Toma de hábito de los tres primeros recoletos chinos: José Shan, Lucas Yuo y Gregorio Li. De pie está Joaquín Peña

The Augustinian Recollect missionaries dedicated special effort, dedication, and enthusiasm to the formation of Chinese Augustinian Recollects. The Saint Augustine Seminary began as a school with precarious conditions, but soon the missionaries managed to have a true minor seminary.

Saint Augustine Seminary

On April 29, 1929, a school was opened in Kweiteh, a prelude to the seminary, in some mission houses that did not, however, meet the appropriate conditions. Although this was the stimulus to encourage vocational promotion among the missionaries in their mission places. Javier Ochoa, in his first pastoral visit, entrusted each of the selected adolescents and young people best qualified to be priests. The first group of children will be placed under the direction of the young seminarian José Shan, who has studied at the Kai-Feng Seminary since 1921. On September 25 the first rector of the Seminary, Joaquín Peña, arrived, who will be responsible for the seminary for 18 years.

Again Joaquín Peña, wrote in the year 1932, already rector of the Seminary, in the magazine “Todos Misioneros” ( All Missionaries) the story of the work until a three-day seminar house suitable for receiving candidates for priests (Photos). In that year there were already fourteen.

Joaquín Peña will remain at the head of the seminary for 16 years. His preparation in the ecclesiastical disciplines, his qualities as a trainer, and his exemplarity ensured a solid scientific, spiritual, and religious formation. In addition to being dean and teacher, he was also the master of novices and spiritual director of the professed.

Training organization

Most of the Augustinian Recollect missionaries who arrived in China had cultivated their vocation to be priests and religious as teenagers, or just out of childhood, in the seminary or apostolic college of San Millán de la Cogolla or Lodosa (Spain). Hence they were convinced of the convenience of also acting this way in the mission inviting children of those ages to enter the seminary. It was the most conducive age to provide good training they could not receive by remaining in their towns or places of origin.

Joaquín Peña, when organizing the academic training of candidates in the China mission, will attend fundamentally – to the same guidelines and guidelines given by the Church. The training was distributed in three stages: Grammar and Latinity, Philosophy and Theology. In the first of them, priority was given to literary studies particularly Latin and the native language, because they effectively contributed to the improvement of the faculty of thinking and preparation for the study of philosophical and theological sciences. Seminarians will spend much of their time studying the Latin language and the Chinese language. For this, Joaquín Peña will have two Chinese teachers.

In addition, the missionaries had received music and music classes in the seminaries of Spain. Some of them participated in the choir or the small orchestra (like Mariano Gazpio) who enlivened the festivities and accompanied the worship or were good organists and even capable of making forays into the musical composition (like Luis Arribas). They also, therefore, included music in the training.

The candidates who persevered received serious training and in some cases reached a surprising level. Witness of this is Venancio Martínez when, recently arrived at the mission and the seminary, in dialogue with Joaquín Peña, his Latin teacher, discovers that the writing written by those children is excellent and not because it has been corrected, it is the original. We have an example of this in Nicolás Shi, the future bishop of the Diocese of Sangqiu, who sent the prior provincial poetry in Latin under the demands of the Latin meter, the day of his profession. The director of the Bulletin of the Province judges it with all the merits to publish it. Nicolás is 19 years old. The same has his professional colleague José Wang, who will also be consecrated bishop and who sends the provincial a beautiful letter in Latin, according to what he values in a note to the same director of the Bulletin.

Of course, along with academic training, the missionaries had a special interest in the formation of the candidates’ piety and charismatic spirituality. A training that was not merely theoretical but practical and emotional in which the devotions that will remain in the future Chinese Augustinian Recollects.  We have today news of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Virgin Mary, the saints of the Recollect spirituality like Saint Augustine and Saint Monica, and, inherited from the missionaries, devotion to the patron saint of the missions, Therese of Lisieux.

Especially in the novitiate, these young people received training in which they felt stimulated to a demand that they accepted with joy and pride and would be of so much help to them in moments of sacrifice and persecution. When Nicolás Shi corresponds to being a trainer, that requirement will be clear, a proven spirit and sacrifice. The fundamental stimulus came from the testimony of their trainers and the missionaries. They saw them dedicate hours and days to learning Chinese, not sparing the prayer time, tirelessly attending to his ministry, living with the required frugality due to the lack of means and comforts, assuming together with the people the dangers of frequent raids by bandits in the towns…

But they also earned admiration for something that is seen in another of the missionaries who was their trainer: Venancio Martínez. When this missionary recounted his experience in China, and more specifically with the children and adolescents of the minor seminar, his admiration for them was striking. It is true that due to his optimistic attitude, it is not surprising that he gained their sympathy and professed esteem and affection for them.

but the other missionaries also expressed themselves with admiration when talking about culture, customs, qualities, and the capacity for the suffering of those who received the announcement of the Gospel. With interest and enjoyment, the readers of All Missionaries would read the story in which Venancio tells of his vacation day with the seminarians on the occasion of Easter. “Everyone wants to be with the priest. “They stun me with questions,” says, the missionary and trainer. This closeness was also expressed by children and adolescents towards the other missionaries as he also describes in the same story when he met them on the way back from the walk. Father Venancio arrived at the mission on October 30, 1935. Within a year of stay, on September 15, 1936, he was appointed vice-rector and teacher of the seminary. Nicolás Shi will say of Venancio: «He has brought to the Seminary the activity and liveliness, teaching the seminarians music and sacred songs, guiding them every day to practice gymnastics, and giving them a lot of sympathy and affection, and therefore the seminarians loved him very much.

Several of the missionaries worked in the formation of future Chinese religious for some time. Thus Guillermo Ugarte was a teacher in two courses from 1943 to 1945 and Francisco Lizarraga was a teacher of the professed from 1947 to 1949. Furthermore, the first Chinese Augustinian Recollects soon received the trust of the missionaries and superiors to take charge of the formation. José Shan, the first Chinese priest of the mission was appointed after ordination (1938) as vice-rector and teacher, and he helped Father Joaquín in his formative mission. The Chinese priests Gregorio Li and Lucas Yuo, upon their return to China in 1947, were teachers for a year. Gregorio Li came to the mission with the formation experience he had at the school apostolic church of Lodosa from 1943 to 1945.

Since 1942, no candidates have entered the minor seminary. The blockade suffered by China prevented receiving the aid necessary for the maintenance of the seminary. Already since 1940 Javier Ochoa had considered the decision to close it. The effort and dedication of Joaquín Peña and the unwavering trust in the Providence of the other missionaries made it possible to continue supporting the candidates who remained in the minor seminary.

Study of theology and training to be priests

The first Chinese Augustinian Recollect, Joseph Shan, asked to study philosophy and theology in Kweiteh. Once his request is accepted, he will be trained by Joaquín Peña, who also will be his teacher. Lucas Yuo and Gregorio Li were sent to Rome in 1936, once made their first profession, to study at the Fidei Propaganda College. Six Chinese Augustinian Recollects will study philosophy and theology in China, either in the mission or in Kaifeng or Hong Kong. Eight left China to study theology in Spain or Italy and will remain outside their country until their death.

In addition to recognizing Pius XI as the “Pope of the missions,” there are many who also recognize him as a great promoter of ecclesiastical studies and the formation of the clergy. Its apostolic Constitution published in 1931 raised the demands for obtaining academic degrees in universities and ecclesiastical faculties. Furthermore, in that and other documents he insisted on the requirement of training be at the academic level or in the virtues of those who were to evangelize and be leaders of Catholic communities. That renewing movement of a situation decadent in the 19th century and early 20th century – especially in Spain, according to the

criterion of most of the analysts of the history of training, but also in the many countries missioned from Spain – spread to all countries and seminaries of the church. Religious orders and congregations were also sensitive to him.

Pius XI was concerned at the same time about the evangelization of people and the formation of priests looked with concern at the Urban School of Propaganda Fidei which they attended the first Chinese Augustinian Recollect priests to study theology.

The Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine responds to this ecclesiastical sensitivity. Already in previous years, some religious expressed the need for a well-developed Plan of studies for candidates for Augustinian Recollects. But in 1938 and 1940, the prior provincial promoted this elaboration, collaborating in it all those who at the time were dedicated to training in the seminaries of the Province. With that publication, we can know both the subjects that the Augustinian Recollects studied in their ecclesiastical career in Spain, such as the guidelines, norms, and demands that may positively surprise even current readers. The Prior General insisted on the same direction in his 1945 circular. Joaquín Peña is dedicated to the formation of Kweiteh seminarians and is responsible for his study of theology as a teacher, he will attend all these orientations, trying to adapt them to the specific situation of the mission seminary.

The fruits of this training itinerary are beginning to be produced. First in all three Chinese Augustinian Recollects. In 1938 José Shan was ordained a priest. Luke Yuo and Gregorio Li will be ordained priests on April 8, 1942. In 1948 Nicholas Shi, Lucas Wang, and José She. On March 3, 1950, they were ordained priests in Manila, Fathers José Wang, Pedro Kuo, and Marcos She, who returned to China. They had left China by decision of the provincial, and after consulting with the same missionaries, faced a critical situation at that time with the rise to power communist party. Eight other seminarians also left with them, who will be the ones finish their studies and become ordained in Spain: Pedro Ge, Agustín Yang, Pedro Tung, Felipe Liu, Francisco Chiao, Mauricio Ying, Melecio Ho, and Benito Suen.

The seminary had been closed by the new Government. All works promoted by the missionaries were interrupted by the decision of the Government, the same as the departure of foreign missionaries from the country. For the seminarians who wanted to continue cultivating their vocation to the ministry, it was proposed to them as an alternative to being part of the Church Patriotic. At least two, of whom there is news, persisted in their purpose of being Augustinian Recollects.

The field day with Venancio Martínez at Easter 1937
First building of the San Agustin Seminary – Photo published in Todos Misioneros in 1932
Kweithe Minor Seminary
Taking of the habit of the first three Chinese Recollects: José Shan, Lucas Yuo and Gregorio Li. Standing is Joaquín Peña
The first seminarians with their trainers
New minor seminary, as it was preserved in 1989
Visit of General Jesús Fernández in 1933. Accompanying General Miguel López, Jesús López, Javier Ochoa and Joaquín Peña and 25 seminarians