Lamp to continue to share Greene’s light


JASPER — What will happen to the freedom lamp?

Christine Golden has been asked that question many times in recent years. Located in front of the Jasper Public Library, the monument has stood as a symbol for survival and perseverance for nearly seven decades.

But does it have a future when the library merges into the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center?

“I think there’s still that fear out there that when we move, the statue, the memorial, [the] freedom lamp is going to be forgotten,” said Golden, who is the director of the Jasper-Dubois County Public Library. “And I have worked in conjunction with the parks department. We’ve made sure that is absolutely not going to happen.”

Golden explained that a timetable for the lamp’s move doesn’t exist because a decision regarding what the library grounds will be used for in the future has not been reached. When the library leaves the building and moves into the new cultural center, the property located at 1116 Main St. will revert back to the Jasper Park & Recreation department.

The building itself is currently located inside a Jasper city park named Library Park.

“For the current time period, there are no specific plans,” Golden explained of the site, “so there’s not an immediate rush to move the monument.”

The roughly 9-foot-tall statue honors Jasper native Father Robert Greene, who was nearly executed while doing missionary work but miraculously survived and returned to his homeland. The lamp’s future home may not be at the cultural center, Golden said, adding that “there may be a much more appropriate spot for it.”

“And I think that’s just one of those things that I think everyone just has to know,” Golden continued. “That although that final destination has not been determined ... it is a decision that no one will take lightly. And we will find the most appropriate destination for the monument.”

According to a Dubois County Museum press release from August 2012, Fr. Greene was born in Jasper in 1911. His family lived on West Fifth Street, and he was the first son of the parish to be ordained a Maryknoll missionary priest.

The press release details how he was assigned to Kweilin, Kwangsi, in South China in July 1937, and how Fr. Greene was to form parishes, build dispensaries, promote health programs to stop the spread of disease and to be a chaplain for the U.S. Army Air Corps personnel stationed in the area.

He survived Japanese bombings in the area during World War II, and in 1947, he was named pastor of the Tungan mission. Fr. Greene reestablished mission stations and built schools and orphanages for refugees.

Chinese Communists took over the city and mission in 1950, though, and Fr. Greene was tortured and mistreated. He was to be beheaded on Easter Sunday in 1952 — but he was released at the last moment without explanation and deported to Hong Kong.

During all this, Fr. Greene kept his sanity by focusing on the blessed sacrament, which he had hidden in the rectory. Upon his release, he was able to consume that blessed sacrament before being paraded through three towns in a cage prior to crossing into free Hong Kong. He was told to never return to China.

He returned to New York to recover. Photos show him thin and weak. Fr. Greene was welcomed back to Jasper in July that year: A motorcade met his train at Washington and escorted him to Jasper.

Father Greene Day was proclaimed July 27, 1952, and a solemn high Mass was held at St. Joseph Church, followed by a testimonial dinner at Holy Family School.

The Jasper Jaycees erected the freedom lamp in August of that year in front of the Jasper Public Library. Fr. Greene dedicated the lamp after lighting its flame. He died in Sept. 2003 at the age of 92.

Golden believes that members of the younger generation may pass by the statue on the way into the library and not realize that it honors Fr. Greene’s memory. For those who do know, though, they understand the power of his story and sacrifices.

“I think people want to see that history preserved,” Golden said. “And of course, working in the library, that’s a huge part of what we do — is make sure that history is preserved. We don’t want that to be forgotten.”

Golden later explained that the library plans to begin operating in its new space in the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center later this year.

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