LIKE A SAMURAI:
The Tony Glynn Story
by Fr Paul Glynn SM
(Marist Fathers Books, 2008, 185pp, $15.00. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Many readers will be familiar with Fr Paul Glynn, an Australian Marist priest, and author of such titles as Song for Nagasaki and Smile of a Ragpicker. Fr Glynn spent some 25 years in post-WWII Japan, and his latest offering tells the less widely known story of his older brother Tony, also a Marist priest, who spent the greater part of his life in Japan.
Like a Samurai: The Tony Glynn Story is the biography of an authentic missionary of the modern era. Today Japan remains a predominantly Buddhist nation, with only 0.7% of the population identifying as Christian, the bulk of them Catholic. When a 25- year-old Fr Tony Glynn first set foot on Japanese soil, Catholics were even fewer in number. During their time in Japan, the Glynn brothers were true pioneers on a daunting cultural and spiritual frontier.
It was there that Fr Tony built a parish, literally from scratch, which, by the time of his death, was enthusiastically attended by hundreds of parishioners each week, and was renowned for its charitable works and the unfathomable generosity of its cheery Australian parish priest.
This is a rollicking tale, and a wonderfully vivid example of just what can happen when Christians place their lives in God's hands and unabashedly seek out His will. Indeed Fr Tony's story is in no small way reminiscent of the missionary adventures of St Paul, and as this commemorative "year of St Paul" draws to a close, readers young and old will no doubt draw inspiration from this modern exemplar of daring and enthusiastic ministry.
In addition to his work in Japan, Fr Tony's efforts would eventually lead to a pioneering mission of Christian reconciliation back in Australia, as well as in New Zealand, in the aftermath of a war which had yielded a bitter crop of resentment on all sides.
The seeds of this remarkable story were being sewn even before Tony Glynn was born. Thus the author commences with a fascinating account of Fr Tony's Irish ancestry, and of the family's experiences settling in Australia several generations prior to Tony's birth.
The centrality of the Catholic faith to the lives of Tony's parents (and certain other relations) is shown to be of vital importance to the fruition of many graces - including several vocations to the priesthood and religious life - among Tony and his siblings.
Tony's path to Japan was forged by a providential encounter in the seminary with Fr Lionel Marsden, an Australian military chaplain who had been taken prisoner by Japanese forces during the war. "Padre" Marsden's brutal experiences had eventually led him to resolve to return to Japan after the war to establish a Marist mission, and to preach Christ's gospel of love and forgiveness. It was a mission which very much appealed to the young Tony Glynn, and shortly after his ordination, he departed for a new life in Japan.
Throughout the book, Tony's magnetic personality, his energy and enthusiasm, his can-do attitude, and his infectious and often self- deprecating sense of humour shine through. As the author frequently notes, these personal qualities, coupled with a deep devotion to personal prayer, the Mass, and genuine service to others, enabled Fr Tony to achieve the unachievable.
The book details Fr Tony's many remarkable achievements: building a parish from the ground up in a foreign land, and without a penny in the bank; running fund- raising drives in the USA; establishing goodwill exhibitions of Japanese art in Australia and New Zealand; and pioneering a reconciliation effort between the Australian people and the people of Japan.
The book's cover features a picture of Fr Tony Glynn bearing two armfuls of samurai swords. These were taken from slain or captured Japanese soldiers by Australian and New Zealand forces during the war, but which were to be returned to the families of the Japanese soldiers as a gesture of reconciliation.
His close work with Buddhist spiritual leaders in Japan, and his openness to the goodwill of all he encountered, invariably drew more and more people to his humble but widely renowned parish.
There is a certain earthy humility which pervades the pages of this book, and which is persistently apparent in its subject, Fr Tony Glynn. I never met the man, but having read Like a Samurai, I feel as though I have. When an ordinary bloke like Tony Glynn opens his heart and his life to God, the mind boggles at the sheer extraordinariness of what he can achieve.
It's rather encouraging for us ordinary folk.
Tim Cannon is a research assistant with the Thomas More Centre.