Did you know that there used to be an airfield on Maryknoll’s property? I didn’t either until I came across a reference to it in the Cultivation Department’s records from 1964. Fr. Albert Nevins, Director of the Cultivation Department, wrote to the Town of New Castle (the local governing body) stating:
“We have put in a small airstrip on the grounds at Maryknoll Seminary for the purpose of training our seminarians in the use of aircraft for their future work overseas. This airstrip is not open to the public and it is wholly and completely for private use….When the airstrip was first planned, the matter was discussed with the representative of the Federal Aviation Agency, who visited the site and gave his approval.”
It’s also noted, “[t]hat the neighbors to the north [have been] consulted and have indicated that they have no objections.” There is a follow up letter from the town saying they will look into the matter, but unfortunately, no further records are found about the airstrip. However, based on photographs, the town must have approved since we have numerous photos of planes on the property with seminarians working on them.
It’s unknown how many seminarians were taught how to fly and then used this new knowledge in their mission work. However, here’s the story of one priest who used his flying skills to help the communities in which he served:
Fr. Michael Gould, missioned in Bolivia, learned to fly planes and used flight to help in the missions. In his memoir, available in the Creative Works and Personal Papers collection he writes:
“With such an extensive parish [Okinawa in Santa Cruz], I started thinking of using a small airplane to visit the numerous towns. In 1979, Fr. Gene Dougherty, pastor of Santa Rosa del Sara, received a new plane from his home diocese of San Diego, California, and he offered me the old one. It was a Piper Super Cub of 1961…and Padre John Sullivan was my instructor. It wasn’t too difficult, he would fly from Buena Vista and I would drive, we met at a field called La Fortuna…We flew about 10 hours in about 3 weeks’ time, and I flew him home and from then on I was on my own…
[The plane] was great help for work here, I was able to cover the eastern half of the Province. And not just for mass trips, also I used to pick up Doctora Josefina every Monday and take her to Nuevo Horizonte round trip, and other days take the Doctor from La Esperanza to La Finca, a half day and then take them back: trips which would have been hours on the roads.”
Using planes to travel was such a help for those missioners in tricky mission locations. It enabled them to travel faster and cover more ground, which, in turn, meant helping more people. It speaks to the ingenuity of the missioners and how they would use any method available to adapt to their surroundings.
I love how a few pieces of correspondence from a department collection put me on this path to uncover photos of the airstrip at Maryknoll and to learn of Fr. Gould’s flights across Bolivia to provide aid to the local people. Always something to uncover in the Archives!