Your Columban story - New Zealand


As part of the Centenary, we are asking you to send your Columban Story. The story of how you became connected or got to know the Columbans or how a Columban priest or one of our publications influenced and inspired you or your family.

Below are a few of those stories you have sent us.



"Sheila Cassidy, an attractive doctor working in Chile and seized and tortured by the military dictatorship in the 1970s for treating an opponent of the regime, became a magnetic Catholic heroine for me while studying for the priesthood in NZ. I had forgotten, though, just how close Sheila has been to Columban priests there until reading a recent (June 2017) The Far East article. Her small house had by coincidence been on the same street in Santiago as the Columban Fathers headquarters. She became friends with Fr Jan who took her out to a shanty town and into an astonishing lifestyle of radical Christianity with the very poor of Chile, which Sheila in time embraced. Sheila was seized by gunmen of the (Pinochet led) regime in Fr Jan’s headquarters house after treating a bullet wound of a man on the run from the secret police, and underwent terrible suffering before eventual deportation back to England."


"My mother Patricia Douglas always got the Far East magazine. Her brother Vernon Douglas (Father Francis Vernon Douglas) was killed in the Philippines during WW2. I have continued to support the work of the Columban Fathers and look forward to getting my copy of their magazine every month.

I never knew my uncle because he died before I was born but I often think of him and ask him to look after my two sons. He is a very special person in our family and has a special place in our hearts.

I pray that one day we will find out where he died. We only know he was taken away in a truck by the Japanese after he was brutally tortured. He is a martyr for his faith. Maybe one day he will be recognized as a saint in New Zealand"


"The Far East was eagerly read in our home. It helped nurture my desire to be a missionary. The missionary stories were exciting, the pictures vivid and attractive. I loved Mickie Daly’s Diary! I also loved the picture of Jesus and his apostles in the wheat field on the back of the Calendar with words like, “The harvest is great and the labourers few.” My youngest sisters, Frances, worked with the Columbans in Fiji and I was missioned to Samoa for many years. We are both Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary. I was 60 years professed, December 8. Thank you for your witness. Keep on visiting the schools. I remember Fr Rillstone’s visit when I was in school. We were also in awe of Fr Vernon Francis Douglas life story. When studying in the Philippines I visited the church where he was tortured. My sister also shared on her contact with and admiration of the priests she worked with in Fiji."

Sincerely in Christ and Mary,


"In the early 1940s I attended a small Catholic boarding school north of Wellington, New Zealand. We did our homework under the eagle eye of one of the sisters. If she thought we had worked well she would produce “The Far East” from which she would read us extracts of the work of the Columban Missions.

It was through this that we learnt of the New Zealand missionary Fr Frances Vernon Douglas who had lost his life at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Also each month was the adventures of a lad. I think his name was Mickey? His spelling and grammar were out of this world.

By the 1970s I had two young sons. There were times when they jibbed on the food I served to them. I tried them with telling them there were starving children in other lands who would appreciate the food they spurned. Then one night a program on TV featured Columban Missionary in Chile and the difficult life the children in Chile were experiencing, it hit home. How could they help them? Pocket money for a time went into a jam jar – it was called “The Chile Jar.” It soon filled up so I asked a priest friend what to do with it. He had a friend from Chile who would take care of it. This turned out to be Fr Sean O’Connor on leave from Chile. For many years after a “Chile Jar” found its way to the Columbans to be sent to Chile."

When the time came for my lads to go to secondary school once more there was a Columban influence. It was Frances Douglas Memorial College in New Plymouth, named after the Columban who lost his life at the hands of Japan during World War II."


My first contact with the Columbans was via Mickey Daly’s Diary while at primary school. Fast forward many years later and every copy of the Far East is essential reading, I find the stories about Columbans missionary experiences in far off lands most interesting and inspiring. The Columban Calendar is a must have for each new year. May all Columbans enjoy a wonderful celebration of your centenary year.


I thought a lot about writing these few lines but I knew my dad would be pleased. I seem to have known St Columbans all my life. I know it is too long but at 86 years I leave it to you to condense – and it is only now I have realised I have to send it to Australia.

My Pat is now in heaven – by the way our family and special photos taken of Fr Francis Douglas during his time in New Plymouth and we sent them to the Francis Douglas college when it was built in New Plymouth.

My Columban Story

My dad Tom O’Connell was an active member of St Joseph’s parish in New Plymouth when Fr Francis Douglas spent his first year after ordination as assistant priest. They became good friends. Dad was sad but very supportive when Fr Francis decided to become a St Columban missionary. A few years later our family moved to Palmerston North. As a young teenager I vividly remember my dad coming home really upset. Fr Bernie Keegan the army chaplain had called to see dad and showed him a letter he had received describing the torture and persecution of Fr Francis Douglas. This letter was published in Palmerston North. I have always prayed to Fr Francis years on I met and married a lovely Pat O’Connor whose family lived around the road from St Columbans in Lower Hutt and still are.

We moved to Auckland and our St Columban’s magazine followed – still on my coffee table.


Around 60 years ago, at St Joseph’s School, Temuka, sister asked us to bring money for the missions, for a black baby. She wanted us to bring a half-crown within a certain time. Our names were written on the blackboard with the amount given. I kept asking mum for money and finally I gave the last sixpence. I came home from school, delighted, and told mum we were going to get a baby and it was going to be black. I can still remember the disappointment when she told me I wouldn’t be bring a baby home.


I was born and grew up in Greymouth, New Zealand. My parents always had the Columban calendar in their house. As a young boy I was an altar server. One Sunday night 8-10 servers were lined up in pairs in the sacristy waiting for the priest to ready himself for Benediction. I was in the front row fooling with the server beside me. Next thing I was clipped over the ear by a senior boy in the rear line, Jim Rathbun. Beside him was Dennis Hanrahan. Years later Jim was a Columban Missionary priest and Dennis became a Diocesan priest and ultimately Bishop of the Canterbury Diocese. Both now deceased. RIP. About the same time I was selling race books outside the Greymouth racetrack. A patron gave me two entrance tickets valued at 2/6d each. I sold them to a racegoer who was only too happy not to have to line up at the turnstiles with his wife. When I got home and told mum where I had got the extra 5/- she made me take the money the following Monday to the secretary of the Jockey Club. He explained to me the money was not actually the property of the Jockey Club, but to reinforce the message my mum was making to me, he suggested we put the money in the Columban Mission box on his desk. Never forgotten…….. Jim’s priesthood was my inspiration to become a regular benefactor. I now keep the Columban Calendar in my home.


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