FATHER BUNKEI TOTSUKA
Father Bunkei Totsuka: A Pioneer for Christian Medical Social Work in Japan
Fr. Bunkei Totsuka was one of the most influential people for our founder Fuku Okamura and later to our congregation through her.
Bunkei was born in Yokosuka, Kanagawa in 1892 as the first child to Kankai Totsuka a Surgeon General of the Imperial Navy and Hana, whose grandfather was a friend of Bunkai, Bunkei’s grandfather. Ten years later his father was stationed in Sasebo, where Bunkei stayed until he finished his primary education. Then he moved back to Tokyo to enter a boarding school called Ecole de l’Etoile du Matin established by Marist missionaries. He soon learned French and did quite well in school. In fact he was the top student in the fourth year.
Yet, he had no interest in Christian faith. On snowy days he would make snow balls and hit the figure of St. Joseph on the campus with them. That was the only disappointment which his teachers had with him.
By then his parents were also back in Tokyo and lived in Shinagawa. Bunkei hadn’t seen his father for a while. When he went home to spend a winter break with the family and he saw his father rapidly aging (Kankai married late), he was filled with sadness and anxiety. Even after he returned to the boarding school, he contemplated on life and death. One morning he disclosed his anxiety about death to one of his teachers. Thinking Bunkei had finally come to gain a religious perspective, the teacher told him, “Faith is grace. Study catechism and pray hard.”
Soon afterwards Bunkei came to learn catechism from Fr. Fumerclaude in French to prepare for baptism. But he wasn’t baptized until he went to the First High School, the most competitive state high school in Tokyo, because his father would not allow Bunkei to become a Christian.
While in high school Bunkei consulted about his baptism with Fr. Turpin (of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris) at Azabu Church. The Father said, “Your father is that of flesh. I am your father by spirit, therefore I will baptize you.” With these words, Bunkei decided to be baptized. He asked Soichi Iwashita, a friend who was four years his senior in school, to be his godfather and he was baptized by Fr. Turpin in 1909. He was given the name St. Vincent de Paul.
Upon graduating from the First High School, he was permitted to enter the Medical School of the Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) in 1912, and graduated from the medical school with honors in 1916. He worked in the university hospital while teaching in a medical school in Tokyo until he was appointed to a professorship in Hokkaido Imperial University in 1921.
Naturally his parents were disappointed to hear of Bunkei’s decision. They expected their son to become a leading medical doctor and teach in a prestigious medical school as the previous generations of the family had always done.
Bunkei changed his course and studied Latin and philosophy from Fr. Corato in London to prepare for ordination. At the same time he was also designing a community of service called the "Le Bon Samaritan" with a group of friends. The mission of this community was evangelism by incorporating medicine and social work. That community came to fruit in Japan.
While he was studying theology in Paris he met Prince Vladimir Ghika. Soon they became good friends. Ghika at the time was partly involved in the conception and preparation of the Bon Samaritan. In 1924, Bunkei was ordained a priest at Grand Seminaire Saint-Surplice in the vicinity of Paris, one year after Prince Ghika was ordained.
In addition to his clinical and pastoral work, he translated as well as authored numerous articles and books on the stories of Catholic saints. He also served as the chief editor of the Catholic Newspaper, professor at the Catholic Seminary in the Archdiocese of Tokyo, and the director of the International Catholic Hospital of St. Mary.
In 1932 he moved his clinic to Nishi-koyama to expand his work. Two years later, a church was built next to the clinic. Now his clinic and the church had really became a House of God.
All the projects Bunkei launched were going well even though suffering from an occasional deficit. He then passionately embarked on establishing the hospital of his dream. He was busy with searching for the location, raising funds, planning and organizing for the new hospital in addition to his usual work where he was already overloaded. Finally the continuous overwork caught up with him. He had a series of heart attacks. The construction of the hospital had begun, but he never saw it finished. On 17 August 1939 aged 47, Fr. and Dr. Bunkei Totsuka completed his life devoted to the sick and poor. Sakuramachi Hospital was completed only two months after his death. Though Fr. Totsuka could not see the hospital of his dream accomplished, his vision and work was succeeded by Mother Fuku Okamura and her congregation. After tuberculosis was brought under control in Japan, Sakuramachi Hospital, the great legacy of Bunkei Totsuka, grew into a community hospital and has actively served its neighborhood to this day.
「わたしに仕えようとする者は、わたしに従え。そうすれば、わたしのいるところに、わたしに仕える者もいることになる。わたしに仕える者がいれば、父はその人を大切にしてくださる。」 ヨハネ１２:２６Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26