Bishop Francis X. Ford, MM

Born: January 11, 1892
Ordained: December 5, 1917
Died: February 21, 1952

Francis X. Ford was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 11, 1892. His father was Editor of “The Freeman’s Journal” and a dedicated champion of Irish freedom. From his youth, Francis was very much influenced by the world of journalism and literature which surrounded him.

He attended St. Francis Preparatory School, Brooklyn, and then Cathedral College, Brooklyn. It was while he was at Cathedral College that Maryknoll was founded. In 1912, after the co-founder of Maryknoll, Father James A. Walsh, spoke to the young men at the College about the newly founded mission society, Francis decided that therein lay his vocation. He became the first student to enter the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 5, 1917, and the following year he accompanied Fathers Price, Meyer and James E. Walsh to China. These men comprised the first Maryknoll departure group. They proceeded to work in Yeungkong and the Kongmoon territory of South China.

In 1925, when the new South China mission territory of Kaying was assigned to Maryknoll, Fathers Ford and Drought formed Maryknoll’s contingent into the new field. Ten years later, on September 21, 1935, Bishop James Anthony Walsh, in his last public official act, consecrated Msgr. Francis Ford as first bishop of Kaying and the mission was raised to a Vicariate. The new bishop returned to China and remained there throughout World War II. During this time he dedicated himself to the care of the countless refugees who flooded the city of Kaying. In 1946 he returned to the United States to attend the General Chapter as delegate of the priests in Kaying.

A little while later he returned to China for what was to be the last time. Many years before he had composed a prayer in which he had asked God: “Grant us….to be the doorstep by which the multitudes may come to Thee.” He was now about to become just such a doorstep.

In October, 1949, the Communists completed their drive to conquer China. On December 3, 1950 the first of the Bishop’s priests and sisters were imprisoned. Two days before Christmas he himself was placed under house arrest. On April 14, 1951, after a public trial, he and his secretary Sister Joan Marie were bound with ropes, placed under an escort of thirty armed soldiers, and taken to Canton prison. Along the entire route of their journey they were insulted and humiliated both physically and verbally, by the Communist-organized demonstrators of the Chinese people. After a year in prison, after much suffering, Bishop Ford died, reportedly on February 21, 1952. The news of his death came with the release of Sister Joan Marie, the following September.

On September 9, 1952 a Pontifical Requiem Mass was celebrated at Maryknoll for the repose of his soul. Bishop Fulton Sheen preached the eulogy. The site of his grave in a public cemetery was marked by a Parish Foreign Mission priest for future identification of the location.

Related Materials:

Personal papers finding aid

Bishop Francis X. Ford Collection (MSA) finding aid