Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1912 Ford became the first student to apply to the seminary of the recently established Catholic Foreign Mission Society, also known as Maryknoll. Ordained in 1918, he was one of the first four Maryknoll missioners to leave for China. In 1925 he was appointed head of the newly created mission territory of Kaying, or Meihsien (Meizhou), in the northeastern corner of Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province. Ten years later, when the area became a vicariate apostolic, Ford was made bishop. For his episcopal motto he chose the word condolere, meaning “to have compassion,” from Hebrews 5. In December 1950 he was arrested by the Communists for alleged spying activities. Four months later, he was pronounced guilty and sentenced to the provincial prison in Canton. He died in jail of exhaustion and illness in February 1952.
Ford used the encyclical Maximum illud of Pope Benedict XV (1919) as the cornerstone of his efforts to implement a native church, his goal was a self-governing Chinese church financially self-reliant and not burdened by Western institutions. His plans called not only for a well-trained local clergy and sisterhoods but also for a well-educated lay leadership to take responsibility in building modern China. Ford was one of the first Roman Catholic prelates to emphasize direct evangelization by religious women. The small experiment he and a few Maryknoll sisters started in 1934 helped to enhance the role of women in mission and their place in the church.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Francis X. Ford, Come, Holy Ghost (1953; rev. 1976) . John F. Donovan, The Pagoda and the Cross: The Life of Bishop Ford of Maryknoll (1967); Raymond A. Lane, Stone in the King’s Highway: The Life and the Writings of Bishop Francis Xavier Ford (1953); Robert E. Sheridan, Compassion: The Spirit of Francis X. Ford, M.M. (1982); Mark Tsai, “Bishop Ford, Apostle of South China,” American Ecclesiastical Review 127 (October 1952): 241-247; Jean-Paul Wiest, “Francis X. Ford, M.M.,” in Gerald H. Anderson et al., eds., Mission Legacies (1994), pp. 232-241.