Friday 30 April 2021

Remembering Dr Kevin Fagan (OR1926)

Last weekend we had a wonderful ‘Riverview in Bathurst’ gathering at the home of Mark (OR1983) and Sally Mason. Their son Charlie is a Year 11 boarder. Sally is known to many of you as our current President of the Parents and Friends’ Association. As I was driving back on Sunday morning through the Blue Mountains, I was listening to Ian McNamara on his radio show “Australia All Over” and it was ANZAC Day. Towards the end of the program Dr Brendan Nelson, the former Director of the Australian War Memorial and an Old Scholar of Saint Ignatius’ College in Adelaide, rang in to share the story of Kevin Fagan. At the mention of Dr Fagan’s name, I started to listen more attentively as I knew he was a Riverview Old Boy and that our senior boarding house near the top gate of the College is named after him.

Kevin Fagan began as a student at the College in 1923 and graduated in 1926. He came from Launceston in Tasmania and was able to attend Riverview thanks to the Dunne Bursary which was available only to students from Tasmania. Following graduation, he studied to be a doctor at the University of Sydney and then returned to Tasmania working at the Hobart General Hospital. With the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Army Medical Corps and was posted to Singapore. In time he became a prisoner of war of the Japanese, firstly at Changi and then on the Thai-Burma Railway. He is best known for his extraordinary courage, devotion and gentleness to his fellow prisoners during their 3½ years of captivity.

Russell Braddon, a fellow prisoner of war, wrote about Kevin Fagan in his 1952 book, The Naked Island. He declared Kevin Fagan to be “the most inspiring man I have ever met… it is no exaggeration that many people survived this ordeal as a result of his personal efforts… above all there was the extraordinary courage and gentleness, and the incredible endurance of Medical Officer, Major Kevin Fagan”. He recalled that Dr Fagan treated “any man needing treatment to the best of his ability; he also carried men who fell; he carried the kit of men in danger of falling, and he marched up and down the whole length of the column throughout its entire progress”.

Following the end of the war, Dr Fagan returned to Sydney and worked as a specialist in Macquarie Street and at Lewisham, Royal North Shore and Royal Prince Alfred Hospitals. He was the President of the Old Ignatians’ Union in 1952. He retired in the 1970s to Bowning, near Yass, and died on 18 June 1992. Following his death, Sir Edward “Weary Dunlop”, wrote to Mrs Fagan and her family and said the following about Kevin Fagan,

“We met in the grim POW days in the Kanya/Hinlake railway area of Thailand. I retained an enduring memory of his remarkable dedication, a quality of saintly humility, a steely devotion to duty and above all a deep kindly affinity with suffering men.”

Kevin Fagan was truly a “man for and with others”.

Dr Nelson’s comments can be heard here, beginning at the 4:05:10 mark of the program.

This year we also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force. While the Memorial Hall in the Arrupe Building is the official war monument in the College, one of the stained glass windows in the Dalton Chapel – the Saint Robert Bellarmine window in the left hand transept – is a memorial to the twenty-five Old Ignatian members of the Royal Australian Air Force who died during the Second World War. In this anniversary year, we remember them and pray that they rest in peace with our God.

As we remember with deep gratitude those who have served our country in various wars over the last 120 years, let’s remember the words of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)

We concluded the College’s ANZAC Commemorative Service this week with the following prayer,

“God of Love, you called your wounded servant, Ignatius, to Your Son, Jesus, for a life of service away from a search for honours and power. May we too be open to Jesus, so that we may discern the ways of peace for our school and for the world with hearts and minds that yearn for what is good and just and true, so that, as your prophet Isaiah dreams, “swords will be hammered into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation, and there will be no more training for war.” We make our prayer through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, our brother and Our Lord. Amen.”

Wishing you all every blessing.

Fr Tom Renshaw