Priest and patriot passes away on the 4th of July

Father John Swift, 1915-2008

Swift,_Fr_John_for_webThe Rev. John Swift, 92, a Divine Word Missionary and master printer who worked in China, England and the United States, died Friday, July 4, 2008, in Techny, Ill.

Although he accomplished much behind a printing press, Father Swift (then known as Brother Matthew) was the front-page subject of the local newspaper in Tsingtao, China, on Christmas Day 1950.

Born in 1915 to Thomas and Mary Swift of New Richland, Minn., Father Swift began studying with the Society of the Divine Word in 1936 and professed vows in 1938, taking the name Brother Matthew.

For nine years, he worked as a printing pressman at Divine Word Mission Press at Techny. In 1947, his superiors chose him to manage the Catholic press of the Bishop of Tsingtao, a large operation that printed materials in eight languages, employed 25 Chinese laymen and produced not only Catholic literature but also commercial pieces for shippers, local businesses and the U.S. military.

After three years on assignment in China, Father Swift became known as the missionary who defied the Communists by refusing to publish passages of a textbook that contradicted the Catholic faith. For that act, he spent almost three years in a Communist jail.

While in prison, his captors held him in handcuffs for two months and in solitary confinement for nine. Daily, he ate two meals of steamed corn bread, boiled cabbage and hot water and slept on the floor.
In a chapter in "Why I Became a Brother" (edited by Father George L. Kane. Westminster, Mary.: The Newman Press, 1954), Father Swift wrote about his captivity and a condition of release delivered by a Communist judge:

"This condition of giving up the brotherhood was laid down after two years of continually studying communist propaganda, two years without the sacraments. I thought it about time to comply with the judge’s orders, and do as I was told. So I composed a note telling the judge that after eighteen years as a brother I had finally decided to give up my vocation. I told him I would study instead for the priesthood!"

Upon his release in 1950, he returned to Techny and the printing press operation, where he worked until fire destroyed the building in 1960. He then was sent to England to promote Word magazine by speaking at parishes.

In 1972, he entered the Mission Institute in London to study for the priesthood. Auxiliary Bishop Carlos Lewis, SVD, of Panama ordained Father Swift in 1975. During his priesthood, Father Swift worked in parishes and as a vocation director in England and Scotland before returning to Techny in 1996.

"During his retirement, Father Swift remained active in the community," said Father Adam MacDonald SVD, vice-rector of the Techny community. "The Catholic faith, music and golf were three of his passions. He said Mass and heard confessions at several area parishes and convents. Plus, he played baritone horn in The North Shore New Horizons Band and was known to many at Willowhill Golf Course and Sportsman’s Country Club for his smooth swing and gracious manner."

Father Swift is survived by his sister Geraldine Flessor. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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