A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr George Duggan sm

by Fr Brian O’Connell sm 

Fr George Duggan sm

Fr George Duggan sm  +16 Dec 2012

In the July 2012 Marist Messenger there was a tribute to Fr George Duggan who had just reached his 100 years. The senior Marist was well enough to enjoy his birthday but not to survive the year. He died just before Christmas.

The sheer numbers associated with his life speak volumes - 100 years old, 76 years a priest, 81 years a professed religious. Great achievement and long fidelity. He bore the weight of years and increasing frailty with stoic gentleness.

At his Vigil prayers Fr George’s wish for “just the rosary, no eulogies” was honoured, although the celebrant did invite anyone who wanted to speak, but no one was game to walk past the open coffin to the lectern. One short tribute  from the floor was shared on behalf of Fr. Brian Quin sm whose care of Fr George in his failing years was inspiring: “In a time when relativism dominated public discussion, George Duggan, like St Paul, firmly believed that absolute truth existed and could be discovered.'”

George Duggan was gifted with a superior intellect which shone through from his early schooling. He was best known in his priestly life for using his gifts of mind and word to defend the Church from attacks from outside and within.

More than that, he got involved in the ‘public square’. Through thousands of letters to the editor he made strongly reasoned cases for a whole range of issues of politics, public policy and morality. He did not claim expertise in many fields but waded in where many feared to tread.GHD Scholar

As I listened to the tributes to Fr George stressing his wise pastoral care of his students and directees, and his fierce defence of the magisterium, I felt there was a disconnect between these two aspects of this remarkable scholar priest. I still find it hard to accept that this wise compassionate priest could write such fierce things about other members of the Church. Perhaps it is part of the mystery of genius.

From the Eulogy by
Fr Mervyn Duffy sm

Fr Duggan always kept in touch with what was happening in the Church in New Zealand and throughout the world. He read voraciously, and was able to recall virtually everything he read. Many people read, only a few actually step up into the public domain and engage in the debates there. G.H. Duggan SM contributed through lectures, books, pamphlets, articles and letters. His letters to the editor became famous in New Zealand. The Listener and The Dominion were his main outlets, but you will find his words in English-language magazines throughout the world. He was always a staunch defender of the Church and of truth. He condemned error in devastating style.

Those who knew only the public persona were often surprised by the shy, gentle man behind it. His private style was quite different from the polemic in the media.

He acted as a spiritual director for many people over the years, maintaining the relationship through letters. These correspondences, some of more than forty-years duration, have been treasured by the recipients. They describe him as “non-judgemental, charitable and conciliating in all circumstances.”

Fr Duggan with his papal medal

Fr Duggan with his papal medal

George Duggan taught seminarians, formed priests and university students, educated the public, put the Church’s case in the public sphere, was a great confessor and spiritual director, philosopher and theologian, priest and religious.

I’ll give him the last word – he wrote this in 1950:

God is Truth Itself, the Sovereign and First Truth: He is the unchanging Reality, Who ever was and ever will be. [...] God abides and is the never-failing source of heavenly joy to them that trust in Him.   (Marist Messenger, 1 August 1950, 20)


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