The last years, in Canton : 1951-1961
In 1951, not longer after the consecration of Bishop Tang, a new figure was seen about the Bishop’s residence; he wore the ordinary lay clothes of a working man, but there was an air of recollection and seriousness, a strict regularity of life which marked him out as no ordinary member of the faithful.
On making enquiries, we were told that he was a Marist Brother and that he was in Canton to help his colleagues who were being expelled from China on the last stage of the journey to Hong Kong. Then, some who had been pupils of the Brothers back in the twenties recognized their former teacher. Brother Adon was thus accepted at a time when everyone was cautious about new acquaintances, welcomed as an old friend by some, and admired as an edifying religious by all.
The task of seeing his Brothers through Canton was hardly a full-time job for an active man, and before long, the Brother had rigged up a structure which was half tent, half shed, and open to the elements on all sides. Under the shade of this very rough and ready classroom, in the back-yard of the Bishop’s restricted quarters could soon be seen a small class of children, small tots of three, with youngsters of ten or so, chanting the prayers and learning the catechism. Brother Adon, who looked old for his years, conducted as much as taught this choir of “Perfect Praise” and though, in his poor dress and with his venerable head, he looked a highly incongruous teacher, the children obeyed him willingly. Parents were delighted; everyone who passed was edified. Some time later, when his Superiors suggested that the Brother might rejoin one of the Communities in the North, the Bishop begged that his new-found pillar of the Church in Canton should not be pulled away.
Brother Adon’s classes grew and new subjects were added, until finally he had four assistants, a complete primary school curriculum – and all still in makeshift outdoor classrooms, which was all that the diocese of Canton could then provide. The children were kept busy and happy from about eight o’clock in the morning, to four or five in the afternoon, with school and prayers. The nearby Cathedral saw and heard them three or four times each day. It was not all hard work; there was time for prayer, and even a special half an hour set aside for sleepy heads to nod.
Almost every month, there was a picnic outside the city, and passers-by would stand amazed to see the elderly man in charge of his small charges, ably assisted by the officials chosen from among the children.
The big days were when the children were presented for examination for their first confession and communion, and again for confirmation. The days of First Communion and Confirmation were a long celebration, when the Bishop was able to show his appreciation of the work being done by generous provision of good things.
The example of Brother Adon was infectious, and the other parishes of the city were awakened to new courage and to fresh zeal for the instruction of the children in the catechism. Bishop Tang took up this new movement and developed it, so that there were catechism classes for all children and study of doctrine at more advanced level for young men and women. Brother Adon had given a lead and, with the encouragement of the Bishop, a new enthusiasm for knowledge of their faith had spread throughout the little flock of Canton. The humble task undertaken without advertisement or noise was the seed of a fruitful tree.
The inevitable end came to this good work; humble though it was, the government officials got wind of it and realized that here was something really dangerous. Children were taught to pray, and to learn Christian doctrine, and undoubtedly, there can be nothing more menacing than this to a materialist regime. The ringleader and chief “spy” had to go. Public trials were organized and a sufficient number of slack or frightened Catholics were mustered to make a show.
There was the usual shouting of slogans, the attempts to humiliate and vilify, but all testify to the dignity and quiet patience of the victim. It was bitter for him to see, among those ready to come forward, one or another of those whom he had thought to be his friends and perhaps once had been. For Brother Adon could be strict, and sometimes displeased the young people by his forthright way of speech. There were grounds for accusation; he had told the children in his “school” that they should not join the Communist organization for children, distinguished by the red scarf they wore; and he had pointed out those who had disobeyed him as unworthy to receive Holy Communion.
He was sentenced to five years in prison for his “crimes”. Within less than a year he was released because of ill health. He was suffering from beriberi, and could scarcely walk when he returned to Bishop’s house. When he recovered, he took up once more the work of teaching his children, apparently with the approval of the local officials. It was the period when the “Hundreds Flowers” were blooming. At the sudden end of this stage of the revolution, he suffered the fate of others who had shown their real attitude towards the system of Marx. He was put back in prison.
A trustworthy informant tell us that Brother Adon was sent off to the Northeast; it is difficult to understand the reason for this, as he could scarcely be counted on to do any hard work. Apparently his health suffered and, in an endeavor to make sure that he could not be considered a martyr, the government sent him back to Canton. There he passed to his reward, last January 1961. No details have yet come to us of his last hours, but it is most likely that no human was available to him. We can trust, however, that the MASTER was there, to make happy and welcome his good and faithful servant.
(As given by Rev. Father J. O’Meara, S.J. – in Trait d’Union, of October-November-December 1961). (Trait d’Union was the magazine of the Province of China).