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Sunday, August 19, 2018

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Fr Stan Sun celebrates 60 years of Priesthood

Fr Stan Sun - 60 Years of Priesthood

It is January 19, 1949.   The forces of Mao Tse-Tung rush toward the centre of the Beijing to finish off the dying government of Chiang Kai Shek. Surrounded by communist troops, a plane takes off from Tiananmen Square in the centre of the city.  It spirals upward at a sharp angle. Slowly, amid puffs of anti-aircraft fire, the plane leaves behind the scenes of battle below to fly the 22 young men aboard to safety and a new life. One of those young men was a young seminarian, Stan Sun.


This is just one of the many gripping scenes in the life of Fr. Stan, who celebrates 60 years of his priestly journey in June. Born in 1922 to a farming family of five children in Hebei province, his journey began when he was inspired by the example of his parish priest to enter the junior seminary. That was soon disrupted when the Japanese army invaded his villages in July 1937.  After years of destruction, he resumed his studies, this time in Daming diocesan seminary. The seminary’s Jesuit teaching staff  soon invited  Stan  to go to  Beijing to join the Jesuit  novitiate. He and his companion, Paul Chen, who eventually became the cardinal of Taiwan, set out from their village led by the local seminary superior. Because of the widespread destruction of transportation from the war, they travelled largely on foot, with their scant possessions carried in a small ox cart, for several days before they could finally reach a train station.  Along the way, the two seminarians had to stay in a unheated house in a graveyard  and  young Stan came down with a high fever and could no longer walk.  He spent the remainder of the trip in  the oxcart with their baggage till they were able to reach a train station. The superior then sold the ox and cart to buy the two young men the tickets to get them there.

 Still sick from the arduous journey, he failed he medical exam  required to enter the Jesuit novitiate and had to return to the  diocesan seminary in Daming to resume his studies.  But it  was not for long as the communist forces stormed into the  seminary, closed it and and arrested all the seminary staff.  Once again the young Stan Sun was on the road to Beijing –  this time with hundreds of other seminarians in the cold of  winter. But they broke in to small groups and travelled only by  night, hiding in the homes of Catholic families along the way to  avoid detection by the communists. Once along the way the  small group he was part of was spotted and reported to  authorities. Soldiers burst in to the family home searching for  them. He and his companions were rounded up and taken  to officials to be questioned. After hours of questioning they managed to talk their way out of the predicament and continued their long trek. Fr. Stan remembers well how they went for long distances with no food or water in the bitter cold. They finally reached the frozen river that separated the communist and the government forces. The ice had been broken by the communists to keep refugees from crossing. But in the darkness of night they and others managed to cross the frozen river to the safety of the government forces. Over a hundred major seminarians travelled in similar circumstances by stealth and all but one reached the seminary in Beijing.

But two years later, as the Red Army began its  final push into Beijing, the seminary authorities chartered a plane to take out the younger seminarians.   Stan was one of the lucky ones to be aboard that plane as it flew out of Tiananmen Square on that fateful January day. Arriving in Shanghai, he and his companions boarded a tanker ship for Hong Kong. It was a trip to remember. They had barely pulled anchor on Chinese New Year when they witnessed  the tragic sinking of another ship full of seminarians attempting to escape to Taiwan.  Later, their own ship ran aground on a rocky island in the fog of night and almost sank. Fortunately the crew succeeded in sealing off all compartments below to stop the flooding and managed to creep towards Hong Kong. All the passengers had to sit on the top deck for the rest of the trip in the cold due to the flooded compartments below.

After several months at Holy Spirit Seminary in Hong Kong, Fr. Stan and his  classmates were transferred  to Manila.  The colonial government did not want to aggravate the situation with the new communist rulers of China. Outside of Manila, a former Japanese concentration camp used to incarcerate American GI’s was transformed into a seminary for Chinese seminarians. Fr. John Chai and Fr. Peter King all studied in this refugee seminary and finished their priestly, albeit fractured, preparation there.  In his third year of theology, the Jesuits again invited Fr. Stan to join them.  “This time, “Fr. Stan says with a twinkle in his eye, “I was the one who said No.” How fortunate for the Oblates!

Fr. Stan was ordained as a diocesan priest, along with ten classmates, by Bishop Vitus Change, S.V.D. on June 8, 1952. Sadly, it was a moment that none of his family could share.  For decades there was no way to communicate with them without putting them in severe jeopardy. Not until 1979 was he able to return to China and visit  his loved ones. That was when he discovered that his mother had already died several years earlier. 

After ordination, Fr. Stan spent two years working with Chinese immigrants in the Philippines.  In 1954 he began to study at San Tomas University. Oblate Bishop McSorely requested a Chinese priest to work with the Chinese Catholics in Jolo, in the southern Philippines.  The work was very difficult because of their prejudice against the clergy. “The priest had a very bad reputation, ” Fr. Stan says, “ because they were always asking for money.”  He spent three years there in charge of the young people - Chinese Catholic Youth. But through perseverance he made contact with the local businessmen and initiated the block rosary for three days at each home. Eventually he managed to visit every Chinese family in the city. In all he  served seven years.  In his time there, “ I got to know the Oblates and I liked them.  They treated me like a brother, even Bishop McSorely. He said of my ministry, ‘Welcome, Stan! It’s not your work or my work, it’s our work.’  That’s why I decided to join the Oblates.”

Fr. John Chai and Fr. Peter King had by separate ways come to know the Oblates. Fr. John Chai and Fr. Stan were both from the same diocese. When Fr. Stan requested to enter the Oblates in 1962, his bishop also gave him permission. He went to novitiate in the U.S. in Texas. After first vows, he returned to the Philippines and returned to his ministry in Jolo for five years, this time as an Oblate. It was there that he first began working in schools.

The Philippine Oblates opened the mission in Hong Kong  in 1966.  Fr. Stan was sent to the U.S. to get the degrees necessary to be the principal of the Oblate Primary School there.  In 1970 he went to Washington, D.C. and earned another B.A. and an M.A. degree at the Catholic University of America. After returning to Hong Kong in 1974, he became the principal of the Oblate Primary School until 1982 when he retired from the post in accordance with government regulations. He continued as supervisor of the school until 1990.  Fr. Stan’s careful years of service there raised the school to the high reputation it enjoys today.

In addition, Fr. Stan served as superior of the China mission for 18 years.  Over the years he was able to raise funds to help the church in the mainland for the education of seminarians and for the children of poor families there.   He is remembered and loved by thousands. 

As Fr. Stan looks back he simply says, “It was all part of God’s plan.” Indeed , it is that plan that his brother Oblates and friends  will celebrate together on June 9 in Hong Kong. Happy 60th Ordination Anniversary,  Fr. Stan!

Fr. David Ullrich, O.M.I.

Copyright 2014 OMI Australia