Books / Reviews

A life lived for others

by Steve Finbow

Sixty-five years after the Allied victory over Japan in the Pacific War, Paul Glynn chronicles the life of his brother and fellow member of the Order of the Rising Sun, Father Tony Glynn.

LIKE A SAMURAI: The Tony Glynn Story, by Paul Glynn. Marist Fathers Books, 185 pp., $15 (paper)

Glynn, a superb athlete in school, a boxer, runner, footballer and cricket player, came from a long line of Irish and Scottish Catholics who emigrated to Australia in the 19th century.

Telling the story of the Catholic Church and its oppression in England, while fusing this historical narrative with his own family’s backgrounds, Glynn grounds this memoir in the history of religious freedom.

Colorful descriptions of Irish/Australian families, and the hardships and tragedies that occurred in the harsh antipodean frontier towns, create a solid backdrop to the story of a man who would later become a member of the Order of the British Empire.

Having dreamt of becoming a priest from an early age, he spent eight years at a seminary in the Blue Mountains. In 1941, Glynn promised his Aunt Molly that he would one day go to Japan to work as a missionary. He toyed with the idea of becoming a monk before being advised against it.

Glynn, however, became a member of the worldwide Catholic educational order of Marists founded in France in 1817. From 1946, Glynn heard confessions as a priest in St. Patrick’s Church, Sydney, while waiting to hear about his application to become a volunteer with the Marist mission in Japan.

Finally, after a rough sea passage, Glynn arrived in Kobe on April 29, 1952, and made his way to Kyoto.

In his first few years in Japan, Glynn worked with tuberculosis and leprosy sufferers while learning enough Japanese to conduct sermons and teach Catholic studies at the Marist mission in Nara, where he eventually became pastor.

Glynn championed Japanese culture, taking exhibitions of arts and crafts to Australia and New Zealand. He returned 56 samurai swords to the families of the men they were taken from as trophies in World War II and promoted pro-Japanese feelings in nations that had suffered great losses and cruelties.

He worked with Japanese children whose fathers were Australian, and initiated mixed Buddhist and Christian prayer services, spending the last 26 years of his life in Tomigaoka, a suburb of Nara.

A tireless champion of the underprivileged, the neglected and the sick, Glynn lived a life of charity and compassion.

Struggling with colon cancer, he selflessly worked to establish connections between the Marist order and the Japanese population, raising funds to open schools, hospitals and churches in Japan and elsewhere.

After becoming an honorary citizen of Nara, he died in December 1994. Five thousand people attended the wake and mass held for him.

A mixture of memoir, biography, comparative religion and history, “Like a Samurai: The Tony Glynn Story” captures the energy and charity of a man who came to love Japan.

The asides on the English establishment’s oppression of the Catholic faith; the story of the immigration of Irish and Scottish peoples to Australia and New Zealand; the encounter with Japanese culture, raw fish, natto, and Samurai swords; the connections between Christianity, Buddhism and Shinto; and the history of the effects of World War II on Australia, New Zealand and Japan are seamlessly integrated.

Sprinkled with Japanese poems, recollections of Glynn’s love for writer of westerns Louis L’Amour, descriptions of prisoner-of-war camps and extracts from Tony Glynn’s autobiography “Heart: The Whole World in a Tiny Hand,” Paul Glynn writes with verve, humor and affection about his inspirational brother.

All proceeds from the sale of this book are to go to Third World charities for education and medical aid.