Whenever he was lauded as the founder of Maryknoll, Father James A. Walsh always credited the indispensable role of prayers from the co-founder, Father Thomas Frederick Price of North Carolina. He often said that nothing could have been accomplished without the prayers of Father Price.
Thomas Price was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, the eighth child of Alfred and Clarissa Bond Price, on August 19, 1860. Having converted to the Catholic faith, his parents raised their children to be devout Catholics in the midst of Southern apathy toward the religion.
During his formative years, Thomas Price was deeply influenced by priests from his Wilmington parish of St. Thomas. With a religious upbringing that included profound understanding of the deep devotion his mother held for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the young Price soon became attracted to the priesthood.
The aspiring priest applied to St. Charles Seminary at Catonsville, Maryland, and while traveling to the seminary by ship during 1876, he escaped perishing in the shipwreck of the Rebecca Clyde. He always attributed his survival to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his relationship with the Blessed Mother would influence his work for the rest of his life.
Upon graduation from St. Charles during June 1881, the 21-year-old entered St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. Ordained as the first priest from North Carolina on June 20, 1886, Father Price was assigned to missionary work in the eastern section of his native state.
During 1898, Father Price established the Nazareth Orphanage and organized summer catechizing teams of seminarians. He opened a missionary training house at Nazareth that served as a preparatory seminary for the education and formation of missioners for home missions.
Father Price was dedicated to holiness that he pursued through poverty, prayer and extreme asceticism that took a toll on his health. He possessed an unusual zeal for mission, beginning in North Carolina, extending throughout the country and finally encircling the globe. Father Price also was the editor and publisher of one of the first evangelizing tools in the U.S., starting Truth magazine during 1897.
Father Price spent many years in mission in the U.S. before he met Father James A. Walsh. By carriage, horseback, or foot, Father Price traveled from door to door and farm to farm, facing opposition and sometimes violent anti-Catholic sentiment. But he remained content in spreading the faith one soul at a time.
Shares Vision With Father James A. Walsh
Sensing a dead-end in mission work in North Carolina, Father Price happened to meet Father James A. Walsh in Montreal at the 21st Eucharistic Conference during 1910 and they discussed their ideas about mission.
Neither priest could agree on a foundation on which to build a mission society in the U.S. In fact, Father Price rarely won a single disagreement. However, both priests decided to move forward, with Father Price securing the support of the U.S. bishops by contacting several he knew well.
When they traveled to Rome to receive the blessing for their mission society from Pope Pius X, it was the first time that Father Price had left North America. During this trip, to connect further with the Blessed Mother, he decided to visit Lourdes, France, and learn about the apparitions (Our Lady of Lourdes) that occurred there during 1858 to peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous.
At Lourdes, Father Price became convinced that Bernadette was his soul-mate and spiritual sister. He believed that if Mary was the closest person to Jesus, then Bernadette was the closest person to Mary, deciding that he was called to be closely united with Bernadette.
Upon reuniting with Father Walsh to sail back to America, Father Price announced that he realized a completely new sense of his mission during his travels. From this time forward, he devoted himself to the Blessed Mother and her servant Bernadette, seeing Lourdes and Bernadette at the center from which U.S. apostles should draw inspiration. This calling, his devotion to Mary and his prayers all contributed to the creation of the U.S. mission society.
While Father Price’s prayers, zeal for mission and influence with key members of the U.S. Catholic Church contributed significantly to the beginning of the mission society known today as Maryknoll, he did not live long enough to see the vision develop and prosper. He died from appendicitis on September 12, 1919 in Hong Kong, where he had traveled with the first team of missioners.
To learn more about Father Thomas Frederick Price and the centennial celebration of Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, visit www.maryknollsociety.org. To receive copies of Maryknoll magazine’s issues that feature Father Walsh and Father Price, contact Maryknoll toll-free at 1-888-627-9566.
For March: Construction of Maryknoll’s Seminary Building.
Photo: Maryknoll Mission Archives