The Missionary Society of St. Columban was founded in 1918 and takes its name and inspiration from Ireland's pioneering 6th century missionary to Europe.
Saint Columban was born in the province of Leinster, Ireland, about the year 540 AD. Little is known about his family and early life, but we do know that his education was with a teacher near his home. At that time, education simply meant training the child in the knowledge and love of God. All study was directed towards this end. The study was not confined to the Scriptures or Catechism, however. All creation was the work of God and whatever was good and beautiful in creation could teach people about the goodness and beauty of God.
Columban was about 17 or 18 years old when he decided to dedicate his life to God so he left home to continue his studies in a monastery on the island of Cleenish in Lough Erne. Columban remained here for about five years before moving on to a larger monastery at Bangor which had the reputation of discipline but fairness. It seems that as Columban grew in knowledge of the Scriptures, he rose to be one of the great teachers of Bangor.
Columban remained there for many years, but there grew in him a desire to travel outside Ireland to spread the message of the Gospel among the peoples of Europe who had been overrun by barbarians. His abbot, St Comgall, reluctantly gave permission for Columban and some companions to leave and begin their journey. He was then aged about 40. They had no fixed plans, but wherever they wandered, Columban preached eloquently and the example of the lives of his group made a deep impression on people. Finally, the local King pressed Columban and his friends to settle in eastern France and establish a community. Over time, this monastery flourished as a centre of worship, learning and service to the local people and as more young men came to join him, Columban established two more houses in the area.
After firmly establishing these monasteries, Columban again took to the road. He continued to journey through France, Germany, Switzerland and finally across the Alps into Italy, preaching the good news of Jesus wherever he went and establishing another community at Bregenz in Austria. This was Columban’s fourth monastery, founded when he was nearly 70 years old. Eventually, Columban settled down and built his final monastery at Bobbio, near Genoa, Italy, where he died on 23rd November 615.
Columban always tried to balance the demands of work, both in the community and with the local people, with time for withdrawal and quiet prayer. In this, he was following the example of Jesus himself. During his travels, Columban showed great courage which sometimes led him to fearlessly admonish people he encountered even at much cost to himself.
“Lord, kindle our lamps that we may always shine in your presence and always receive light from you, the Light Perpetual, so that our own darkness may be overcome and the world’s darkness driven from us.”