Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback
Background Image

Vicariate Apostolic of Corea

Coextensive with the Empire of Corea

Click to enlarge

Corea, VICARIATE APOSTOLIC OF, coextensive with the Empire of Corea; it was created a distinct vicariate Apostolic, September 9, 1831. But for nearly half a century before that time Corea had many fervent Catholics. In a manner perhaps unique in the annals of the Church, the Faith was introduced there without preaching and before any missionaries had penetrated the country. The educated people, more eager for new knowledge the more their country was jealously closed, procured through the annual embassy to Peking all the books possible upon science, literature, etc. Some Christian books fell into their hands, and, the grace of God aiding, they recognized the truth. One of them, Ni-seung-houn, undertook in 1784 the journey to Peking and was baptized there, under the name of Peter. Upon his return he baptized his companions, who, like himself, were men of learning and high position. That their faith was firm, events proved. In 1791 Paul Youn and Jacques Kouen sealed their belief with their blood for having refused to offer sacrifice upon the occasion of the death of their relatives. Connected by reason of its origin with the Church of Peking, Corea was dependent upon that vicariate until 1831. About the year 1794, a Chinese priest, Father Jacques Tjyou, was sent to Corea. Upon his arrival he found about 4000 faithful. After seven years of a heroic and fruitful ministry he was arrested and put to death, May 31, 1801. Before and after him numerous Christians suffered martyrdom with admirable fortitude. Among them particular mention is due to the married couple, Jean Ryou and Luthgarde Ni. Shaken and decimated by the tempest, and deprived of its priests, the Christian religion was preserved by the zeal of the fervent people, voluntary catechists, who rallied the dispersed, and made unheard-of efforts to obtain pastors from the Bishop of Peking or the sovereign pontiff. It was at this time that the vicariate Apostolic was established, and confided to the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris. The first vicar Apostolic named, Msgr. Bruguiere, came from the mission of Siam. He started upon his journey in 1832, suffered incredible hardships in passing through China and Mongolia, and died in Tatary, just as he was completing arrangements to enter the country of his mission. His companion, Father Maubant, succeeded in crossing the northern frontier by way of Eui-tj you, and in January, 1836, entered the closed country. The following year Father Chastan joined him there, and, a little later, the new vicar Apostolic, Msgr. Imbert. Under their ministration Christianity soon flourished. All this went on with the greatest secrecy; the least indiscretion would have caused all to be lost. The edicts proscribing Christianity remained as rigorous as ever, and all, both pastors and flock, lived as upon the eve of battle, preparing themselves for martyrdom.

The persecution broke out in 1839, many Christians were arrested, tortured, and put to death; the missionaries were hunted without mercy. Msgr. Imbert was the first to be taken, and, thinking that the capture of his two companions would cause the persecution to cease, he directed them to deliver themselves up; they responded heroically to the call, and all three were beheaded, September 21, 1839. It was not until 1845 that a new bishop, Msgr. Ferreol, succeeded in entering Corea; he brought with him a young missionary and also the first Corean priest, Andre Kim, who had made his studies at Macao, and who was taken and executed the following year. His cause, and those of the Venerable Msgr.s. Imbert, Maubant, and Chastan, and of the principal Corean martyrs, eighty-two in all, were introduced in the Roman Court by a decree of September 24, 1857. The country remained more firmly closed than ever, the Christian religion more severely proscribed, and the entrance of apostolic workers more perilous and difficult. Admission to Corea was most often accomplished by way of the sea, a Chinese barque bringing the missionaries with great secrecy to the coast of Corea, where a Corean ship, under cover of the darkness, would go to meet them. Father Maistre spent ten years in vain attempts and useless expeditions before he was able to set foot in Corea. Notwithstanding these difficulties, and numerous local persecutions, during twenty years the mission prospered. In 1866 it counted upwards of 25,000 faithful, two bishops, and ten missionaries. A terrible persecution then broke out, the two bishops and seven missionaries were taken and executed: Msgr. Berneux, vicar Apostolic, with Fathers Beaulieu, Dorie, and de Bretenieres (March 8); Father Pourthie, pro-vicar, and Father Petitnicolas (March 10); and Msgr. Daveluy, the coadjutor, with Fathers Aumaitre and Huin (March 30). Numbers of the laity also suffered martyrdom, while others perished of distress and hunger in the mountains. The process, or formal declaration, of the martyrdom of the two bishops, of the seven missionaries, and of twenty of the principal Christians, was sent in 1901 to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The three surviving missionaries, unable to maintain themselves in the country, were obliged to return to China. This persecution, which occurred during the second year of the reign of the emperor who abdicated in 1907, was not precisely his fault. During his minority the power was exercised by his father, known under the name of Tai-ouen-koun, prince-regent. Of a suspicious and violent character, the regent believed that the extermination of the Catholics in Corea was the best policy to follow. Later he recognized his mistake and repented of it.

A French attempt, known as the Kang-hoa expedition, made to avenge the murder of the French missionaries, was not prosecuted with sufficient vigour, and merely served to revive the persecution which lasted as long as the regent remained in power. In 1876, after an interval of ten years, the new vicar Apostolic, Msgr. Ridel, succeeded in sending two missionaries to Corea; he himself entered the following year with two others. But after some months of sojourn in Seoul his retreat became known and he was thrown into prison. Upon the demand of the French minister to Peking, the Corean Government consented to send him back to China; in 1879, Father Deguette, arrested in turn, was also sent back after several months of captivity. The bloody era was closed; nevertheless the missionaries were obliged to continue their life of seclusion. Liberty came to them only with the treaty of commerce, concluded with the different Powers towards the year 1884. Upon their return in 1876 they found but 10,000 Christians; since then this number has grown from year to year. The Catholic Coreans numbered in 1885, 14,039; 1890, 17,577; 1895, 25,998; 1900, 42,441; 1905, 58,593; and in 1907, 63,340. From 1876 dates the spread of the ordinary mission-labors which the persecution had not permitted to develop.

In 1888 the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres were called to take charge of the orphanages. In each district some chapels have been built, with residences for the missionaries. In 1892 a seminary was built at Ryong-saun near Seoul. The quasi-cathedral church of Seoul was solemnly consecrated May 29, 1898. The parish schools have been opened anew, or organized upon a better footing. It has even been possible to open in the great centers a few schools for girls, a thing which Corean usage would never before have permitted. In 1875 the missionaries published a dictionary and a grammar in French and Corean. The movable type then cast has served as a standard for all that is used today. The mission possesses a printing-house for the publication of Corean Catholic books, and of a weekly Corean Catholic newspaper, founded in 1906, which counts more than 4000 subscribers. As a striking event of this period may be noted the conversion to Catholicism of the princess, the mother of the emperor and the true wife of the terrible regent. Christian in her heart even before the persecution of 1866, she was baptized and confirmed October 11, 1896, but in great secrecy and unknown even to those about her. The following year she received, under the same conditions, the Sacraments of Penance and of Holy Eucharist, and died piously January 8, 1898. The Vicars Apostolic of Corea have been: Barthelemy Bruguiere (1831-35); Laurent-Marie-Joseph Imbert (1837-39); Jean-Joseph Ferreol (1843-53); Simeon-Francois Berneux (1854-66); Marie-Antoine Nicolas Daveluy (1857-66); Felix Clair Ridel (1870-84); Jean-Marie-Gustave Blanc (1884-90); Gustave-Charles-Marie Mutel (1890-).

The following statistics show the state of the missions in 1907: 1 bishop; 46 French missionaries; 10 Corean priests; 11 French sisters; 41 Corean sisters; 72 schools for boys, with 1,014 pupils; 5 schools for girls, with 191 pupils; 2 orphanages, with 28 boys and 261 girls; 379 orphans placed in families; 2 pharmacies; 1 seminary, with 22 preparatory students and 9 theological students; 48 churches or chapels; 48 districts; 931 Christian parishes; 63,340 baptized Christians; 5,503 catechumens under instruction. (See map of China.)


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!