By Fr Peter Woodruff
Fr Noel O’Neill was ordained in Ireland in December 1956 and has been working in Korea since 1957. Fr Peter Woodruff is an Australia Columban who worked in Peru for many years. Ordained in 1967, he is now based in Essendon, a suburb of Melbourne, at the headquarters of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand.
Columban Fr Noel O’Neill, spoke to the staff of our mission office in Essendon, Melbourne, Australia, about his experience with intellectually disabled people in Korea. Father Noel arrived in Korea in 1957, not long after the Korean War ended in 1953. The whole country had been devastated by war and was still in the throes of reconstruction. Like most Columbans at that time in Korea, Father Noel began his mission work building up and running parishes; this was his mission for 24 years.
He was working in Kwangju when he began to go to the Mudeung Institution which gave support to needy and marginalised people. He soon saw that the intellectually disabled were not able to fend for themselves so he began to sit and chat with them. They were definitely the forgotten ones of Korea in those days. Many would have been left to die at birth and those who survived would be kept hidden by their families, who were embarrassed by their very existence.