Father Thomas Frederick Price, Co-Founder of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, was born on August 19, 1860, in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was the eighth child of Alfred and Clarissa Bond Price. His parents were converts to the Catholic faith, and he was raised as a devout Catholic in the midst of Southern antipathy toward Catholicism.
Youth and Education
As a youth, Price had close contact with the priests of his parish (St. Thomas, Wilmington, North Carolina). One priest who figured prominently in his early life was Bishop James Gibbons, newly appointed first Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina. Gibbons established his headquarters at St. Thomas Church and soon began to show a special interest in young Price. Price often served Mass for Gibbons and accompanied him on special trips throughout the Vicariate.
With his religious background (especially the deep devotion of his mother to the Blessed Virgin), Price soon felt an attraction to the priesthood. He confided his interest to the parish priest, Fr. Mark Gross, and arrangements were made for him to enter St. Charles Seminary at Catonsville, Maryland, in August, 1876. On route to the seminary by ship, Price escaped death in the shipwreck of the Rebecca Clyde. Price attributed his survival to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After the accident, he returned home until January 1877.
Thomas Price as a seminarianPrice attended St. Charles Seminary from January 1877, until his commencement on June 28, 1881. In September 1881, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 20, 1886, by Bishop Northrup at the pro-cathedral in Wilmington, North Carolina. Both of Price’s parents had died prior to his ordination. Price was the first North Carolinian to be ordained to the priesthood, and he was assigned to missionary work in the eastern section of his native state.
Early Years of Priesthood
Within one year after his ordination, Price was appointed the pastor of the few Catholics in and around the towns of Asheville and Bern. After the first few years of priesthood, he obtained permission from Bishop Haid, his ordinary, to begin a statewide evangelization program. His methods were influenced by Fr. Eliott, a famous Paulist preacher.
One of Price’s tools for evangelization was the publication of the magazine Truth, which he began to publish and edit in April 1897.
A second tool was the establishment of Nazareth Orphanage in 1898. Price’s plan was to first help the underprivileged of an area and thereby win the favor of the general population who would then be more inclined to listen to the message of the missionary.
Following the success of the Nazareth Orphanage, Price organized summer catechizing teams of seminarians. Finally, in 1902, Price opened his missionary training house at Nazareth. It was a preparatory seminary whose sole purpose was the education and formation of missionaries for the home missions. It was called Regina Apostolorum. From 1902 to 1909, Price directed the Regina Apostolorum and acted as its primary teacher and spiritual director.
Plans for a Foreign Mission Seminary
As time went on, Price began to emphasize more and more often in the pages of Truth the need of a seminary for the training of young American men for the foreign missions. At the same time, Fr. James Anthony Walsh, of Boston, was developing the same idea in the pages of The Field Afar. At the Eucharistic Congress in Montreal in 1910, the two priests met and began to formulate plans for the establishment of a seminary for foreign missionaries. With the approval of the American hierarchy, the two priests traveled to Rome in June 1911, to receive final approval from Pope Pius X for their project.
After meeting with the Holy Father, Price traveled to Lourdes for the first time. During his stay at Lourdes, Price had a spiritual experience that was to significantly affect all of his future life. Price refers to the experience in his personal diary. A special devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes and Bernadette Soubirous would follow him all the way to his death.
Returning to the United States, Price, together with Walsh, began the plans for the establishment of the new seminary and the foreign mission society. After a brief stay at Hawthorne, New York, property was purchased at Ossining, New York, for the site of the new society: the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America (popularly known as Maryknoll).
Foreign Missions Begin
Fr. Price in ChinaPrice made an around-the-country tour of America to gain support for the new endeavor. By 1918, three young priests (Frs. James E. Walsh, Francis X. Ford, and Bernard F. Meyer) were ready for the foreign missions in China. On September 7, Price went with them as superior to the new missions. From the time of the foundation of Maryknoll, Price had understood that Walsh was the one capable of administering and directing the seminary itself. Price himself had always hoped to be chosen as one of Maryknoll’s first missioners, and his dream was realized.
Because of his age, Price had great difficulty learning the Chinese language. He also suffered from physical ailments. On September 12, 1919, he died in Hong Kong as a result of a burst appendix. In 1936, his body was exhumed and transferred to the cemetery at Maryknoll, New York. In 1955, his remains, together with those of Bishop James A. Walsh, were finally interred in the crypt below the Maryknoll Seminary Chapel.
Price was the editor of two books regarding St. Bernadette of Lourdes: Bernadette of Lourdes (1914) and The Lily of Mary (1918).