Lo Pa Hong: Bishop Gerald P. O'Hara's martyred Chinese friend

Originally Appeared in : 9903-1/31/19

Newly ordained in 1920, young Father Gerald P. O’Hara luckily had sufficient family backing to undertake an extended European tour. That his travels took him to many places in the world that he really wanted to learn more about is evident in photos he diligently took as he traveled through Europe and the Middle East. These early views of what O’Hara observed and learned have been carefully preserved in the Archives of the Savannah Diocese and offer a preview of his future career: one that eventually extended far beyond the state of Georgia. 


Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1896, O’Hara received his early education at Mother of Sorrows School and St. Joseph’s College High School in Philadelphia. He continued his studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, located in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. Following his ordination, Father O’Hara moved on to Rome where he earned a Doctor of Divinity Degree in 1921. Not through with his studies yet, Father Gerald O’Hara then moved on along academically, acquiring additional degrees in canon and civil law in 1924. A period of education of a different kind next awaited him: as he began, as noted previously, to travel throughout Europe and the Middle East.


This broadening experience would play a part in Father O’Hara’s future career as he encountered people of different ethnicities and beliefs throughout his life. By the time he had finished traveling, he was ready to carve out an impressive career that included being secretary to Cardinal Dennis J. Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia. In 1929, Father O’Hara was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Philadelphia Diocese. Next, he became pastor of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Port Richmond, as well as Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. When he was named Bishop of the Diocese of Savannah in 1935, he was certainly well prepared for that appointment. 


It was about this time that Bishop Gerald P. O’Hara came back into contact with Lo Pa Hong, an Asian Catholic whom he had met as a young priest at the Eucharistic Congress of 1926. Over the years, Bishop O’Hara and this outstanding Chinese layman had been able to keep in touch. This was fairly easy to do as Lo Pa Hong continued his considerable works of charity in Shanghai while simultaneously managing several businesses in China. Busy or not, Hong had devoted every spare moment he had to tending the sick and baptizing those who were dying.   


Inevitably, there were others in his country who resented what this good man, who had taken the name, “Joseph” to honor his favorite saint, was doing. Already, Lo Pa Hong’s efforts on behalf of Shanghai’s desperate population had been recognized by three popes. By late 1938, Shanghai was already in ruins from attacks initiated by the Japanese, as were the businesses Lo Pa Hong operated there.


Undeterred, this modern day “Saint Joseph” continued his works of mercy. An editorial in a late 1938 issue of the Bulletin of the Catholic Laymen’s Society of Georgia commended Lo Pa Hong as he went on helping those who were suffering, noting that “he continued his personal service to the poor, the sick, the wounded and dying, baptizing many of them as they breathed their last.”  


Lo Pa Hong’s determination to do all he could for his suffering people ended when a fanatic shot and killed him in the street. Bankrupt and impoverished, this devout Christian was “guilty only of helping others,” as a late December 1938 Bulletin writer observed, adding: “We may be certain that the bankrupt Lo Pa Hong, who called himself ‘the coolie of Saint Joseph,’ appeared before his Divine Master adorned with works infinitely more precious than all the wealth of the Indies.” 


Columnist Rita H. Delorme is a volunteer in the Diocesan Archives.

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