Blowick, John (1889–1972), missionary priest and theologian, was born 26 October 1888 in Belcarra, Co. Mayo, eldest son of John Blowick, farmer, and Honoria Blowick (née Madden). He had one sister and two younger brothers. John was educated at Westport CBS and at St Jarlath's College, Tuam, Co. Galway, and subsequently trained as a priest in St Patrick's College, Maynooth. He excelled in theology, took a first-class honours BA degree and was ordained in 1913. Following a year of postgraduate studies, he became professor of theology at Maynooth in June 1914 after a competitive concursus, the last Maynooth professor selected in that way.
In 1916 Blowick resigned this secure post for a missionary life. He had closely watched the growth of Christian evangelisation of pagan societies, especially in Asia. Influenced by the presence at Maynooth in 1911 of a Canadian missionary priest, the Rev. John Fraser, he recalled exciting descriptions of China and how Confucianism, practised by the disintegrated Manchu dynasty, was giving way to other faiths, including Christianity. Maynooth so encouraged missionary zeal in staff and students that in 1916 the eager Blowick was approached by the Rev. Edward Galvin (qv), who had also met Fraser when a missionary in Brooklyn, New York. After working in China 1912–16 Galvin coopted Blowick as joint founder of the Maynooth Mission to China, with the approval of the Irish hierarchy. The mission urged Irish secular priests and the public to support the project as a beacon of Irish religious enterprise in the darkest days of world war. In October 1916 it formed St Columban's Foreign Mission Society (the Columban Fathers from 1921) as its dedicated clergy. Blowick himself raised funds and recruited personnel. He became its superior-general (until 1924) and gained church authority to open a seminary, St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, Shrule, Co. Galway, in January 1918. In June 1918 it received its first members. The seminary remained at Shrule until its relocation (1941) to Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath. A magazine, The Far East, was published from 1918. In that year an informal cooperative relationship to promote the Chinese missions was formed between Blowick and the Rev. Henry Browne (qv), SJ, spiritual director of St Joseph's Young Priests Society.
Since October 1917 Blowick had sought to establish a female Irish medical mission via a public meeting at Dublin's Mansion House, where he was aided by Frances Lady Moloney, widow of the former governor of the Windward Islands. Her influence attracted the dynamic, progressive women Blowick needed, qualified or willing to undertake medical and teaching studies for voluntary service abroad. His uncertainty whether they would be a lay or religious mission reflected existing church law prohibiting medical practice by religious. Handicapped by Rome's doctrinaire position, Blowick was nevertheless permitted to found an order of ostensibly educational Missionary Sisters of St Columban in 1922, based at Magheramore, Co Wicklow. Further houses were established in Dublin, the US, and Asia. These Columban Sisters served his Maynooth Mission to China and supplemented teaching with auxiliary medical work, following vague precedents set in Africa to overcome theological prohibition. In 1936 the Medical Missionaries of Mary were formed when church law became relaxed. Meanwhile, Blowick's priestly mission showed progress within a few years of foundation: in 1918 he had an American house in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1920 an Australian house in Melbourne, and by 1929 a Philippine house in Manila. In China his first base was at Hanyang (1920), where Galvin became both vicar apostolic (1927) and bishop (1946).
In 1924, when the Maynooth Mission became a pontifical society, Blowick returned to Ireland as director until 1947, supported by Lady Moloney. He founded the Columban Brothers soon after his return, thus broadening the mission's catchment of members. His liberal regime was appreciated by students and contrasted with authoritarian surveillance of seminarians elsewhere. Apart from his academic work, Blowick had written the constitutions of the Columbans and in 1932 published Priestly vocation. He also edited the journal of the Missionary Union of the Clergy, which he had established in Ireland in 1922 on papal authority. He supervised seminary building projects in Navan which continued until 1941, while personnel and properties increased abroad. In China's Jiangxi province the Columbans competed from 1928 with the locally based communist party, and formed a diocese in Nanzhong (1939) under Dr Patrick Cleary (d. 1970).
In Ireland, Blowick's brothers Stephen and Joseph Blowick (qv) achieved renown in their chosen fields of religion and politics, Stephen as PP of Islandeady in Co. Mayo and Joseph as founder and leader of Clann na Talmhan, a small farmers’ party, in which he served as a minister in the inter-party governments of 1948–51 and 1954–7.
John Blowick retired as director of the Maynooth Mission in 1947, just as the Chinese communists were on the verge of taking power. He taught theology in Navan for some years. When the Maynooth Mission was finally expelled from China in 1954, his original purpose was dashed, but Columban houses in Asia thrived outside communist China, notably in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, and in parts of South America. John Blowick died 19 June 1972 at Dalgan Park, Navan, and was interred in the seminary grounds.