His great-grandfather and his father both died as martyrs, his father when Kim Tae-gon Andrew was eighteen. In strongly Confucian Korea, closed to foreigners, the Church began with laymen who had no priests. It survived under persecution for decades, so that the French missionaries found believers there when they arrived in the early nineteenth century.
In 1836, when he was fifteen, a French priest picked out Kim Taegon to be a seminarian. The next year he and two others were sent to the seminary in Macao, the long-Catholic city across the bay from Hong Kong.
While he was away, his father, Kim Chae-jun Ignatius, died for his faith in a major persecution in 1839. (He was beatified in 1925.) In 1842, with his bishop, he tried to get back into his country, but couldn’t. He was ordained a deacon in China. As a deacon, he slipped back into his country by himself the next year.
He slipped out again to go to Shanghai, planning to bring the French missionaries back into Korea by sea. There he was ordained a priest, the first Korean priest in that country’s history.
Back Home, to Martyrdom
Father Kim Tae-gon Andrew came back to Korea with a French bishop and a priest, and ministered mostly in secret and mostly at night. His bishop later wrote of him: “The hazard of any enterprise rather excited him to its achievement than deterred him from it.”
On an assignment from his bishop to try to find a way by water to slip more missionary priests into the country, he was arrested, and sent to the central prison in Seoul, where he was tortured. Two months later, over the king’s objection, he was sentenced to death as a religious enemy and a traitor.
“There are many miserable and sad things in the world,” Father Andrew wrote his people from prison. “If we were born once in this difficult and miserable world and didn’t know the Master, who had created us, our lives wouldn’t be worth living but would be useless.”
The Church in Korea was now suffering many persecutions. Remember, friends, he continued, that Christ had suffered and died for His Church. “How agonizing it is for us to suffer as one body and how humanly sad it is for us to part! However, as the Holy Bible says that Our Lord even takes care of the hair on our heads, aren’t these persecutions according to His providence?”
He added: “To be victorious in this difficult time, we must be steadfast using all of our strength and capabilities like brave soldiers fully armed in the battlefield. . . . We will soon go out to the battlefield. Be steadfast, and let us meet in Heaven.”
Just before he died, he explained to his executioners what he had done. “This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”
When he finished speaking, he was stripped, arrows driven through both ears, and water and lime thrown into his face to burn him. After more tortures, the executioners tied his hair to a rope and used it to hold up his head to make cutting off his head easier.
He asked them if he was placed right and if they could hit him easily. They arranged him as they wanted him. “Strike, I am ready,” he said. Eight blows were needed to cut off his head. He was only twenty-five.
Most of this story is taken from a profile on the Korean bishops’ website and from an account written by the French missionary bishop St. Kim Tae-gon Andrew served. For more stories of the saints’ deaths, see here.
The picture is of the statue of the martyr at the Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception (Myeongdong Cathedral) in Seoul. It is used under a Creative Commons license.