In 1916, two young Irish priests, Edward J. Galvin (a future bishop) and John Blowick, had formed the Maynooth Mission to China, which would soon change its name to the Missionary Society of Saint Columban, popularly known as the Columban Fathers (later joined by the Columban Sisters).
By early 1918, the Society had opened its seminary at Dalgan Park in County Mayo, Ireland. Galvin and Blowick had larger ambitions, though, and wanted to establish a branch of their new Society in the United States of America.
Father Galvin’s first assignment after his ordination in 1909 was as a parish priest in Brooklyn, New York, and he maintained his affection and admiration for the great nation across the Atlantic, to which so many of his fellow Irish had immigrated.
In November 1917, Father Galvin, along with Father Matthew Dolan, one of the first seven Columban Fathers, arrived in the U.S. Their purpose on this journey was to attempt to pitch the nascent Society to U.S. Catholic bishops and find a home for the Columbans in the U.S.A.
Galvin met with the prelates of various U.S. cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and New York City. The bishops were polite to Father Galvin, but all of them turned down his requests to host the Columban Fathers. All of them, that is, until Galvin spoke with Archbishop Jeremiah J. Harty of Omaha, Nebraska.
Fatefully, Father Galvin had arrived in Omaha on Saint Patrick’s Day of 1918 and his friend, Father Patrick J. Judge, the only person he knew in Omaha, arranged an appointment with Archbishop Harty.
It was not a promising start, in light of the rejections that Galvin had received from the other U.S. bishops. Nonetheless, when Father Galvin offered his promotion for the Columban Fathers, Archbishop Harty expressed interest, and asked Galvin to return in a few days. When he did, the archbishop agreed to allow the Columban Fathers to “set up shop” in the Omaha area.
In late 1918 the Columbans purchased a house at 5035 Bedford Avenue in Omaha. Three Columbans moved into the property on November 11, 1918, the date of the official end of World War I.
The Omaha area, albeit at the Bellevue property which the Columbans purchased a few years later, continues to serve as the headquarters of the Columbans in the U.S.A.
Against all odds, the new Missionary Society of Saint Columban had established a presence in the U.S.A., and they were on their way to great achievements in that country and around the world.