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Société des Auxiliaires des Missions (SAM) China Photograph Collection

Introduction to the SAM China Mission Whitworth Digital Archive
By Jean-Paul Wiest, Ph.D.

The Society of the Auxiliaries of Missions (Société des Auxiliaires des Missions, or SAM) was founded in 1926 as a response to the demands from recently ordained Chinese Roman Catholic bishops for foreign priests willing to serve in their dioceses. Father Frédéric-Vincent Lebbe 雷鳴遠, a Vincentian missionary who had long been a proponent of a church led by native Chinese bishops, became the inspiration for Father André Boland of Verviers in Belgium to take the lead in starting SAM, not as a religious order or congregation, but rather as a society of secular priests. Once sent to serve a native bishop, the Samist was entirely under the Chinese bishop’s jurisdiction as a new member of the diocesan clergy. The first Samist, Father Raymond de Jaegher, left for China in 1927 to serve Bishop Sun Dezhen 孫德禎 in the Vicariate Apostolic of Anguo.

The SAM China Mission Digital Photograph Collection is composed of two main categories of images: 1) a set of twenty-nine photo albums belonging to Samists who worked in China between 1926 and 1952; and 2) several “Boxes” containing loose photographs retrieved from the personal files of individual Samists. These images include:

  1. Photographs of Chinese students in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.
  2. A selection of photographs and calligraphy of Father Vincent Lebbe.
  3. Chinese Christian art and religious images.
  4. Miscellaneous uncategorized photographs and images held in the SAM Collection in Belgium.

For the most part, the photographs and images found in the archives of Catholic orders and congregations that came to China from Europe and the Americas emphasize missionary accomplishments in ecclesiastical territories entrusted to non-Chinese bishops. By contrast, the SAM pictures provide an eyewitness and grassroots visual account of the beginning and growth of the first Chinese–led local churches. They are, for that reason, very important for a more complete understanding of the Church in China during the first part of the twentieth century as well as its survival after the Communist takeover of China in 1949.

All the photographs and images included in this project were obtained from the main archive kept at the Centre SAM in Brussels. The six-member team was led by Dr. Jean-Paul Wiest who mapped out the project and wrote the entries for each digital photograph. Dr. Anthony Clark and Dr. Amanda Clark of Whitworth were in charge of the digitization, and Kathy Watts completed the upload of the final product onto Whitworth University Library’s Digital Commons webpage. Dr. Nailene Wiest served as an advisor to the project. Mr. Tibo Colman, Ms. Sarah Sprouse, students at Whitworth, assisted in the digitization process, the organization and correction of the digitized photographs, and the designing of the webpage.

SAM holds the proprietary right of the content of the project. All inquiries regarding the digitized photographs should be sent to Dr. Jean-Paul Wiest, as director of the project, and to Dr. Amanda Clark, who supervises the webpage and the content therein.

Introduction to the Société des Auxiliaires des Missions (SAM) China Mission
By Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.

One could argue that the history of Belgian society of Catholic missionaries, the Société des Auxiliaires des Missions (SAM), truly began when Frédéric-Vincent Lebbe was first moved to think about China while reading about the French martyr, Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, who died at Wuchang, China, in 1840. It was after reading about Perboyre as a child that Lebbe decided to become a missionary. He thus entered the Lazarist seminary at Paris in 1895, and by 1901 he was on his way to China, where he was assigned to the Apostolic Vicariate of Beijing under Bishop Alphonse Favier. Unlike most other Belgian missionaries in China at that time, Vincent Lebbe was less interested in Western nationalism than in promoting a truly indigenous Chinese Christian Church. His support of this ideal created tensions between himself and some of the Catholic hierarchy in China, and Lebbe was sent back to Europe in 1920, where he remained until 1927, when he was finally allowed to return and continue his missionary work in China.

The Société des Auxiliaires des Missions was founded in 1926, largely envisioned by Fathers André Boland and Vincent Lebbe as a secular group of priests who would be incardinated into Chinese vicariates (dioceses) administered by Chinese bishops, such as Bishop Sun Dezhen, of Anguo, and Bishop Zhao Huaiyi, of Xuanhua. Priests such as Fathers André Boland and Raymond de Jaegher were among the first to encourage Belgian and French priests to serve under these Chinese bishops, learning the difficult Chinese language and, like Lebbe, integrating fully into Chinese culture in order to serve China’s growing Catholic community. The first official Samist to go to China was Raymond de Jaegher, who was ordained at the Anguo seminary in 1931 during the onset of World War II. De Jaegher was imprisoned by Japanese troops early in the war, and was later imprisoned by Chinese Communists from 1943 to 1945. It was not until 1930 that SAM had finally secured its official status with Rome and could convene its first general meeting in Belgium, where it appointed its first board of directors.

Under the inspiration of Father Lebbe and his abiding love for China, the Samists went to serve the Chinese Church when the country was amidst a civil war between the Communists, under Mao Zedong, and Nationalists, under Chiang Kai-shek. During this time, from 1934 to 1940, SAM published fifty-three issues of its magazine, the Bulletin de la Jeunesse Catholique Chinoise. Each issue included a section entitled, “Nouvelles des Missions,” which included news about the China mission and book reviews. The Samists were among the most active missionaries to carefully preserve their experiences in China in print and photographs, and the accounts published in its magazine are extremely valuable to historians of early-modern China. The rich collection of photographs and archival documents at the Brussels archive of the Société des Auxiliaires des Missions is an historical treasure for those interested in better understanding the post-imperial history of China and the final decades of China’s Roman Catholic missionary era.


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