A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Father Francis Vernon Douglas

Patricia Brooks

It is good news that the Vatican’s Congregation For the Causes of Saints is wishing to investigate the cause for beatification of Francis Vernon Douglas, a New Zealand Columban priest who was murdered by the Japanese Military during World War II.

Many New Zealanders have long thought that his heroic death was a martyrdom that should be recognised officially by the Church.

The Columban Mission Society lost many priests during the war, as did other missionary orders, but Father Douglas’ death is remarkable in that his arrest and interrogation were recorded and verified by others present. The Japanese Military believed they had caught a spy and were determined to extract what information Fr Douglas had about the American soldiers in the area.

Father Douglas refused to divulge whatever information he may have had and his replies indicated he was protecting the seal of the confessional.

Official information gathered in 1945 was verified by witnesses in 1995, who were present in the church with Fr Douglas during the interrogation in 1943.

Filipino witnesses living in America remembered clearly the horrific torture to which Father Douglas was subjected, even though they did not know his name. They knew he was a missionary priest, and thought he was an Australian. Father Douglas was an inspiration to them as they suffered during the three day reign of terror.

They never knew what had happened to their unknown hero; they assumed he died from the injuries he received until they read an article in a NZ Catholic paper about Fr Douglas that was reprinted in a Filipino paper and sent to a nun working in Rome. Sister Margherita (Daughter of St Paul Order), who remembered the ordeal in her parish church in 1943 but did not know the priest’s identity, sent a copy of the article to former parishioners living in San Francisco. Among them was retired Colonel Frank Quesada, who was present at Fr Douglas’ torture, and his account was identical to the information recorded in 1945.

Father Douglas was vividly remembered by all who witnessed his last days. His death had a powerful effect on all who knew him.

In the Philippines, an annual pilgrimage to remember Father Douglas is held on the feast day of St James, 25 July, the presumed date of Fr Douglas’ death. The pilgrimage visits St Mary Magdalene Pililla, 59 kilometres from Manila, and then continues around the Laguna De Bay to the parish of St James at Paete, where Father Douglas was tortured in 1943.

The Mt Maunganui RSA honoured Fr Douglas as a civilian war hero by installing a memorial seat in his name at the beginning of Marine Parade, near the base of the Mount. The seat is placed where the photograph of Fr Douglas that is on the cover of his biography, With NO Regrets: the Story of Francis Vernon Douglas, was taken in 1937. At the instigation of the late Richard Beveridge, the Mt Maunganui RSA also sponsored a reprint of the biography, copies of which can be obtained from:

Patricia Brooks
86, 6th Avenue, Tauranga 3110.
Ph (07) 571 1980
Price $20 includes postage

Tagged as: , ,

Comments are closed.