Sunday 17 November 2019

Canon Joseph O'Hagan

Francis Cousins pays tribute to a beloved priest who lived through nine pontificates

CANON Joseph O'Hagan, the Co Down priest who died on August 20 at the age of 101, had the distinction of living through nine pontificates.

Joseph O'Hagan was born in Glasgow on June 17, 1911, to Francis Joseph O'Hagan and Mary Doyle. As a boy he frequently visited the home parish of his parents, in Hilltown, Co Down, to spend summers with his relatives and it was to there he would return to serve as a priest in the Diocese of Dromore. He never forgot his Scottish roots, nor lost his lilting Glaswegian brogue and the fortunes of his beloved Glasgow Celtic were never far from his mind.

After his secondary school studies at St Colman's, Newry, he made the trip to Rome, where he studied for the priesthood at the Pontifical Irish College. He was ordained at the Lateran Basilica on March 7, 1936.

Fr Joey returned to Scotland after his ordination. In his native Glasgow, he served the parish community of Saint Mary's, Abercrombie Street. The young Fr Joey worked with the poor and would willingly have remained there had the Bishop, Edward Mulhern, not asked him to return to the Diocese of Dromore. Following two years as chaplain to convents in Ballynahinch and Warrenpoint, respectively, Fr Joey was appointed as curate in St Peter's, Lurgan, where he became very active in the parish community. One of his initiatives was the setting up of a local boxing club.

In June 1964, Fr Joey was appointed parish priest of Dromore, Co Down, where he served until his retirement in 1984. During his time there, he, with the assistance of many of the parishioners in a volunteer capacity, practically rebuilt the parish church.

For Fr Joey, the best part of priesthood was the people. Many of his former parishioners hold fond memories of him, none more so than the people of Cabra, whom he served as curate for 21 years following his retirement as parish priest of Dromore.

In an interview in 2009 with Intercom, the magazine of the Irish Bishops' Conference, Canon Joey reflected on his priesthood. One of the pivotal moments was the Second Vatican Council. He said: "There were big changes after the Council. A lot of simplicity was brought into the Church. The time of being princes and lords were over; the focus turned to service, as we learned to wash each other's feet." This attitude of service epitomised both Canon Joey and his priesthood. When asked what this meant for him, his answer was: "I love being a priest."

Following his retirement at the age of 95, he lived in a cottage at the foot of the Hen Mountain where he celebrated Mass in the morning for family and friends.

Canon Joey's two brothers predeceased him, Fr Charles in 1947 and Pearse in 1935. Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore, was the chief celebrant at Canon Joey's funeral Mass last Friday week in St Mary's, Cabra, and his remains were interred in St John's, Hilltown, Co Down.

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