Father William Joseph Cohill
Born 1887 Died 1925
(provided by Bill Cohill Petaluma, CA)

He was the first American priest ordained in China. Ordained at Kaifeng.
Father William Joseph Cohill confronted Chinese rebels burning churches and killing all the missionaries 
in the country.  He said in perfect Chinese, "My skin my be white, but my heart is yellow."  

He and his fellow missionaries lives were spared, as well as their mission.  

After that all the missionaries teased him that he was, "yellow".  My Dad was named after him.


He was the first Marylander to go overseas to be a missionary. 


He went to China in August 1922 he died in December 1925.


He was a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun and wrote before and after becoming a priest. 
He also wrote to the NCWC National Catholic Welfare Conference.


He told prisoners; “Obedience is following will of God”. He delivers addresses, “on needed (sic) for ‘Higher Power.’” Prisoners wrote heart felt letter of appreciation to him.


Duties the Father preformed:


He investigated Chinese prisons.


The troop size was 50,000.  “While on the march the soldiers on the march would sing hymns instead of ditties.  General Feng prohibits smoking by soldiers”.  Father Cohill said, "The soldiers are workers.  They build schools, roads and hospitals.  The wearing of silk is prohibited.”

 “Christian General as most moral and constructive fighting force in Far East” said Father Cohill.


Roaming the countryside were 12-15,000 bandits (rebels)


During the uprising a priest reassured his father, E. P. Cohill that his son was safe.  Father Cohill, “is on best of terms with some of the oldest Chinese families. William Joseph Cohill had a classical education at Georgetown and St. Mary’s Seminary.


General Feng was Governor of province of Honan. (I think this is old spelling for Honen)  Father Cohill also was an instructor in International law to officers in General Feng’s army.


Father Cohill says, “Americans are popular in China, because of the return of the Boxer indemnity and America’s unselfishness during the war.  English now is the language…in all public institutions."

Enroute to United States was a guest in Japan.


He heroically attended to wounded soldiers that some have become deathly ill with contagious diseases.  As a result he caught and died from typhus fever. At his funeral 10,000 Chinese paid their respect.


One story of gambling: Chinese soldiers betting who was going to die.  If the soldiers were converted to Catholicism they would usually be the mortally wounded.  So by seeing whom Father Cohill spent time with, some betters would bet that those soldiers would be the first to die. 
The Father also converted the living as well!


Sisters of Providence were where he taught and were ordained. (?)  Pei Wen Catholic Academy was name of the school(?)


Father Cohill was on board the ship Pigeon where he conducted mass and attended to sick soldiers.



A bird of stout body; short legs; and smooth compact plumage.

(AM–47: dp. 950 (n.); l. 187’10”; b. 35’6”; dr. 9’9”; s. 14 k.; cpl. 72; cl. Lapwing)

The first Pigeon was laid down by the Baltimore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co., Baltimore, Md.; launched 29 January 1919; sponsored by Mrs. Joseph B. Provance; and commissioned in the Norfolk Navy Yard 15 July 1919, Lt. William C. Procknow in command. When hull classification symbols and numbers were assigned to ships 17 July 1920, Pigeon was designated AM–47.

Pigeon departed Norfolk to serve the Pacific Mine Force at San Diego, Calif.; transited the Panama Canal 7 December 1919; and reached San Diego Christmas Eve. Pearl Harbor became her new base of operations 18 June 1920 and she decommissioned there 25 April 1922. Converted to a gunboat, she recommissioned at Pearl Harbor 13 October 1923, Lt. Comdr. Elwin F. Cutts in command.

Still classified a minesweeper, Pigeon departed Pearl Harbor 7 November 1923 and joined the Yangtze River Patrol Force at Shanghai, China, 26 November 1923. For half a decade she served in the famous patrol protecting American citizens and commerce during the revolution that swept China. She began serving Submarine Division 16, U.S. Asiatic Fleet in September 1928. After ranging from the Philippines to the China coast, she fitted out as a “Submarine Salvage Vessel” at the Cavite Naval Station April–July 1929. She sailed from Manila Bay 13 July to cruise with Asiatic Fleet Submarines along the China Coast until returning to Manila 11 September. The following day she was reclassified a Submarine Rescue Vessel (ASR–6).



from the Providence sisters I could only get a
general sense of the piety and friendliness of Father Cohill and that he was
ordained by Bishop Tacconi in Kaifeng.  Dr. Maria Jaschok Oxford University


Much of the information is from seven articles by and about Father Cohill in Baltimore Sun.

By William Gerard Cohill

Father Cohill’s was the brother of William Gerard Cohill’s grandfather.


Sent by Bill Cohill

Back to the William Joseph Cohill Home Page

Back to Cohill History Page