File 444 - Letters from Fr John Meagher SJ to Irish Fr Provincial (John R. MacMahon SJ and Thomas Byrne)

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Letters from Fr John Meagher SJ to Irish Fr Provincial (John R. MacMahon SJ and Thomas Byrne)


  • 21 February 1942 - 5 August 1947 (Creation)

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32 items

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(05 May 1895-29 November 1972)

Biographical history

Born: 05 May 1895, Temora, NSW, Australia
Entered: 21 May 1915, Loyola Greenwich, Australia (HIB)
Ordained: 31 July 1927
Final vows: 15 August 1932
Died: 29 November 1972, St John of God, Richmond - Australiae Province (ASL)

Part of the St Ignatius, Melbourne, Australia community at the time of death

Transcribed HIB to ASL : 05 April 1931

Vice-Provincial Australian Vice Province 25 August 1939 to 16 December 1947

by 1919 in Australia - Regency
by 1924 at St Aloysius Jersey Channel Islands (FRA) studying
by 1930 at St Beuno’s Wales (ANG) making Tertianship

◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
John Meagher, always known as Johnny, was educated at St Stanislaus College Bathurst NSW, and then at Xavier College Melbourne. he went on a world trip to consider his vocation before entering the Society at Loyola, Greenwich, 21 May 1915. After Noviciate and Juniorate, also at Loyola, He taught at St Ignatius College, Riverview, Sydney, 1918-1922.
After further ecclesiastical studies in Ireland, Jersey and Belgium (Louvain), he returned to Australia in 1931, and was appointed to the diocesan seminary at Werribee to teach Theology./ During 1932-1924, he taught the Novices and Juniors before they moved to Melbourne.
In 1935 he became Rector of Riverview. here he showed his gifts of leadership. The school at that time was suffering from the effects of the Depression. Numbers had dropped, and with numbers, standards and morale. In a couple of years he transformed it. Enrolments rose dramatically. More important was the effect on the community and staff, the boys and Old Boys, of his dynamism and devotion to the school. He was an excellent teacher of Latin and Greek, clear methodical and extremely vigorous - his voice raised in emphatic explanation or in half-serious abuse of a class or a boy, could be heard on the third division Oval.
His friendly relationship with the boys and parents was legendary. He showed interest in them all and knew them well enough to engage in the sort of leg-pulling they understood and enjoyed. He attended games, debates and Old Boys functions, and those who knew him during these years remarked on the directness and sincerity of his attitude towards them.
His success as Rector led to his being appointed Vice-Provincial, 25 August 1939 to 16 December 1947 - an office far less congenial to him, taking him away from the classroom and Riverview. He was Provincial all through the war, a time when it was impossible to do more than keep things going under increasing difficulty. He was not as methodical in administration as he was in teaching, and this sometimes caused him difficulties as Rector and provincial. But his “decency” and honesty made him a very easy Superior to deal with.
He was a compulsive worker. Reading made no appeal to him, and while he was very interested in games and enjoyed listening to a broadcast of a Test Match, he was unwilling to spend much time at this sort of recreation. As he grew older, his poor health - a spinal weakness troubled him all is adult life - made it more difficult for him to play any game. He was happy if he could teach nearly every class period, deal with administration outside class and talk with boys around the school, and then do some coaching of individual boys during their study time. The holidays he liked to spend giving retreats - to priests, brothers, nuns and young people.
He returned as Rector of Riverview before his appointment in 1949 as Instructor of tertians. His final position of authority was as Rector of the Diocesan Minor Seminary in Christchurch New Zealand. he later taught Theology at Glen Waverley, Pymble and Christchurch, before a final stay at Riverview before he died.
He was considered a model Jesuit for many Australian scholastics because of his reputed holiness and zeal as a worker. He had tireless energy, and often failed to realise that others could not imitate his workload. He was a very good teacher, but he had a rather pragmatic attitude towards learning, looking on it as a means of getting on in life rather than something to be pursued for its own sake.
On the lighter side, he was a non-smoker, but carried a packet of cigarettes for his friends. When in Melbourne, he enjoyed attending the annual Public Schools athletic sports, and following the fortunes of Xavier College. However, he claimed cricket as his main interest, and he was a slow googly bowler of varied length in his day. He would travel by bicycle great distances such as to Watsonia or Werribee, and was a devotee of Ellery Queen to cure insomnia.
He was an enigma. He could understand others in a rough manner, but without empathy. He was very hard on himself, expressing the spirituality of Fr Ginhac, who was very keen on personal penances. His constant movement reflected an inability to face himself or others in depth, probably indicating an unhappy man, uncomfortable with himself. he was blunt, sometimes giving the appearance of rudeness, which was a cover for shyness. There were not many nuances in his life - everything was black and white. He was not known outside the Society except by the Melbourne diocesan clergy, who were amazed at his sense of poverty, shown in his riding a bike as his main means of transport. he loved St Ignatius College Riverview, sometimes facetiously names “Meagher’s Grammar School” by some.
As Vice-Provincial he clashed with the Rector of Riverview, Noel Hehir, over his expulsion of members of the Meagher clan. Meagher overruled Hehir, an action Hehir never forgot. When the latter was dying he did not want to see Meagher. As tertian Instructor, he indicated that he was afraid of the job, believing himself incapable of performing well in that office. Overall he was a very private man, a company man.
As his physical strength began to decline, he could not keep pace with life. His memory became erratic. He was out of sympathy with modern movements in the Church and the Society, and could not appreciate the change he found in the school he had always loved. It was sad to meet him in those last years at Riverview and to not his bewilderment at not being given work that he wanted to do and believed he could do. Mercifully his mental deterioration was rapid and he ceased to worry, except occasionally. The Brothers of St John of God cared for him during the last two years of his life. For all he did in his life as a Jesuit, he was gratefully admired as one of the most generous men that the Province has ever been given.

◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 17th Year No 3 1942
Australia :

Writing on 21st February last, Rev. Fr. Meagher Provincial, reports Fr. Basil Loughnan has gone off to be a Chaplain. We have three men Chaplains now. Fr. Turner was in Rabaul when we last heard of him and it would seem we shall not hear from him again for some time to come. Fr. F. Burke was in Greece and I don’t quite know where at the moment. Fr. H. Johnson is doing moral in place of Fr. Ken McKillop, and Fr. Mayne will do philosophy which Fr. Johnston used do. Fr Ken is much the same, at present he is at Riverview where he teaches Religious knowledge and is Spiritual Father to the boys. He looks well but is unable for any serious work. We have hopes he will recover sufficiently to do light work.

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A file of letters from Fr John Meagher SJ (Vice-Provincial of the Vice-Province 25 August 1939-1 October 1947) to Irish Fr Provincial (John R. MacMahon SJ and Thomas Byrne). Includes a letter referring to an offer by the Apostolic Delegate to take a minor seminary in New Zealand in 1947. Asks if four or five young priests could be sent out. Remarks 'We have offers of work from practically every Bishop in Australia and must refuse for want of men. Our recruiting is bad and I really don't know what to do to remedy the trouble.' (10 November 1945, 1p). Includes a letter referring to a request by Fr Dan O'Connell SJ for Fr Richard Ingram SJ to help with his work in the Riverview Observatory. (18 March 1946, 1p). Includes a number of letters concerning Fr Cooney and his ill health. Includes a letter remarking 'He (Fr Cooney) wants to return to Hong Kong in September but I think you realise his return there would probably settle his chances of ever doing any more work...I think that Fr Cooney will never be really fit to return to Hong Kong (15 May 1946, 1p). Includes a letter referring to proposals to open colleges in Adelaide and Brisbane. Remarks due to the shortage of Jesuit Fathers that this is impossible. (27 June 1946, 1p).

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