A friend of mine just sent me a booklet written by Most Rev. Cuthbert O’Gara, a bishop who had spent two years as a prisoner of the Chinese Communists. It is entitled The Surrender to Secularism. O’Gara was a member of the Passionist order and at the time of his arrest in 1951 he was the Bishop of Yuanling, China.
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1886, Cuthbert received an excellent education both at home from his parents, Martin and Margaret, and in Catholic school. He graduated from the University of Ottawa in 1910 and from the Grand Seminaire in Montreal with a degree in Canon Law in 1913. Discerning that his vocation was to a religious order he entered the Passionist novitiate in Pittsburgh and, after taking vows, he was assigned to the monastery of Saint Michael in Union City, New Jersey. Having already completed his seminary training in Montreal he was ordained a priest in 1915. From 1917-1924 he taught theology, canon law, and holy scripture to Passionist students at Saint Michael’s. It was in 1924 that Father Cuthbert’s contemplative and scholarly life took a turn in a completely different direction. He was assigned to teach in a minor seminary and do missionary work in Shenchow, Northwest Hunan, China.
When he arrived in Hunan the province was in the midst of a horrible famine. Feeding the hungry and ministering to the sick and the dying took immediate precedence over every other work. Thus began the humble and exhausting labor that would accompany almost his entire thirty year apostolate in China.
In 1930 Father O’Gara was assigned as Prefect Apostolic of Shenchow as part of Rome’s earnest efforts to build the Church’s hierarchical structure in this immense mission land. In 1934 he was named Vicar Apostolic of Yuanling and consecrated Titular Bishop of Elis. During the eight years of the Sino-Japanese War Bishop O’Gara engaged himself with great fervor in tending to those wounded in the sporadic bombings from Japanese air raids. During the war he earned the title of “Stretcher-Bearer Bishop,” so often would he be seen carrying the wounded to his Mission Hospital. When the stretchers ran out he would carry the maimed on his back. During the long conflict with Japan Bishop O’Gara founded two hospitals and established thirteen refugee camps sheltering and feeding some 100,000 victims. In 1941 the Japanese arrested the bishop and condemned him to death. The sentence was never carried out as their troops gradually pulled out of China to fight the Allied forces on other Pacific fronts.
With the end of the war in 1945 came a few years of peace; Yuanling was established as a diocese; and Bishop O’Gara was installed as the Ordinary. Peace soon ended when the Chinese Communists began their onslaught of the northern provinces, taking over the entire country by 1949. At first, after the Reds’ final victory, they did not directly persecute every missionary, although they had killed many before that. They even tried persuading some to support their cause; that failing, then came threats and intimidation. Bishop O’Gara would never compromise in the defense of his flock and Church property. Finally, in June of 1951, they dragged him before the high altar of his cathedral, stripped him of his episcopal robes and insignia, and cast him into a solitary confinement at his mission where they applied various kinds of sadistic psychological tortures to break him. Bishop Sheen would later laud O’Gara as a man who could “pass the breaking point and not break.” After a brutalizing period of house arrest the bishop was moved to a filthy prison with vermin infested beds and kept alive by a paltry diet of watered down rice. A guard was assigned to watch him twenty-four hours a day. After twenty months of this treatment, which left him unable to walk, he was released, escorted to Hong Kong, and exiled for life. The Passionists were alerted and were waiting for the bishop with a stretcher on the Hong Kong side of the bridge. Two of their priests crossed over the bridge to Shenzhen, received the exiled missionary, and carried him to freedom.
When he returned to the United States Bishop O’Gara committed himself to preaching and giving lectures not only about Communism but also what he clearly perceived to be a growing cancer of secularism in America. With his first-hand knowledge of Communist doctrine, indoctrination methods, terror tactics, and global goals, it is not surprising that O’Gara was an ardent supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy. On November 26, 1954, three days before McCarthy was Judasized by his fellow senators, Bishop O’Gara gave a stirring invocation to a pro-McCarthy rally in Madison Square Garden.
A year before he died the holy bishop published the treatise I have just read. It was his last attempt at waking up indifferent American Catholics who, he believed, were on a slippery slope that could only end in atheistic tyranny. Secularism was preparing the grounds. In this work the bishop revealed a very interesting fact in the opening paragraphs. He explained that when the Red Army took over his diocese in 1949, they were followed by a civilian propaganda corps. These were the real fanatics for the revolution, the zealots committed wholeheartedly to the cause. All of the people were divided into their professional class and indoctrinated as a group: the doctors, the lawyers, the farmers, the teachers, even down to the coolies.
“Now what, I ask,” wrote the bishop, “was the first lesson given to the indoctrinees? One might have supposed that this would have been some pearl of wisdom let drop by Marx, Lenin, or Stalin. Such however was not the case. The very first, the fundamental, lesson given was man’s descent from the ape – Darwinism! . . . Darwinism negates God, the human soul, the after-life. Into this vacuum Communism enters as the be-all and the end-all of the intellectual slavery it has created. In the Red prison in which I was held, the slogan, ‘Bring your mind over to us and all your troubles will end,’ was hammered into the minds of the prisoners with brutal and numbing monotony. Nothing but a groveling holocaust of the human person can satiate the lust for dominance of Peking’s Red regime.”
On May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, 1968, the valiant Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara died of a heart attack in his monastery of Saint Michael, Union City, New Jersey.
Currently, a fellow Passionist, Father Rob Carbonneau, Ph.D., is seeking information on Bishop O’Gara so that he might write a fitting biography of the heroic missioner. Some of the information I have in this column comes from his short biography, which can be found here. The Surrender to Secularism can be ordered from the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, P.O. Box 11321, Saint Louis, MO 63105