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Creagh, John (1870–1947)

The death recently of Rev. John Creagh, C.SS.R., brought to a close the priestly career of a splendid Irishman and missioner and one who had an interesting link with Australia. During the war of 1914-18, Fr. Creagh was placed in charge of the Kimberley Vicariate, after the death of Right Rev. Fulgentius Torres, O.S.B., Abbot in New Norcia. In a recollection of Fr. Creagh, Christopher Penn, the well-known New Zealand journalist, writes: Fr. Creagh was a great priest because God gave him special powers or faculties for moving the hearts of men. One of these powers was a strength of will rarely found in men. This power he used to cure souls of almost incurable maladies. Some astounding, almost miraculous cases are on record. Another power given to him by God was a great and kindly wisdom. At times, he seemed to have the gift of prophecy. Those marvellous eyes of his, at times even hypnotic, could pierce through one and fathom things even to the subconscious mind. Yet he was not a mystic; seemingly, on first acquaintance just a simple, lovable, old Irish priest. Those who heard him thundering from the pulpit in the days gone by might have thought otherwise. If it were a mission sermon, designed to move souls to repentance, his clamant eloquence could sway thousands. If the motive of the sermon was the fear of God, those who felt the full force of his oratory and were stricken with fear, would marvel later, if they chanced to meet the fiery orator, now transformed to gentleness.

Arresting Figure
Fr. Creagh had a dominating and colourful aspect in the pulpit. Physically, he was an arresting figure, a splendid head, finely moulded features, strength of voice and declamation. He was one to see and to hear, particularly at mission time.

Fr. Creagh was essentially a man's man, and this leads us to his first great work—his four years' directorship of the famous Confraternity of the Holy Family of Limerick, where he had charge of several thousand men. It was here that Fr. Creagh showed his great organising powers. Not only from the pulpit, but amongst his men, and beyond, to those influences that were affecting their lives, Fr. Creagh worked with increasing strength of purpose. His fierce championing of social justice raised the ire of those he condemned. His life was even threatened. On this, only one aspect of his colourful life, a book could be written, and it would tell a tale of great victories for souls, of wrecked homes restored and of unscrupulous commercial men challenged and defeated.

Adventuring in Kimberley
In due time, Fr. Creagh left Limerick, the town of his birth, to undertake even greater labours in the Philippine Islands. Later he went to Australia where his adventuring in Kimberley, with those engaged in the pearling industry in Broome and among the aborigines of the north-west of Australia, would make a book such as Ion Idriess would love to write. As a missioner, he was known and loved by thousands in Australia and in due time in New Zealand. For a time he was Rector of the Redemptorist Monastery in Perth and during the First World War was in charge of the Kimberley Vicariate. He was a foundation member of the Redemptorist Community at the Monastery, Hawker-street, Wellington. At his death, at the age of 76, he was the oldest Redemptorist Father of the Australasian province.

Confessor
Great as was his public life as a priest, it was as a confessor and advisor of prelates, priests, and laymen that he performed his most remarkable work. As a result of his 40 years of work in Australia and New Zealand, many people will remember him in a spirit of undying gratitude. It was as a specialist physician of souls that those God-given powers, already referred to, were exercised. His devotion to the Blessed Virgin was something of great beauty and earnestness. The Rosary was rarely out of his hands. On the morning he died (January 24), he asked the attending Sister at Lewisham to pick up his beads as they had dropped from his bed. When she handed them to him he said: "Look, Sister—that is where I left off," and he pointed to the second decade. I think Our Lady must have given him time to finish that last Rosary, for when the Sister returned shortly, the last agony had gripped him.

Message From Archbishop Mannix
In harmony with the many colours of his life, there was great colour in the final phase. Before he lost consciousness, he was visited by Sir Humphrey O'Leary, just back from Australia. The Chief Justice conveyed to him a special message of greeting from his Grace Archbishop Mannix— the courtesy of one great Irishman to another. At his deathbed were the Papal Delegate Archbishop Panico, the venerable Archbishop O'Shea, and many priests then visiting Wellington for a retreat. The final obsequies, though sad, were triumphant and full of colour. So did this grand old Irish priest, so simple and yet so full of God-given power, so wise and yet so humble, so gentle and yet so fierce for souls, pass to receive the reward of his many and noble years in the service of God and His Holy Mother.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Creagh, John (1870–1947)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/creagh-john-32395/text40158, accessed 4 February 2023.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2023

Life Summary [details]

Birth

19 August, 1870
Thomondgate, Limerick, Ireland

Death

24 January, 1947 (aged 76)
Wellington, New Zealand

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