The Roman Catholic Diocese of Chuncheon (Hangul/Hanja/Latin: 천주교 춘천교구/天主教春川教區/Dioecesis Chuncheonensis) also romanized as Ch’unch’on in McCune Script, is a particular church of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church in South Korea. A suffragan of the Archdiocese of Seoul, it has ecclesiastic authority over the province of Gangwon and this includes the Northern Counterpart of Kangwon Province, DPRK. The current bishop of this diocese is Lucas Kim Woon-hoe.
The episcopal see was erected April 25, 1939 from the Apostolic Vicariate of Seoul as the Prefecture Apostolic of Shunsen, a Japanized name for the city of Chuncheon during the period of Japanese rule of Korea. It was renamed the Prefecture Apostolic of Chunchon on July 16, 1950 and made an Apostolic vicariate on September 20, 1955. It was elevated to diocesan status on March 10, 1962.
Its mother church is Jungnim-dong Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (竹林洞聖堂), located at 21 Yaksa-Gogae Drive/YaksaGogae-gil, Yaksa-dong 30-beonji, Chuncheon City, Gangwon Province. The diocese covers Pocheon and Gapyeong in Gyeonggi Province, Northern Parts of Korean Republic's Gangwon Province (Chuncheon, Sokcho, Yanggu, Goseong, Gangneung, Cheorwon, Hwacheon, Hongcheon, YangYang, Inje, some parts of Pyeongchang and former Mukho-eup, Myeongju County in the present-day Donghae) and DPRK's Gangwon Province (Icheon, Pangyo, Sepo, Pyeonggang, Gimhwa, Changdo, Tongcheon, Hoeyang, Geumgang and Northern Counterparts of Goseong and Cheorwon).
Back to the Southern Counterpart of Gangwon Province, only the Northern Bounds of Pyeongchang and Donghae are covered by the diocese of Chuncheon. The precincts and communes mentioned are:
- Donghae (former Mukho-eup, Myeongju County) - Bugok-dong, Balhan-dong, Mangsang-dong, Simgok-dong, Chogu-dong, Goeran-dong, Manwoo-dong, Mukhojin-dong, Eodal-dong and Daejin-dong
- Pyeongchang - Bongpyeong-myeon, Yongpyeong-myeon, Jinbu-myeon and Daegwallyeong-myeon
Bishop Thomas Quinlan, Prefect of Chuncheon since 1940, had been planning to build a Western-style church since 1941, but conditions in colonial Korea made it difficult to do. In 1946, he revisited plans for the cathedral, but again, conditions for such an ambitious project were less than ideal. Luckily, however, Quinlan got help this time from a nearby US Army unit, and work began on the new cathedral in 1949. With designing the church, he entrusted a Chinese Catholic who’d followed him up from Gwangju (where Quinlan served prior to coming to Chuncheon).
By 1950, most of the exterior of the church was completed. The Korean War interrupted things, however, and one wall would collapse during fighting between UN and Chinese forces in May 1951. In August of that year, work to rebuild the church began, and the cathedral was finally completed in 1952.
Unlike the French missionary churches, which tend to be built of brick, Jungnim-dong Cathedral is built of stone. It’s a long church with double transepts, typical of English-Irish Gothic churches. Sitting on a hill with a nice view of the rugged mountains that surround Chuncheon, it’s a very pleasant place to spend some time.
In back of the cathedral, there is a small cemetery where 16 Korean and Irish clergymen who served the Diocese of Chuncheon were laid to rest. In front are two large markers marked by Celtic crosses, one for Bishop Quinlan (right) and the other for his successor, Bishop Thomas Stewart.
Quinlan, of Borrisoleigh, Ireland, came to Korea in 1934 at the age of 38, after spending 13 years as a missionary in China. In 1940, he was named Prefect of Chuncheon, a position that would be elevated to Vicar Apostolic in 1955 and Bishop in 1962. In 1965, he stepped down as bishop at the age of 69, with the position passing to Thomas Stewart of Woodford, Ireland. In 1970, Quinlan died in Chuncheon, and Stewart would serve as Bishop of Chuncheon until his death in 1994.
In the back row is another set of Celtic crosses. Unlike Quinlan and Stewart, who lived very full lives, these men died far, far too young. And the dates of death on all their markers read the same — 1950.
Now, many sons of Ireland gave their lives in the Korean War, many of them in US military uniforms. The men buried here, however, were young priests who refused to leave their parishes despite being urged to do so by US military officers, and paid for their dedication with their lives.