[Obituary] Jeju’s “blue-eyed saint” passes away

Posted on : 2018-05-04 18:55 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Father Patrick James McGlinchey of Ireland spent his entire life serving the underprivileged
Father Patrick James McGlinchey passed away on May 27.
Father Patrick James McGlinchey passed away on May 27.

Father Patrick James McGlinchey (Korean name Im Pi-je), known locally as the “blue-eyed saint,” passed away to his eternal rest on Apr. 27 on Jeju Island, a place he loved even more than his homeland.

The Irish-born priest first arrived in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, during the Korean War in Apr. 1953. He went to live in Jeju the following year when he became the inaugural provost for Hallim Cathedral on Jeju Island. He was 25 at the time. Father McGlinchey would go on to spend the rest of his life in Jeju’s Hallim area – 65 years in total.

Missionary priests typically travel around for their work. But Father McGlinchey remained in one location.

“Why would he have spent his entire life in the Jeju farming village of Hallim?” asked Diocese of Jeju Bishop Peter Kang U-il at a funeral mass for Father McGlinchey.

Father McGlinchey went to live with residents who were impoverished in the wake of the April 3 Uprising and Massacre, and the Korean War, sharing their suffering and joining them in regional development and social efforts. He would typically would go to bed until 4 in the morning, having spent the night tending to the sick senior citizens and tens of thousands of livestock animals that needed his care once the employees had gone home.

Most of Father McGlinchey’s efforts were done jointly with area residents. A large pig farm established in the 1960s and 1970s was first begun with 25 Hallim-area teenagers. Hallim Weaving, whose wool garments were described as South Korea’s highest in quality, was started with four young women from the area and an old loom sent by Father McGlinchey’s mother from Ireland; it would go on to create over 1,000 jobs. The Hallim credit union, which was the first of its kind when created with local Catholics, has become the main bank for Jeju residents today. Father McGlinchey also worked with the community to cultivate joint village pasture and lay the groundwork for pig and livestock farming cooperatives.

The St. Isidore Clinic, which was begun with foreign nun physicians and neighborhood youths, treated over 50,000 people a year. A nursing home Father McGlinchey founded by converting an employee office into a bedroom for a elderly citizen with no other place to go has since grown into a facility accommodating over 100 people. A kindergarten and a elderly citizens’ college with a hospice ward – which Father McGlinchey saw as even more necessary for a rural community – were also examples of development profits being used for the community’s welfare. Father McGlinchey laid the groundwork for both.

As a researcher who has spent many years studying Father McGlinchey’s activities, I have noted the way he lived as part of his surrounding community. With his actions, he showed how local communities can thrive when people learn together and harness their capabilities. Father McGlinchey’s philosophy was that “the only true local development is when the resident community comes together to direct the development, and the gains that result must be used for the community’s welfare.”

Viewed up close, Father McGlinchey’s uncommon courage and adventurous spirit were apparent. His love for the residents, his defiance, and his courage are encapsulated in the image of the 27-year-old foreign priest loading a pregnant Yorkshire sow into his truck and driving it from Incheon to Seoul’s Yongsan Station, boarding a train to Mokpo Station, taking a boat to Jeju Port, and loading the animal back into a truck to Hallim.

I will never forget how he preached until the day he died that if the community joined forces, it could easily outperform foreign capital and technology. This too is the reason we await the arrival of the next Father McGlinchey, and the one after that. May he rest in peace.

By Yang Yeong-cheol, Professor at the Department of Public Administration at Jeju National University

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Most viewed articles