Father James Colligan

It is not often that I get the opportunity to write about a person that was a part of my life. Today, I write of his passing. Father James Colligan was my Uncle and though we did not get to see him often the adventurous life that he led was something that touched my entire family. You may wonder, what this story has to do with a history blog, but as you will read below, Father Colligan touched the lives of many people and he covered many historic events including the relations of Japan and the United States after World War II.

James Colligan was ordained as a Catholic priest, part of the Maryknoll order on June 11, 1955. His first assignment as a priest sent him to Sapporo and Kyoto parishes where he did language study and parish assignments. He moved from that position to the position of pastor and kindergarten principal in the town of Mikasa, a mining town in the Hokkaido province. While there he also taught English at Hokkaido University. While in Mikasa, he began to write articles for the Catholic press and Maryknoll magazine.

Father James T. Colligan at his 60th Jubilee

Father Colligan was assigned as a full-time writer and photographer, he continued studies in advanced journalism and in 1968, he took an assignment in the Public Information Office of Japanese Bishops and received Japanese Government accreditation as a correspondent for the U.S. News Service based in Washington D.C. He began to write regularly for the Catholic Press and had article picked up by other news services as well. He was a contributor and co-editor of the book “Christianity in Japan, 1971-1990” and actively researched the development of Catholicism and Christianity among the Ethnic Japanese, including the Maryknoll mission to the poorer communities of Japan.

Pope John Paul II Visits Japan – Photo by Father James Colligan

In February 1981, Father Colligan covered the visit of Pope John Paul II to Japan, attending every function of the Pope’s visit including his time in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the Pope’s visit, he made appeals for world peace at the site of the horrible destruction. Father Colligan released a book of his photojournalism during the Pope’s visit and the warmth and love that the Pope showed for the Japanese People and the love they had for him. Father James Colligan also covered many other state visits of Foreign dignitaries to Japan including the visit of President George H.W. Bush and was present when the President took ill at a state dinner with the Japanese President.

Pope John Paul II’s Motorcade move the enormous crowd that gathered in snowy/ cold weather – Photo by Father James Colligan

James Colligan was born October 2, 1928, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, one of seven children of Paul and Beatrice Colligan. The Colligan family was a very typical working-class Pittsburgh family. Father Colligan attended Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh. Duquesne Univerity, Maryknoll College, Maryknoll Seminary and Syracuse University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy with a Master’s Degree in Religous Education and a Masters Degree in Advanced Journalism.

Members of the Colligan Family (L to r, Elaine {my mother}, Tom, Vivian, Terry, James)

In 1997, Father Colligan was reassigned to Los Angeles, California. He served at the St. Francis Xavier Church and their Japanese Catholic Mission even after his retirement in 2003. He also assisted with sacraments and service at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral. In 2012, he moved to New York City and in 2014 he moved back with his family to Pittsburgh PA. In his, years of service to knowledge and the church he wrote thousands of articles and took tens of thousands of pictures, any time he traveled, he could be seen with his camera ready. His adventurous spirit and dedication to his work serve as an inspiration to his brothers and sisters and his nieces and nephews and their children as well. He inspired many in his missionary order and in the press to cover stories of inspiration and peace.

It is an honor to have the ability to write about a man who wrote about the world giving amazing perspective with the addition of his photography. You can find his book, “The Visit of Pope John Paul II to Japan in Photographs 1981” here. I am humbled to have had such an amazing person in my life who will continue to give me a great perspective on my life.

Father James Colligan

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