24 May 2010

Father Cyril Hally's missionary journey

Last Wednesday, 18 May, we Columbans lost two great priests. Fr Cryil Hally died peacefully in Melbourne, Australia, at the age of 90 while my classmate, Fr Pat McCaffrey, dropped dead in the street in Pakistan. I wrote about him here.
Fr Cyril Hally (1920-2010)

Father Cyril came to St Columban's College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland, in 1963 and taught there for three years, as I recall. It was during Vatican II and he kept us informed about what was going on and its significance. He also put us in the picture about world affairs and also how our faith related to what was going on a around us.

He spoke to us of the morality involved in urban planning, that it wasn't just a matter of putting a roof over people's heads but enabling a community to grow. At that time there was a scheme in Dublin whereby many were removed from slum areas in the city centre to a place called Ballymun which, at the time, was considered to be way outside the city. for those who were moved there it was. Those who had jobs had to travel long distances to work. Such things as stores and schools were considered almost an afterthought, leaving people vulnerable. This was not by evil design but came from a purely utilitarian approach: people need a roof over their heads and a reasonably decent place to stay. The project produced many social problems and the high-rise buildings have since been demolished. It was only through Father Cyril's eyes that I saw the wider picture.

He gave me a deep appreciation of the centrality of the liturgy. Once a week he met with most of the students for a chant class, preparing for the Sunday High Mass and for Vespers. For one month each year our High Mass was broadcast nationally. he would never hold extra classes to prepare as he insisted on a high standard every Sunday.

I last met Father Cyril last September-October when I did some mission appeals for the Columbans in Melbourne. He was then in a nursing home, because of a fall, but was still interested in everything. he even asked me about the current economic situation in Negros. He also came to the annual meeting of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand.

Though his mind was constantly active he took a perverse pleasure in the fact that he couldn't - or wouldn't! - use anything more complicated than a typewriter.

Another memory I have of him is that he was the referree for many rugby games in our seminary. He even sent off a player at a time when that was unheard of in the seminary and even in rugby circles in general. I reacll him as a man who looked 'beyond the box' but who had a deep appreciation of the importance of authority.

May Father Cyril rest in peace.
St Columban's Essendon, Victoria, formerly known as North Park Mansion, Columban HQ in Australia where Father Cyril spent his latter years.

This tribute appeared in the Columban website for Australia and New Zealand:


A priest with vision who read the ‘signs of the times’.

Fr Cyril Hally was born on 9th February 1920 at Temuka, South island, New Zealand. He did his primary and secondary schooling at Oamaru. In 1939 he left New Zealand to go to St Columban Missionary Society seminary in Essendon Melbourne. At an early age he decided he wanted to be a missionary in China and followed his dream. After his seminary studies he was ordained in St Patrick’s Cathedral by Archbishop Daniel Mannix on July 2nd, 1945.

Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne

His life revolved around centres of higher learning. He was chaplain to Asian students in Lower Hutt, New Zealand while he studied for an arts degree but was sent to Rome in 1948 to study Canon Law before he finished his course. After gaining a licentiate in Canon Law, Cyril was appointed to Japan in 1951. But he was only there for just over a year before he was recalled to the staff of the Columban seminary at Wahroonga, New South Wales. He became a part-time chaplain to Asian students in Sydney.

In 1961 he was appointed to Lower Hutt again and resumed his BA studies at Victoria University but in 1963 left New Zealand to study linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington DC. His superiors had a change of mind and sent him to Ireland to be a member of staff at St Columban’s seminary at Dalgan Park, Co Meath. Here he started to lecture students during Gregorian Chant class on the social context of mission and the rapidly changing world they were heading out to challenge or be challenged by. Some priests recall these lectures as most stimulating and exciting but Gregorian Chant was not forgotten though not given pride of place.

In 1966 Cyril was appointed to a church ‘think tank’ in Brussels, ‘Pro Mundi Vitae’ which specialised in in- depth studies on topics and issues of the Church that needed researching. In 1971 he was appointed to the Australian/New Zealand Region and in 1972 was made First Secretary to the National Catholic Missionary Council, Sydney set up by the Australian bishops.

In 1979 he moved to St Columban’s seminary at North Turramurra and became a member of the seminary staff. He was Director of the Pacific Mission Institute for many years and lectured hundreds of participants who were heading for cross-cultural mission in Australia or other parts of the world. Fr Cyril had lectured in missiology, missionary anthropology, mission history and later peace and ecology.

He was awarded the inaugural Philia Prize for vision and initiative in religious work in Australia.

He was indefatigable in attending meetings concerned with justice and peace issues. Over the years he built an extraordinary network of people in many areas of life. He touched the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people with his vision and understanding of what was happening to the Church and the world. He kept an interest in the China desk of the Columban Mission Institute.

In 2006 he transferred from Sydney to St Columban’s Mission in Essendon where he had come as a young man to become a missionary so that he could receive better care. The last months of his life were spent in Mercy Place, Parkville where he continued to read and talk and be visited by Columbans, friends and admirers. He died suddenly but peacefully on Tuesday morning, May 18th2010.

Though he never became a missionary in China, he helped prepare missionaries who now work in many parts of the world to read what Pope John XXIII called ‘the signs of the times’.

Read Catholic Mission: A Mentor to Australian Missionaries - a Tribute to Fr Cyril Hally SSC

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