Almost 100 years ago, Fr. John Mary Fraser, a Scottish Canadian missionary in China, returned to Canada motivated by the quest to recruit and train missionary priests for China. On November 9, 1918, he succeeded with the enthusiastic support of the local pastor in Almonte, Ontario, as well as Archbishop Gauthier of Ottawa, and the Sisters of St. Joseph who allowed their local convent school to become his fledgling China Mission College, later to be known as Scarboro Missions. Its missionaries were to work solely in China.
Three short years after the foundation of the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Pembroke in 1926, a group of young Sisters was sent by their community to Lishui, China, to join the Scarboro priests already working there. Moved by the suffering of the people of Lishui as a result of poor health and nutrition, the priests worked closely with the Grey Sisters whose medical clinics and orphanages for abandoned children reached out to the poor.
After the Chinese civil war and the takeover of the nationalist forces by the Communist party in China in 1949, all foreign missionaries were expelled from the country. In the next few years Scarboro priests began doing mission work elsewhere in Asia, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, at the invitation of the local church.
By the late 1970s it became possible for foreigners to work once again in China, no longer as missionaries attached to a church, but as teachers in universities. This new situation allowed Scarboro Missions to revive its commitment to serve the Chinese people not through direct evangelization but through Christian witness. We were there to participate in China’s reintegration into the family of nations through the teaching of English at universities, giving students the opportunity to interact with non-Chinese and exchange ideas, world-views, customs, and values. Today, Scarboro continues its mission presence in China through teaching.
In the 1980s, two Scarboro missioners went to the University of Hong Kong to study. They also volunteered at the Holy Spirit Study Centre, a Hong Kong-based Catholic organization that seeks to share insights on the Church in China. Established by Cardinal John Tong and the Diocese of Hong Kong almost 25 years ago, the Centre is concerned with pastoral formation and is involved with gathering documentation, furthering research, and encouraging active dialogue with Catholics in mainland China. Several Scarboro missioners have volunteered at the Centre.
In 2005, Scarboro missioner Fr. Ray O’Toole began serving the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) in Hong Kong, first as Assistant Secretary General and then in 2012 as Secretary General, the first non-bishop to hold this post. The FABC is comprised of 19 bishops’ conferences located in countries of South, Southeast, East, and Central Asia. Fr. Ray said, “Asian culture is imbued with spirituality and one cannot but be influenced by this. And I believe that this depth of spirituality is Asia’s gift to the world. The contemplative stream that flows from these religions is having a deepening influence on the Catholic Church. At the same time, our rich Catholic tradition of spirituality has lots to contribute to the Asian religions and to the dialogue with them. What we are discovering is that interreligious dialogue is a way of being Church in Asia. For me, it is a great gift and a privilege to work with the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference in its commitment to dialogue with religions, cultures and the poor.”