and our work. I asked him to come to my house when Jacob was there. Later, his article in the newspaper brought in a few calls from gamblers or their spouses.
One man came and he, Jacob and I discussed his problem and went through part of the little booklet, especially the twelve steps of recovery. He said he had written an oath on a piece of paper, saying he would never gamble again and placed the paper over his heart. He gave us what he said was his phone number, but it was phony and we never heard from him again. But that meeting has gone down in our history as being the first Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Korea, June 13, 1984.
Shortly after that, a man came to the parish office late one afternoon asking for me. I did not get to meet him then, but fortunately he returned the next day. His wife had read the article in the newspaper and showed it to him. Prior to that she had handed him a knife one day and asked him to kill her. She just could not put up with his gambling any longer. He has been a blessing to us and the many other compulsive gamblers he has helped during these past thirty-three years.
Our next big move was on the radio. Jacob arranged it and we went to the radio station. A very intelligent lady went through a practice interview with us and together we decided what questions she should ask. It all went off great and Jacob and I were very pleased with ourselves. That brought in a few phone calls and gradually people started coming to talk with me. Three of those who came are still attending meetings in Seoul. Another one is dead.
His name was Pio. His wife Maria had phoned and we arranged that Jacob and I would meet her at a restaurant in Seoul. She said Pio was a habitual gambler and was running a drugstore, using someone else’s pharmacy license. This was a common practice at the time. A practice even sometimes used by would be doctors and dentists.
The next week Pio and Maria came to the meeting. They kept coming for a few years and Pio was doing well. Then he got a job working in the Korean embassy in Haiti. He was in some troubles and got a friend to arrange this. I told him that he was going to a dangerous country and to be careful. His plan was to get settled in Haiti and then start importing Korean medicine. This plan almost worked out, but the Korean Embassy in Haiti closed later, due to so much political and military troubles. By that time, Pio had gathered enough money to import Korean tires and made enough money to import gas and oil. He was doing so well at this that his one competitor had him assassinated.
It happened one day when Pio and Maria were in a car and stopped at a red light. A young man hired by the competitor stepped up to their car and killed Pio with seven bullets. One bullet hit Maria in the leg. Four men in the car behind them were part of the plot. One of them was hired to kill the assassin, but the assassin ran away and was later arrested by the police. He told the police the whole story and the four others were caught and arrested and put in the same jail cell. Three of them were so angry at the man who was hired to kill the assassin that they killed him in the cell.
Pio had a brother and one son living in Los Angeles who called me a few days after it happened. They were trying to bring Maria to America, but that never happened. A few years later, when I went to Korea to help celebrate our Gamblers Anonymous 20th anniversary, I met Maria at the celebration. That was the last contact I ever had with the family.
After being in the parish in Inchon diocese for about six months, the superior of the Columban Fathers assigned Father Bill Sweeney to be my assistant. This was great, because it left me free to do more Gamblers Anonymous work.
APARTMENT IN SEOUL
After being with Father Sweeney in the parish for six months and trying to give talks on gambling in other parishes on Sundays, I realized that I could not do both. So I requested the new Columban superior, Father Bob Sweeney, to turn the parish over to Father Bill and let me move into an apartment in Seoul to be full time on the gambling work. He granted my request and I put in a budget to the Columban Fathers to cover the expenses and it was accepted. Jacob found me a nice apartment on the east side of Seoul near the building where the arrangements for the 1988 summer Olympics were being made. It was also just across the Han River from the Walker Hill Casino, where I used to gamble.
Jacob helped me with all the arrangements for the apartment, and accompanied me to the various stores to buy the things I needed to furnish it. By this time there were good grocery stores in Seoul and the economy was greatly improved from what it had been twenty-five years before. I moved into the apartment on July 23, 1985.
I enjoyed living on my own and doing my own shopping, cooking, laundry and cleaning. I lived in the apartment for about two years and talked about compulsive gambling at all the Sunday Masses in sixty-five parishes. I also had interviews with many newspaper reporters and asked them to publish my phone number. Phone calls regarding gambling came in most days, and many more people kept coming to the meetings. We also started the meeting, Gam-Anon, for the family members of the gamblers. For the first two years Jacob ran the family meetings. After a few months the new members ran the Gamblers Anonymous meeting.
I knew it was dangerous living so close to the Walker Hill Casino, but I figured I could handle it. One of the Columban priests, with whom I often golfed at one of the American army camps north of Seoul, lived north of me, beyond the casino. There was always a big temptation to gamble when I drove past the casino on my way home from golf.
One evening a few weeks after I moved into the apartment I had supper at that priest’s house and after a few drinks we decided it would be no harm to drive the two miles over to the casino and try the blackjack table for a while. It was really an insane idea, but that is the nature of the sickness of compulsive gambling. I had not gambled for about one year and a half. I have heard thousands of far crazier stories from compulsive gamblers over the past thirty years.
He did the driving and I played the blackjack at the casino. We won about a thousand dollars in about an hour and went home. The other priest used his half of the money to buy a VCR and I eventually lost my half back to the casino in a few trips over the next few weeks. I do not recall much about this brief relapse into gambling again, but I well remember the last night I gambled, over thirty years ago. I went to the casino alone with a few hundred dollars in my pocket.
MOMENT OF GRACE - MY LAST BET
I was winning about $500 at the blackjack table and got a very clear realization of just how stupid this was and that I did not have to continue it. So many people had believed in me and stuck their necks out to help me. How could I continue to be so stupid? I had a great desire to help other compulsive gamblers, but how could I ever help anyone stop gambling, if I could not actually show them how? I know this was a very special grace from God. For the first time in my life, early in the evening, with almost a thousand dollars, I simply stood up, cashed in my chips and walked out the door of the casino. I felt like I was seven-feet tall and really had a new lease on life. That was September 26, 1985. I have not gambled for over thirty years and rarely get even a small temptation to do so.
I did not tell Jacob or the members of our meetings about it.
Often when the members walked into the meetings each week, I could usually know whether they had gambled. One evening when only Jacob and I had arrived at the meeting, Pio walked in and I was certain he had been gambling. He did not say so, but I decided it would be for his good as well as mine, if I told him I had gambled. As soon as I told my story his face lit up and I could see that a big weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He immediately told of his slip into gambling again.
This gave both of us a good lesson. I have never forgotten the importance of being completely honest and open at the meetings and letting everyone there know what is going on. The meeting is the one and only place where a compulsive gambler can tell his or her story and expect to be fully understood and not criticized or judged. This understanding and acceptance by the other members is probably the most important reason for attending weekly meetings. That is why it is called therapy. Often people pay thousands of dollars to councilors who are well trained to nod their head and say “I understand” even when they do not understand.
TWO YEARS IN THE APARTMENT
The rest of the two years in the apartment went well. I talked on gambling at all the Sunday Masses in sixty-five parishes, had many interviews with newspaper and magazine reporters and always asked them to publish my phone number. Phone calls regarding gambling came in most days, and many more people kept coming to the meetings. After the first year, the urge to gamble was much less. I golfed two or three times a week for recreation and went to the nearby Columban Fathers headquarters for supper about once a week.
I often went to the 8th Army headquarters for some shopping. Civilians were not allowed to use the PX officially, but many of the people there made exceptions for me and I was able to buy bread, pizza and various articles that were not so available on the public market yet. Also, the priests were allowed into some of the army golf courses and restaurants. It was great to have this taste of home now and then. But it was not all one-sided. There was always a shortage of Catholic army chaplains and we missionaries helped with Sunday Masses at many of the camps whenever we could. I also gave talks on problem gambling to groups of chaplains and soldiers in many army camps.
When I had first arrived in Korea in 1959 most of the clubs in the camps had slot machines. Part of the revenue from the machines was used to keep the prices of drinks and meals very low. During my third year in Korea, because of too many complaints about soldiers getting addicted to the slot machines, the army took them out of the clubs and ran over them with bulldozers
Over the next few years, people in America who manufacture and sell the slot machines must have paid a lot of money under the table to some high ranking officials in Washington DC to get the machines back into the camps.
The head American chaplain in Korea told me that, completely contrary to the advice of many experienced military and American civilians in Korea, someone in Washington DC signed a paper and all the non-commissioned officers (NCO) clubs were ordered to install the slot machines again. But none were installed at the officers clubs.
Over the next eight years I met with and counseled about sixty-five military people who got into trouble due to the machines, mostly for stealing army property or writing bad checks to get money to play the machines. I was witness for the defense at two court-martials. I was able to help them get lighter sentences, but both went to jail. A few other times I was able to help soldiers avoid the court-martial by accepting a less severe punishment.
One captain, with ten years of good service, got discharged for the “good of the service”, rather than have a court-martial and certainly a number of years in jail for so many bad checks. I wrote letters for him, which moved one of the generals to go to bat for him. The military had programs to help people addicted to alcohol and drugs, but not gambling. I talked to many military people about the damage being done to young soldiers, but mostly to no avail. Too much money was coming in and I had no doubt that some of the people responsible for the machines had their fingers in the till. Just the two clubs near the main gates at 8th Army in Seoul were bringing in almost $2,000,000 dollars a month. Of course this would be regarded as peanuts for the casinos in America today, but it was a lot of money to be taking from American soldiers oversees who were being drawn into this sort of “recreation”, by the Army.
HOANG SHIM RI
I did some of this work, as stated above, during my two years in the apartment, but most of it was during the nine years I lived in Hoang Shim Ri, another area in Seoul. After two years in the apartment, I went home for vacation. When I returned to Korea I moved into the Hoang Shim Ri student center, owned by our mission society.
Five or six of our mission priests lived there a few years at a time doing special works and helping in parishes as the need arose. It was originally built as a center for Catholic college students to meet, and for kids, who could not afford to attend middle school, to attend classes taught by the college students. At that time, the first six years of school was provided free by the government, but middle and high school were expensive. Many kids, who could not afford middle school, attended evening classes taught by the college students and then passed the exam to enter high school in later years when their parents could afford the tuition.
I moved to Hoang Shim Ri on October 22, 1987. It was a nice change to be with a few other priests instead of alone in the apartment. We had a large basement where we held our GA meetings. The members liked it too, because it was nearer to where most of them lived and the subway was only a short walk away.
After about a year, some of the members who lived in an area called Sa Dang Dong, started their own meeting at the Catholic church.
About a year before that I had gone to the Philippines for a golfing vacation with two other of our priests. At that time there were about two-hundred fifty of our missionaries in the Philippines. I had been in the seminary with many of them.
While visiting in Manila, one of the priests told me that a high percentage of Filipino people were too heavy into gambling. I told him that, if he found two who wanted help to quit gambling, to get a book and help them start a weekly meeting.
I went back the following year and he had done nothing. So I consulted a few other priests, and some of them assured me I could reach many of the gamblers with English and no knowledge of any Filipino language.
To make a very long story short, I went to the Philippines every year for nine years to start Gamblers Anonymous meetings. The first time, I spent about six months in Cebu City, on the island of Cebu, about an hour plane ride from Manila. I spoke on the radio and wrote many articles on gambling for newspapers. I met with a number of problem gamblers and family members. In later years, I did the same in Manila for a few months a year a few times. I also spent about a month in Bacolod City on the Island of Negros. During nine trips to the Philippines, I got the meetings started three times, but every time I went back to Korea, most of the members went back to the casinos and the meetings folded up.
It was a great experience for me, but I really do not know whether it did any of the gamblers any good or not. Possibly some of the people who read the articles I got into the newspapers eventually got help from somewhere, but I do not know.
During my last trip to the Philippines in January 1996, when I was playing golf, I got very short of breath and had severe chest pains. When I mentioned this to one of the priests at the house in Manila, he said it was probably just a cold, because severe colds were going around and many people were in hospital due to it.
I kept golfing often during the following few weeks and returned to Korea, but I knew I was still not back to my full strength. One day I went for my usual walk, which started with a long stretch through the subway station and then up about ninety stair steps to get onto the street leading up to a college campus, where I would spend about a half hour walking the hilly area. Because it was a big struggle getting up the ninety steps I realized I had a problem.
I spent much of the next two weeks getting check-ups at a nearby hospital. The old heart problem I had experienced when I was ten years old, apparently had run its course and the doctors said I needed a new mitral valve. I was prepared to have the operation done in Korea, but the new mission superior, Father Michael Grady, said to go back to Omaha and check it out.
I went to Omaha in March. The doctor took one look at the x-rays taken in Korea and said that the problem was not that big at all. The result was an angioplasty to clear one partly blocked artery. But I did wind up getting the new mitral valve put in about six years later, in Los Angeles.
After the angioplasty, I took it easy in Omaha for about a month. I had been thinking that my work in Korea was basically finished. I had been at the gambling work for twelve years and we had twelve weekly meetings in about seven different cities. Some of the members were very zealous and capable. I decided that anything I could do, they could do better and there were more of them to do it. It was time for me to get out of their way.
One of the Korean men, Mr. Roh, who had attended the meeting in Seoul for two years, had moved to Los Angeles and started a meeting in Koreatown. It was doing well, but needed help. So after about five days at the Columban House in Los Angeles, the Columban superior in Omaha, without any consultation with me, sent me a letter saying he was appointing me to work in the US. He also requested the priest, Father Charles Carolan, who was in charge of the Korean community at St. Gregory Nazianzen parish, to ask the pastor to allow me to live there and do my work with the gamblers and help out in the parish.
This was all a big surprise to me, but it worked out great for six years. I helped with Masses and confessions in Korean and English.
The Korean Gamblers Anonymous meetings were held in two of the meeting rooms in the Korean area of the parish where I was living.
There were about fifteen Korean Catholic communities in various parts of Los Angeles and nearby cities. I gave talks at the Sunday Masses in most of them. I always gave out literature on compulsive gambling and my phone number. Many calls came in and I met with many of the callers. Some of them attended meetings and some of them stopped gambling. But, par for the course for compulsive gamblers, the vast majority did not.
I attended the weekly Korean meetings and one or two English speaking meetings in Beverly Hills every week. I lived at the parish for six years, until a Korean priest who belonged to the diocese replaced the priest, Father Noel Ryan. Father Noel had been there for five years. He moved to our mission house and did parish work out of there for a year and then moved into a Korean parish. I could have stayed at the parish longer, but I decided it was time for me to move too.
MISSION HEADQUARTERS NEBRASKA
I moved into our Mission Fathers house on North Vermont Ave.. Los Angeles on June 16, 2002.
My story is winding down more rapidly that it began. For a few years prior to my first Gamblers Anonymous meeting thirty years ago, I did not imagine that I would ever live this long. My health was bad and I no longer had much enthusiasm for life.
But, a few months before I did attend the first meeting, I got a strong feeling that life was going to get better. At that time I had many good reasons to feel unhappy, but for some reason, which I now attribute to the grace of God, I started feeling a beautiful sense of peace and hope. I got the feeling that I might just live another twenty years. Along with that came a determination to make the next twenty years, or whatever, the best years of my life.
I think the previous pages have shown that the dream has come true. I thank God that I am a priest and a non-gambling compulsive gambler. I have regretted many of the things that happened while I was gambling, but I think that was all part of my road to recovery and learning how to help other compulsive gamblers to stop gambling. Being a priest is often difficult, but never once did I ever regret saying “yes” to God when I realized He wanted me to be a priest.
With the grace of God and the fellowship of Gamblers Anonymous and the people in it, I feel that I am in good health, physically, mentally and spiritually. Whatever might still be lacking spiritually, I am confident that God and I can take care of it.
I moved to the Mission headquarters in Bellevue, Nebraska in November, 2010. I am now retired, but I attend an English speaking Gamblers Anonymous meeting on Saturday afternoons.
In 2014, I spent ten days in Korea in order to attend the thirty year celebration of Korean GA and Gam-anon.
They now have fifty-eight weekly meetings of each, all over South Korea.
The twenty-four hour celebrations in Seoul and Taegu, about three hours from Seoul, were attended by a total of 541 GA and Gam-anon members.
Recently a lady in GA told me that her husband had read my autobiography and liked it, but he could not understand how a priest could become a compulsive gambler. I asked her to tell him that this priest did not become a compulsive gambler, but that this born compulsive gambler worked very hard for nine years to become a priest. And now I have been a priest in good standing for over fifty-seven years.
My last bet was over thirty years ago, on Sept. 26, 1985.
I really think that, by the help of God and the people in GA, being a non-gambling compulsive gambler has made me a happier person and a better person than I would have been, if I had never have been a gambler.
Father Paul W.
If I can help you regarding compulsive gambling or a vocation to become a priest, please call 404-715- 5533
The end of the beginning.