His Memory is Held in Benediction


His Memory is Held in Benediction

Dennis Newton SVD

This year [2006] Pope Benedict XVI named Bishop Joseph Zen Zekiun of Hong Kong to the college of cardinals, making him the sixth Chinese cardinal of the Church. The first in this line of prelates was Cardinal Thomas Tien SVD who was made a cardinal just 60 years ago.

Tien Keng-shin was born on October 24, 1890, in the Yangku area of the South Shantung Province of China. When he was ten years old, he was taken to the mission school run by Divine Word Missionaries. It was there that he met Fr. Joseph Freinademetz. A year after entering the mission school, Tien was baptized and received the name Thomas.

At age 13, Thomas expressed an interest in studying for the priesthood, and he entered the minor seminary in 1904. He was ordained in 1918 and served as a parish priest for ten years before deciding to become a Divine Word Missionary. After completing his novitiate, he professed his first vows on February 2, 1931.

Fr. Tien served in Yangku and was eventually appointed its first bishop. He was ordained a bishop by Pope Pius XII in St. Peter’s Basilica on October 29, 1939. Ten years later he became the bishop of Tsingtao, one of the first cities where Divine Word Missionaries and Holy Spirit Sisters worked.

On February 18, 1946, Pope Pius XII internationalized the College of Cardinals and on the list of new cardinals was Bishop Thomas Tien SVD. Shortly after his elevation, he was appointed Archbishop of Peking (Beijing). Cardinal Tien had long suffered with medical problems, especially with his eyes. After repeated warnings by his doctors, he left China to seek medical attention. He went first to Hong Kong and then to the United States. When the Communists began their march toward Peking in early 1949, it became impossible for Cardinal Tien to return to China.

When the Cardinal recovered his health to some extent, Pope John XXIII named him Apostolic Administrator of Taipei, Taiwan. For five years he was able to work there with great success, despite his worsening health. He took a keen interest in the reopening of Fu Jen University, which had been taken over by the Communists on the Mainland.

In February 1966 Pope Paul VI accepted Cardinal Tien’s resignation for health reasons. He retired to the Divine Word Residence in Chiai where he remained until shortly before his death.

On July 21, 1967, when he fell seriously ill, Cardinal Tien was rushed to the hospital. He died three days. Later. More than 6,000 mourners, Christians and non-Christians alike, attended the funeral in Chiai.

Fr. John Schutte SVD, the Superior General, eulogized Cardinal Tien in a circular letter to all members of his religious community:

“When we look back over the life of this Cardinal and Archbishop, so rich in success but also so rich in sacrifice, we can only say that the Church of God has hereby lost one of her truest servants, the China mission one of its most zealous and successful pioneers, and our Society one of her greatest sons.

He toiled without repose and spent himself without reserve for the cause of the missions in China. Endowed with wide visions and a wide heart, this bishop looked after his flock, erected new parishes, promoted educational institutions, called in other missionary institutes to share in the work, dedicated himself to the care of the famished, the sick and the suffering.

Goodness radiated out from his exemplary personality: he was a man of prayer, full of simplicity, kindness and understanding. Above all, he lived a life of poverty and humility. Quiet and retiring as he may have been, he was still one of the most outstanding personalities of the Church in China. For the whole Church, but especially for the China mission and for our own Society, his death is a real and tangible loss. His memory is held in benediction.”


Dennis Newton SVD was from Waterloo, Iowa. Brother Dennis professed first vows in 1977 and served in a variety of areas as a Divine Word Missionary. He taught at Holy Rosary Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana, and was on the pastoral staff at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Lafayette. He also held several leadership roles in the Society of the Divine Word U.S. Southern Province. While at Divine Word College, Epworth, IA, in the late 1980s, Brother Dennis served as business manager, director of admissions, and national vocation director. For nine years, Brother Dennis served as vice-provincial of the Chicago Province and was appointed national mission director by the Generalate in Rome in 2002 until he died April 5, 2014 surrounded by family, friends and fellow Divine Word Missionaries.

Divine Word Missionaries Magazine, Vol. XLVIII, No. 2 Summer 2006, issued quarterly.