The Servant of God was the second Korean priest, after the canonized martyr St. Andrew Kim, who was his companion in the seminary. Thomas belonged to a rich and noble family and the first of six children. The parents were also killed for their Christian faith: their father was already proclaimed a saint in 1968, along with many other Korean martyrs, and their mother's beatification process for martyrdom is progressing. Thomas witnessed the example of both his parents who, because of the persecution that arose in the villages under the Joseon Dynasty—which considered adherence to the Catholic faith a crime—, were forced to move and hide, risking their lives.
After his formation in the seminary of Macao, Thomas was ordained a priest in Shanghai, in 1849. He exercised his ministry for a short time in China; then he returned home to Korea, where with heroic zeal, between looming threats and dangers of death, he walked thousands of kilometers for twelve years, visiting villages, supporting the persecuted Christians, and evangelizing the Gentiles. Very appropriately, he has been called "The martyr of sweat." In just six months, starting at the beginning of 1850, he covered more than two thousand kilometers, visiting 3815 Catholics, and then settled in the village of Baithi, which became the center from which his ministry radiated, and where he remained for 12 years, continuing to visiting the 127 Christian villages scattered in five provinces. During one of these visits, he was arrested, beaten by the police, and left naked, in the middle of the night, in the snow.
He dedicated his life and his high culture to humble service; he composed catechetical hymns with traditional melodies, translated a catechism and a prayer book from Chinese into Korean, and reaped abundant fruits of conversion.
In midst of the efforts, hardships and dangers, he became more courageous; he enthusiastically embraced the cross, animated by an intense devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He died early, at age 40, of typhus, and his Bishop Msgr. Berneux, a French missionary, pointed to him as a holy priest. He was also called the "Saint Paul of Korea." He personally said of himself that he was simply the least of Christ's servants, a son and useless priest of Korea.
A few days ago, the Holy Father authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree on the heroic virtues of Servant of God Thomas Choe Yang-Eop, diocesan priest.