Remembering Father Greene: Escaping death in Communist China | News
The Dubois County Museum will open an exhibit on August 3 on the life of Father Robert W. Greene, a Maryknoll priest raised in Jasper who was imprisoned for 16 months and sentenced to death in China during the Communist Revolution.
Numerous items, including photographs of his First Solemn Mass at St. Joseph Church in Jasper, his book, Calvary in China, pictures, DVD of his appearance on “Crossroads” television show in 1956, a chalice that was presented to him after his personal chalice was taken away by the Communists in China, gifts, church bulletins, prayer cards, newspaper clippings and press releases of Father Greene’s life will be on display.
According to the book, St. Joseph Parish 1937-2002 65 years by John Fierst and Bob Steffe Father Robert William Greene was born in Jasper on June 12, 1911, the first son of Ambrose L. “Bruce” and Ida Mae “Mary” (Henry) Greene and “the first son of the parish to be ordained a Maryknoll missionary priest, so a great amount of pride and fanfare was bestowed on the occasion.” His family lived on west 5th Street in Jasper.
His education included St. Joseph Grade School, two years at Jasper Academy, St. Meinrad Junior Seminary and St. Meinrad Major Seminary for eight years before training at Maryknoll, New York. He was ordained at Maryknoll on June 13, 1937 for the Catholic Foreign Mission Society, later to be called Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Maryknoll was established in 1911 by the Bishops of the United States.
Father Greene was assigned to Kweilin, Kwangsi in south China to form parishes, build dispensaries, promote health programs to stop the spread of disease and as chaplain for the U.S. Army Air Corps personnel stationed in the area on July 13, 1937.
In WWII he survived when the Japanese bombed the area.
In 1947 he was named pastor of the Tungan mission. He reestablished mission stations, and built schools and orphanages for refugees. He spoke of the people’s great devotion to their faith. The Chinese Communists took over the city and mission in 1950.
“People were turned away and told that the church didn’t want to help them”, wrote Fierst and Steffe, “Father Greene was imprisoned and accused of being a false priest and a spy. While waiting for his trial, he was placed under house arrest for 16 months.” He was tortured and mistreated.
On Easter Sunday, April 13, 1952, Father Greene was to be beheaded. “He was miraculously released at the last moment without explanation and deported to Hong Kong. During his ordeal Father Greene kept his sanity by focusing on the Blessed Sacrament, which he had hidden in the rectory. Upon his release he was able to consume the Blessed Sacrament before being paraded through three towns in a cage prior to crossing into free Hong Kong.” Fierst and Steffe wrote. He was told to never return to China. He returned to New York to recover. Photos showed Father Greene thin and weak.
Father Greene was welcomed back by his hometown in July of that year. A motorcade met his train at Washington and escorted him to Jasper. He offered thanks to God for returning him safely home by going to the church. “Father Greene Day” was proclaimed on July 27, 1952, a Solemn High Mass was held at St. Joseph Church, followed by a testimonial dinner at Holy Family School.
The Jasper Jaycees erected a Freedom Lamp in August in front of the Jasper Public Library with Father Greene dedicating the lamp after lighting its flame. “The flame had been lit from a similar lamp in Evansville, then was flown to the Huntingburg Airport and run by foot, in relays by members of the Jasper Jaycees, to the library site.”
In 1952 for Life Magazine Father Robert W. Greene recounted his life. He then put his memories to print and wrote a book about his experiences. It was called Calvary in China. He returned to Maryknoll and served in the development department giving lectures, interviews, and speeches. He returned to China in 1985 under a different name. He was encouraged by those he was able to find that they were still practicing their faith. He died on September 11, 2003 at the age of 92.
In this new exhibit coordinators Jerry and Maggie Birge have gathered these items in order to tell Greene’s story. It is their intention to show how Father Greene’s upbringing in Jasper inspired him to enter the priesthood, and how he always cherished his lifelong friendships here despite the fame that came to him later in life. They also hope to help younger people who have no prior knowledge of Father Greene understand his deep faith, his dedication to his vocation, and his courage in the face of extraordinary hardships.
The highlight of the exhibit is a DVD that will be shown along with the stationary exhibit. It consists of pictures of Father Greene’s life and work—with a soundtrack describing the pictures—as well as a copy of the TV show “Crossroads” that dramatized his arrest and trial in China. This program was broadcast on the ABC network in January 1956.
The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00-2:00pm, Saturday from 10:00-4:00pm and Sunday 1:00-4:00pm. Closed on Monday.
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