Father Hugh C. Craig, MM

Born: August 11, 1899
Ordained: May 31, 1925
Died: January 9, 1981

Father Hugh C. Craig (Special Society Unit, Korea) died on January 9, 1981 at the Maryknoll Society House in Seoul. Brother DePorres Stilp was with him when he died.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 11, 1899, Hugh was the oldest of three children born to John G. Craig and Edith Robideaux. When about ten years old he made his First Communion and was confirmed by Archbishop John Ireland. After studies at St. Thomas Military Academy and St. Thomas College, Father Hugh entered Maryknoll on August 27, 1919. A lecture from Fr. James A. Walsh at St. Thomas in 1915 solidified his desire to be a foreign missioner, a desire initiated by the literature from the Society of the Divine Word.

Ordained on May 31, 1925, Father Hugh proceeded to Korea on September 8, 1925. His mission career was essentially to the Korean people. In 1942, however, Father was a prisoner of war of the Japanese for six months, and twenty years later he served briefly in Japan at the Korean Center. Also, from 1942 to 1947, as a result of the war, he was assigned to the Mexico-Guatemala Region where he served as Group Superior and Chapter Delegate. On May 1, 1974 Father was assigned to the Special Society Unit.

Father Hugh was the most successful Catholic missioner in North Korea in terms of adult converts. While he did not initiate the system of lay catechists, he did develop and perfect this mission method. He was a forerunner of “pre-evangelization” techniques – before the term was coined. He wrote in 1961: “If a knowledge of the history of a country is important, a knowledge of what the people believe is even more important. There has been much written about the religions of Korea, but such books are not easy to obtain.” Father Hugh’s writings and interest in ideals, ethics and history are legendary.

In his mission career, Hugh was truly the great innovator. He founded the Catholic Conference of Korea, which became the Korean Episcopal Conference; he founded the United Service Organization in Korea; he effected the Jesuits coming to Korea to establish a university; he introduced Catholic publications in the popular pamphlet style to Korea; he was unique in insisting that language used by the missioners be colloquial and not scholarly; he established a correspondence course in Christian Doctrine, which continues to be used; and he initiated a translation of Scriptures into the Korean language. As one superior wrote: “He has unlimited zeal and energy”. His zeal was strong and constant. In 1965 Father Hugh wrote: “The missioner may spend his entire life in a far mountain village preaching the Gospel and giving the Sacraments…The missioner does not think it strange to spend ten, twenty or thirty years in helping to train youth in strong Christian virtues so that later those youth may become priests or lay leaders who will effectively work to bring better living and eternal life to many.

Several months ago, while at Maryknoll, N.Y., Father Hugh approached the Vocation Director whom he asked to assist. Father Hugh, at the Director’s request, then wrote a personal and much appreciated letter to all in the Society-sponsored summer program held last year in Peru.

Father Hugh was buried on January 13th in Inchon, next to Father Roy Petipren. Cardinal Kim was the principal Celebrant at the Mass in Seoul. At Maryknoll, N.Y. Mass was celebrated on January 12, with Fr. Bob Sheridan as Principal Celebrant, Fr. Jack Corcoran as Homilist and Fr. Pat Bergin presenting the biography.

Father Hugh was a man of zeal, a man of unfailing interest and concern for Maryknoll, for Korea and his people. He was also a man of prayer, which fed the fire of his bright life. As he wrote: “We can pray with confidence that God will grant us the graces we need to be good missioners and to earn eternal life.”