Thomas Rice was born in Auchinstarry on the 23rd April 1907
son of Patrick Rice originally from Benagh County Louth and
Elizabeth Dale originally from Annaboe County Armagh. The family
home was originally in Auchinstarry and then in Cronulla Place
Kilsyth. Fr Rice was a brother to Catherine, Mary, John Francis,
Patrick Terrence, Michael, Elizabeth, James and adopted brother
After being educated at St Patrick’s Kilsyth and St Aloysius
College Glasgow, he began work as a grocery assistant. After
a Mission in St Patrick's Kilsyth by the Vincention Fathers,
Thomas contacted the Lanark Superior of the Vincention Order
to enquire about becoming a priest.
He was trained for the preisthood by the Vincentian Fathers
at Armagh, at Liverpool and then finally at St Joesph’s
Seminary Blackrock, Dublin. He was ordained a Priest on 10th
June 1933 in the Metropolitan Pro Cathedral of St Mary in Great
Malboro Street, Dublin. After a short visit home to Kilsyth
to visit his family and despite being a Scot, he was issued
with an Irish passport and dispatched on missionary duty to
China. He arrived in Shanghai on 18th Dec 1933 and travelled
onwards to serve in the Parish of St Joseph’s Cathedral
in Tung Tang, Peking (Beijing). St Joseph’s had an associated
school called St Patrick’s and also one other small parish
outside the city. The priests of the mission also had various
other Chaplaincy duties.
The Chinese name for Father Rice was "Li Te-K'li".
One locally remembered story in Kilsyth which
does not feature in the official history of the Vincentian fathers,
is that whilst there, Fr Rice was arrested for being a Christian
Missionary by the Chinese Communist Revolutionary Forces headed
by Mao Tse Tung in 1948. As a result. he was sentenced to death
by firing squad but due to the fact that he had a Republic of
Ireland passport and was not ‘British’
his sentence was commuted to house arrest. After serving out
the rest of his sentence he was released and he eventually escaped
to the West in 1949.
St Joseph's College, Blackrock,
once a Seminary College, now a school.
St Mary's Pro Cathedral
The other priests involved in the Peking Mission were;
Fr Maurice Kavanagh - Vincentian Superior.
Fr. Michael Crowley – was the second last to leave the
mission after the communist revolution.
Fr. Michael Howard
Fr. Kevin Murnaghan
Fr. James Feely
Fr. Thomas Rice
Fr. Andrew Kavanagh - brother of Fr Maurice Kavanagh
Fr. Sylvestre Ma
Fr. James Milner who died on the mission having suffered a fatal
seizure after swimming in 1939.
(See photos of some of these priests below and
at the very bottom of this page)
Fr. Maurice Kavanagh (superior) was arrested 27/08/1951 and
charged with crimes against the state. He was imprisoned, tortured
and then released 06/09/1952 - more than a year in custody.
After this date Fr Kavanagh arranged for all his remaining curates
to leave China due to the growing threat from the Communists.
Each of the priests left by various different routes and by
using a variety of safe houses, they escaped the country without
further arrest and torture.
Fr Rice together with Fr Feely had already left the country
by this time. In late 1948 they took a route from Peking south
east to the port of Tientsin where they were evacuated on a
refugee ship with mostly English and American evacuees. The
ship sailed to Hong Kong where it arrived on 7th December 1948.
During their time in Hong Kong the two priests were taken care
of by the Maryknoll Missionary Society. Although he was very
fragile after his ordeal Fr Rice left hospital soon after his
arival in Hong Kong but Fr Feely remained in hospital for some
time to recover from his ordeal.
Fr Maurice Kavanagh - Superior
Fr. James Feely
Fr Rice departed from Hong Kong on the 4th January 1949 onboard
the US cargo ship "General M C Meigs" and
he arrived in San Francisco on 24th of January 1949 - again
being cared for by the Maryknoll Mission. On return to Ireland
from the USA he was allowed to go home to his parents home in
Kilsyth to recouperate from the ordeal, during which he had
to be spoon fed like a baby as his stomach was not yet prepared
to digest different foods from the staple diet of rice which
he had endured for so long.
Fr Kavanagh, we understand, also eventually made it back home
safely to Ireland but much later in 1952.
Fr Rice remained a Vincentian Father throughout his ordeal
and returned to his Priestly duties in Scotland and elsewhere
where he was an occasional visitor to Kilsyth and Croy. He can
be seen in the photograph below leading the Corpus Christi Procession
(holding the monstrance between Fr
Brennan and Fr Anthony)
in Croy in June 1949 shortly after his repatriation.
There were fears expressed by his family that he was not strong
enough to participate in this Corpus Christi celebrations as
it involved being on his feet for so long - just months after
his return in a much weakened state, however these proved to
be unfounded and he was able to carry out his duties without
St Joseph's Cathedral Peking
(Beijing) founded in 1653. Photo
© Paul Battley 1999 reproduced with thanks.
St Vincent's Sheffield
After a period of some months convalescence at
home in Kilsyth, Fr Rice was then sent to St Vincent's Parish
in Sheffield, England where he was able to continue his duties
as a priest. After many years in St Vincent's, Fr Rice was transferred
to the Parish of St Mary's in Lanark, during which time he also
undertook chaplaincy duties at Smylum Home and Orphanage.
Fr. Thomas Rice died in the Western Infirmary Edinburgh on
27th February 1969 from heart failure and is buried in the cemetery
at Lanark in the area reserved for Priests and Religious.
Our thanks to his nephew George Dailly for this information
and also to Fr Thomas Davitt CM archivist of the Irish Province
of the Vincentian Fathers.