“Over the past two weeks I have had the honour to visit Jeju, Gwangju and Mokpo and to meet the Columban Fathers and Sister who work in these areas. I was accompanied by a photographer recording these impressive people and their work.
Many of you will have read the Ambassador’s accounts of his own visits to Mokpo and Jeju so I will not repeat too much of those visits but I will give you a little reminder of the great work of Sr Ger Ryan in Jeju and Frs P.J McGlinchy and Michael Riordan in Jeju.
Most importantly I’d like to introduce a few people who would be well known to old Korea hands but are new to this message list.
Firstly, Fr Michael O’Grady who kindly met us at the station and acted as guide for the morning: Fr Michael first came to Korea in Korea in 1970 and Gwangju in 1978. He took us to see the Columban House in the city where we met with our second Father – Pat Murphy from Kerry who has been involved in parish work in Jeju and then Gwangju for many years. Fr Pat and Fr Michael shared a cup of tea and showed us the Columban House in Gwangju. Both are still engaged in parish work and ensuring the financial stability of the Order in Korea into the future.
Fr Michael took us to meet the third Columban Father we were to meet in Gwangju: Fr Noel O’Neill who arrived in Korea in 1957. Having worked for many years in parishes Fr O’Neill now works with people with learning disabilities with a grace and enthusiasm which is both engaging and infectious. Fr. O’Neill established the first group home for people with intellectual disability in Korea in Gwangju in 181. He now runs 16 group homes which cater for about 4 people in each. He himself lives in one of the group homes living his vision of sharing the community with all people.
He also runs a training centre for people with disabilities past school age with the aim of training them for employment in the community. In total Fr O’Neill estimates that approximately 500 people have gone through the centre. In addition, the organisation runs training for staff of other centres in Korea and over 800 staff members have benefited from this training.
For those who do not make it to open employment he runs other enterprises including a candle factory and a toilet paper plant and there are hopes to diversity into packaging soon. We were able to see the paper and candle factories in operation and can testify to the quality of the product produced. One of the ladies in the line packing the toilet paper had competed in the Special Olympics in Ireland. Some of her colleagues had travelled also, paying for the tickets from their wages. Fr O’Neill speaks with determination and dedication about his work with people who he has found to be let down too often by society, not just in Korea, but all around the world.
We then had the honour to meet four young men now living in a group home. These four young men lived in a large institution until last year when it closed following a documentary exposing malpractice. The pride and joy on these men’s faces when they showed us their rooms which are the first spaces they have ever which belong just to them was magnificent and a testament to the work of Fr O’Neill over the past decades.
There are approximately 700 intellectually disabled people currently availing of the services Fr O’Neill has established in Gwangju. To find out more about his work please have a look at this information online. (http://www.emmausw.or.kr/emmausw/index_en.php) This site has links to the sites with detail on the training centre, workplaces, workshops, residential care and child care centres. We only had the opportunity to see a fraction of his work and I do hope to be back to learn more.
In the afternoon we went to visit St. Ger Ryan in Mokpo. Many of you will remember the Ambassador’s message last year when he detailed St Ger’s impressive work with people with disability in Mokpo and others will have seen the children from her project at the Asian Gaelic Games in Suwon in the autumn of 2011. Sr. Ger runs a kindergarten, daycare, training centre, respite care and group homes for people with intellectual and physical disability from toddlers to adults. Her work is deeply impressive and driven by compassion and a fundamental belief in the equality of all people. She is the lone Columban Sister living and working in Mokpo and her achievements cannot be overplayed.
About ten days ago I also visited the Isidore Development Association on Jeju, Korea where Fr P.J McGlinchy established a complex centred around the Isidore Farm where there are beef and dairy cattle and a stud farm. Situated near the farm are a kindergarten for local children, a hospice for the dying and terminally ill, a nursing home, a retreat centre and a parish church that can seat up to 1,500. Fr McGlinchy still lives on the complex although day to day work is directed by Fr Michael Riordan who is still a north Dub at heart despite his many years in Korea. For more information on the farm on Jeju please see http://www.isidore.or.kr. There, over the years new farming practices and skills have been brought to the island. From new pig breeds, through sheep rearing and the weaving of wool for Aran jumpers and blankets and now organic beef and dairy it is a forward looking and inspiring farming institution and its associated centres which care and cater for the local residents are examples of best practice anywhere.
If you would like to see either of Ambassador McKee’s message on the work of Fr McGlinchy or Sr Ger please let us know and we will send them to you.
Deputy Head of Mission”