The first South East Asian Mission was to Sarawak and Sabah. In 1870, plans for this mission were under discussion. These plans did not come to fruition until 1881, when the first Mill Hill Missionaries were established there. Expectations of these missions differed somewhat. In Sarawak, the White Rajah, Brooke, hoped that the mission would be a stabilizing influence on the Iban population. The first efforts in Sabah aimed at re-establishing the stations first started by the Spaniard, Don Carlos Cuarteron. The island of Labuan was a British naval station. The British government hoped that the Catholic mission would provide some care for passing British mariners. The terrain in Borneo was one of special difficulty and hardship. Progress was very slow for the first sixty years. After the Second World War, there was a sudden time of expansion. In the 1970s, the Muslim-dominated government of Malaysia tried to crush the Church. Their efforts to do this were, however, frustrated. Today, Catholics number about 15% of the population of the Borneo states. They make up an ecclesiastical province in the Church, with an archdiocese, three suffragan sees and a Vicariate Apostolic.
As part of the persecution of the 1970s, many Mill Hill missionaries were expelled from the states. A team of these was then sent to Indonesia to work alongside the capuchin missionaries in the Pontianak area of Borneo. It was hoped that the Mill Hill methods might be grafted on to these Indonesia missions so as to bring about the same successes that had been achieved in Malaysian Borneo. On completion of this task, the remaining Mill Hill Missionaries moved on to Irian Jaya.
In 1895, the Mill Hill Missionaries were invited to share with the Marist Missionaries the mission to the Maoris of New Zealand. This mission was similar to that already undertaken to the freed slaves of the United States of America. The difference was that the Maoris were not an oppressed people. Their rights had been guaranteed by a series of treaties with the British government. The aim of the Mill Hill mission was to provide a pastoral care that was consistent with Maori customs and culture. This was a painstaking kind of work. It was carried out without much fanfare or flourish. It contributed to the nurturing of a self-reliant and self-respecting Maori Catholic community, proud of its heritage. They were at the same time quite capable of integrating with the rest of New Zealand’s Catholic citizens.
Further expansion into Oceania, that is into Australia, was to wait until the 1970s. This was partially a result of the expulsions from the Borneo states. A number of Mill Hill Missionaries settled then in Australia. The Society hoped that it might sometime have an opportunity to work among the Aborigines. In the late 1970s, an opportunity to do this came in the form of an invitation to work in the Western Australian Diocese of Geraldton. The last Mill Hill Missionary left in 2003.
The Philippines Missions were started in very different circumstances altogether. The Mill Hill Missionaries in 1906, came to a country that was already 80% Catholic. It did not belong to the lands that the Church then described as Mission Lands. Why should missionary intervention be at all necessary?
This came about as a result of a train of circumstances that began in 1898 in Cuba. American public opinion was then roused to anger by the destruction of an American Navy ship, ‘The Maine’, in Havana harbour, this was a prelude to the start of the Spanish American War. It was a short war, as wars go. It started officially on 25 April 1898 ad came to its conclusion at the Treaty of Paris in December.
American conduct of the war concentrated on the destruction of the Spanish fleets in South America and the Far East. In July Admiral Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet at Manila and took possession of the city. There had been a vigorous revolutionary movement active in the Philippines since 1862, seeking independence from Spain. The revolutionaries saw Dewey’s arrival as a liberation. They got a shock when Dewey barred their entrance into the city of Manila. In December, the Treaty of Paris granted the USA sovereignty over the Philippines. This treaty was ratified by the American Congress in 1899. What followed then was a guerilla war between the Nationalists and the American administration. This lasted until July 1901, when Howard Taft became the first American Governor of the Philippines.
Taft immediately decreed a separation of Church and State. This played into the hands of the anti-clericals, brought about a secularization of the previously Church-controlled education system and opened the country to a stream of American evangelical missionaries. Taft recognized also that land reform was an immediate priority. To find the land to achieve this, he negotiated through the Vatican the sale of all the lands owned by the Spanish Friar missionaries. Part of the deal was that all the Spanish Friars had to go. The Friars had had a poor record in the training and promotion of the indigenous clergy. So, at one fell swoop, the Church in the Philippines was impoverished both in material and spiritual resources. A worldwide call went out for the services of other missionaries. As part of this movement, what is now known as the Province of Antique was assigned to the Mill Hill Missionaries. It is said that they were given this territory because it was a hotbed of the followers of the Aglipayan schism. The task of the Mill Hill Missionaries was therefore one of reconciliation and rebuilding of resources. It was not achieved overnight. After the Second World War there were opportunities to harness local radio to the work, much was done also towards arousing social consciousness among the faithful. Work to develop local diocesan clergy was also successful. More recently in 1990, the Society began to recruit Filipino men to join and a Formation House for the First Cycle was started in Iloilo. Filipino Mill Hill Missionaries are now working in Africa.