Gregorio Li y Lucas Yuo en un colegio de Pamplona

The Augustinian Recollect missionaries who arrived in China in 1924 listened with special joy to the request of those who would be the first Augustinian Recollects Chinese. In 1935 José Shan, Gregorio Li, and Lucas Yuo presented their request to be received as novices. They had traveled a six-year journey accompanied by the missionaries in Kweiteh/Shangqiu.

The youth of China
with missionary eagerness
They already wield the divine
Flag of the Cross;
And they advance at the impulse
Of sovereign ardor
Taking their brothers
The saving light.

(Aurelio La Cruz, a Hymn dedicated to our seminarians from Palawan, I.F., and China in All Missionaries)

Training Missionaries

The year was 1944. Two young Augustinian Recollects had arrived at the Company’s school of Mary Inmaculate in the city of Logroño (see photo). This city is about 40 kilometers from the town of Lodosa, in Navarra, where the apostolic college is located or seminary of the Order of Augustinian Recollects. The two Chinese friars reside there while they await their return to the mission in China, with their newly minted priesthood.

They will remain in Logroño from October 15 to 18, intensely dedicated to missionary propaganda, visiting numerous schools. On the 17th, through the waves of Radio Rioja, the inhabitants of the city listened to Fr. Lucas Yuo his missionary message – Gregorio Li would do it the next day -. They arrived from Rome – where they studied ecclesiastical studies at the Propaganda Fidei school – just over a year ago.

Once they “master Spanish enough to be able to perform in public,” as recognized by the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, they have been in numerous cities collaborating in the dissemination of the missionary work of the Church: Pamplona, Tudela, Terrasa, Barcelona… Br. Lucas in Pamplona (0463731) and in those days of his stay in Logroño he cannot help but evoke with emotion that he is in the land in which their parents were born in the faith: the Augustinian Recollect missionaries of the Shangqiu mission. That is why he includes, in his radio message to the people of Rioja, the praise and memory of the listeners’ countryman missionaries:

…the zealous Missionaries of our Vicariate in China, Fathers Fr. Arturo Quintanilla, Fr. José Martínez, Fr. Julián Sáenz, Fr. Guillermo Ugarte and Fr. Joaquín Peña: who, in addition to being a Missionary, he was our Teacher during the difficult years of our first formation in the Minor Seminary of our Mission (Lucas Yuo, Message from a Chinese Father in All Missionaries 1944)

Fr. Joaquín Peña represents for him the teachers who were guides and encouragement in his vocation to be an Augustinian Recollect and missionary priest. The same would have been said by the numerous children who were trained in the mission seminary and who would become Augustinian Recollects.

Each of those missionaries who came from Spain to China was different in temperament, qualities, and hobbies, but all of them lived with enthusiasm and ardor in their evangelizing mission in China. Everyone also put effort and dedication special attention to children and young people who carried away by his example, wanted to be like them: missionaries of the gospel. Faced with this training challenge they remembered and reviewed everything that they had received years before in their early years of formation and were aware of the guidelines that the Church gave to all responsible for training in seminaries and religious houses.

In communion with the Church

When the Augustinian Recollects arrived in China in 1924, the Universal Church was especially committed to missions. Two years earlier Pius XI had been elected, the Pope of the Missions. He was the one who canonized Therese of Lisieux in 1925, declared her patron saint of the missions, and was very present in the devotion of the Augustinian Recollects missionaries of China. He will establish guidelines in his encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae. Already he had demonstrated his freedom to serve the Church with new decisions from the beginning of his pontificate; for example, naming a woman and a layman in front of the Papal House. His directives included what his predecessor, Benedict XV, had already established regarding the native clergy:

It is the most essential thing, for those who are in charge of the government of the Missions, educating and training for the sacred ministries the very natives of the region they farm; The hope of the Churches is mainly based on these young people (Maximun illud 30).

Pius XI assures that his purpose since he became pope was evangelization in countries and regions where the Christian faith is not present, will also be the one who converted the Missionary Work in Pontifical, established the organization of a Great Exhibition missionary, and created the Museum of the Missions. Especially we are interested in remembering that he is the pope who appointed the first six Chinese bishops in 1926. Joaquín Peña (see photo), trainer of the Chinese candidates to be Augustinian Recollects, collects all those statements about Pius XI in the first of a series of articles that he publishes in all missionaries commenting on the encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae.

The Pope’s eagerness of course reaches his representatives in the various countries. From there the efforts of the nuncio in China Celso Costantini to create seminars in places of mission. Thus he exerts constant pressure on the religious superior of the Augustinian Recollects to open a minor seminary. The beginnings are precarious due to lack of means but as better circumstances arise, it will begin to work with the effort of the missionaries. These are the first to understand, as Joaquín himself will express it, Peña, about the importance of carrying out that project. In his comment on the section regarding the indigenous clergy in the encyclical he expressly quotes the Pope’s words:

First of all, he says, addressing the Mission Superiors, above all we want focus your attention on the extreme importance of Indigenous people being attracted to the clerical state: if you do not try this with all your strength, you will not only judge that your apostolate is lame, but we will also believe that serves as a hindrance to the constitution or organization of the Church in those regions, putting obstacles to their action. (All Missionaries 1930).

To fulfill the decision to incorporate the missionaries as ministers to the Chinese one of the steps will be to erect major regional seminaries. In the province of Henan established a regional seminary in Kaifeng and was among the first to join that project of the Recollects. In this seminar, they will study some of the future Chinese religious Augustinians. It was built in 1930, and financed by the Sagrada Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith of the Roman Curia (Photos). Although it was closed as a seminary in 1958, the building has remained standing to the present. The entrance was demolished in 2018 but was a later extension of the building.


Joaquín Peña
Gregorio Li and Lucas Yuo at a school in Pamplona, Navarra
Regional seminar in Kaifeng