Colombia 50 Years Later: Viatorians Remain Committmed

It was 50 years ago this month that a delegation of three Viatorian priests were dispatched to the Diocese of Bogotá in Colombia. They answered a call from Pope John XXIII, who in 1961 called for religious congregations to help evangelize Latin America.

The founding fathers included Fr. James Crilly, CSVFr. Tom Wise, CSV, and Fr. Burt Mayr, CSV. Knowing no Spanish and little about their new country, they arrived by boat in Barranquilla on Sept. 27, 1961. Their assignment? To start a Catholic secondary school that ultimately would lead to more teachers of the faith.

Less than two years later they opened Colegio San Viator in prefabricated classrooms. Its 32 students were taught by five Viatorian priests and one lay teacher. Nearly 50 years later, the school is thriving, with an enrollment of more than 1,000 students.

This month, Fr. Crilly returns to Colombia for the milestone celebration. He leads a delegation that includes Fr. Mark Francis, CSV, superior general and Fr. Tom von Behren, CSV, provincial as well as Fr. John Peeters, CSV, and Br. Carlos Florez, CSV.

It opens Sept. 23 with a Mass celebrated by the bishop of Bogotá for students, their parents and supporters as well as parishioners from San Basilio Magno and San Juan Maria Vianney.On Sept. 24, Fr. Francis will celebrate Mass for the Viatorian community and their families, with Fr. Crilly delivering the homily.

“I really want to be there,” Fr. Crilly says. “It was one of the highlights of my ministry as a priest, and I want to thank the people of Bogotá for supporting us.”

The celebration is somewhat bittersweet as Fr. Thomas Wise, one of the founding fathers, passed away just weeks before preparations began.