The History of the Jesuits in China is a fascinating story. Fluctuating between the profound legacy of pioneers such as Matteo Ricci and Adam Schall, and the mutual distrust and ignorance of authorities in the west and east. In the early part of the 20th Century between 1928 and 1957, 64 California Jesuits served as missionaries in China. This was the last period of free Jesuit activvity in China until the modern day, curtailed by the Maoist revolution. Today in 1933, Charles Simons the Catholic son of Mormon parents, becomes the first California Jesuit to be ordained on Chinese soil. Seven years later he would shot to death by Chinese Bandits whilst engaging in missionary work.
Significant achievements by the Jesuits were the opening of Gonzaga High School in Shanghai, juts before the the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, which led to the bombing of Shangai. Five years later the Japanese would bomb again and invade China, occupying Nanking killing 100,000 civilians. This would be known in history as the 'Rape of Nanking' and is one of the reasons for the ongoing tensions between Japan and China in an age of growing nationalism and militarisation in the Pacific. Four Jesuits returned to Nanking to join international relief committee to distribute food, clothing, and medical supplies to the poor.
The Japanese entry to the Second World War with the bombing of Pearl Harbour led to the Jesuits acquiring the status of “enemy nationals” . They are interned at Shanghai but some are repatriated as part of a prisoner exchange and return to the U.S. by way of India and Argentina. At the close of the war with 3.5 million Catholics, the Church in China seems to be on the verge of a renaissance. The nationalist government of Chiang Kaishek established diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Missions of southern China report 243,000 baptisms; there are no reports from northern China which is already under Communist rule. This feeling of optimism was reinforced as the Cardinal of New York, Francis Spellman ordained 13 Chinese priests, including six Jesuits, at St. Ignatius Church, Zikawei, Shangai.
This rennaisance was to prove short lived as in 1948 the People’s Republic of China is proclaimed. At that point 888 Jesuits (Chinese and foreign) are serving in China. After being branded “American imperialists.” many Californian Jesuits are force to leave or are imprisoned during the 1950's. When in 1957 Jesuits Houle and Charles J. McCarthy are released from prison. America magazine writes “Out of the anguish of today’s imprisoned missionaries will come the joy of a rich Chinese harvest. So it has been for centuries.