Papers of Missionary Harold Rigney, SVD, Society of the Divine Word – Chicago Province Archives

Our #HiddenCatholicCollection for the week highlights the papers of Society for the Divine Word missionary Harold Rigney, SVD (1900-1980) teacher of paleontology in Ghana, author of book recounting his imprisonment and torture in communist China, and beloved administrator. The 7.75 linear feet of his collection include correspondence, writings, photographs, photograph albums, paleontological research notes, and artifacts. Explore his finding aid here.

Fr. Rigney began his career as a missionary priest studying paleontology. He taught geology at the Society’s mission in Ghana and then served as a military chaplain. In 1946 he was fatefully transferred to China to serve as rector at Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing. On July 25, 1951 he was arrested by the newly communist Chinese government on charges of espionage. During his imprisonment Rigney was repeatedly subjected to mental and physical torture that would affect him for the rest of his life. He played chess Sundays in prison. After years of concerted effort by his family, the global SVD community, and the U.S. government, Rigney was released on September 11, 1955. His experiences became the subject of Four Years in a Red Hell (1956).

Following a nationwide media tour to promote his book and share his experiences in communist China, Rigney served in a variety of administrative leadership positions. Upon his death in 1980, he was considered by fellow Society members as one of its greatest missionaries.


Kristen Gravelin
Archives Assistant
Society of the Divine Word – Chicago Province
1985 Waukegan Rd., P.O. Box 6038
Techny, IL 60082-6038

E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: (847) 412-1677

Facebook: Divine.Word.Missionaries.Chicago.Province/
Twitter: @svdchicago

Father Rigney in uniform while serving as chaplain at a US Army air base in Khartoum, Sudan; 1943.
A page from one of Rigney’s photograph albums showing the college in Ghana where he taught from 1939 to 1943.
An image of the original edition of Rigney’s account of his time imprisoned in Communist China entitled, 4 Years in a Red Hell: The Story of Father Rigney.
Father Rigney one month after his release from prison in communist China.