Fr. Ernst Boehm, SVD


A longtime missionary to China, Father Ernst Boehm SVD, died on 28 August 1992 at St. Gabriel’s Divine Word Mission House in Vienna, Austria.

Father Boehm suffered a stroke on 12 January this year and spent six months in St. Teresa’s Hospital before being transferred to St. Gabriel’s SVD community in Austria.

Father Boehm was born on 12 May 1912 at Grunberg, a city which at different times came under Austrian and Czechoslovakian rule. He entered the Divine Word Minor Seminary in 1925.

In 1931 he entered the novitiate and two years later took his first vows.

He studied philosophy at St. Gabriel’s, Vienna, and theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood in Rome on 30 October 1937.

In September of the following year Father Boehm arrived in Shandong Province, China, where he began his study of Chinese and where he worked for 14 years.

During that time he was rector of a minor seminary and later rector of the major seminary in Yenchewfu.

In 1952 he left Mainland China, after journeying down the East Coast with a group of seminarians. They numbered 30 at the outset but small groups sought refuge in various places on their way south.

Father Boehm went by way of Shanghai and eventually reached Hong Kong.

He had many interesting stories to tell of his encounters with the various factions which were trying to establish themselves in power during those troubled times in China.

It seems the Japanese accepted him as a German (an ally of Japan during the war). Chiang Kai Shek’s troops mistook him for an Australian - the terms for Australia and Austria in Chinese being similar.

He passed for a Russian when challenged by some of Mao Zedong’s followers.

Unfortunately, Father Boehm never took the time to record his experiences and adventures during those years in China. We have only snippets of information, since he did not talk very much or very often about himself.

During the first years he spent in Hong Kong, he worked on a Chinese-Latin dictionary, a volume of 1,980 pages, published in 1957, entitled  “Magnum Lexicon Sinico-Latinum.” A second edition was printed in 1983. Father Beohm referred to this work as  “one of the follies of my youth.”

Father Boehm’s was appointed to the Philippines where he administered the Chinese seminary at Sta. Catalina, Ilocos Sur, from 1952-54. He received an appointment to Japan where he did translation work and was involved in editing a magazine, Lux Oriens (rising light), which was not successful. He later referred to this as  “Lux Moriens ” (dying light).

Father Boehm next appointment was to Taiwan where he held the positions of local superior in Chia Yi and regional superior in Taipei until 1980, at which time he was appointed to Hong Kong at district superior, the position he held up to the time of his death.

People who knew Father Boehm during his 12 years in Hong Kong will remember his as a very lively, energetic, busy priest. He was kind, humorous, always very courteous.

He was a generous person who spared no effort to assist our confreres in China, providing the Catholic Church there also with religious literature and financial assistance.

His great love for China and the Chinese people was often expressed in his conversation and in his letters where he would urge people to  “pray for China, pray for the Church in China, pray for the people of China.”

With Father Boehm passing a strong link with our confreres and with the Church in China is broken. Our SVD confreres there and many Catholics have lost a good friend, as we have also in Hong Kong.

He had a very strong commitment to the Diocese of Hong Kong. He felt it a duty to attend all ceremonies, ordinations, professions, jubilees, anniversaries - to rejoice with the diocese and also to mourn with the diocese at the death of a fellow-religious or a brother priest.

The Divine Word Missionaries are very grateful to the Sisters of St. Paul de Charters, to the staff and doctors of St. Teresa’s Hospital for their kindness and care for Father Boehm during his six-month stay at the hospital. We also thank those who visited him during his hospital stay and all who were praying for his wellbeing. Masses will be offered for their intentions by the Divine Word Community.