26 September 2014

Columban Fr John Griffin RIP

Fr John Griffin (1927 - 2014)

Columban Fr John Griffin died in Wellington, New Zealand, 25 September 2014.  Here is an article about him written by his fellow Columban and New Zealander, Fr Michael Gormly, from the website of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand and published in 2010. Fr Gormley has added some details in the obituary he sent out.

Father John Griffin was a missionary priest blessed with an engaging personality and relentless charm. His friendly, positive and expansive spirit influenced people in many mission situations. Throughout his career blessings emerged from family, friends, names, faces, travel, cultures, languages and music. 

His travelling violin played a part too. He was a fiddler on the roof, making music, telling stories, bringing inspiration and hope to others. Faith came wrapped in warm-hearted affability.

Father Gormley describes Father John as 'a fiddler on the roof'. The late priest liked to play music from Fiddler on the Roof.
Father John, born in Timaru, New Zealand,  in 1927 commenced his missionary journey as a youthful volunteer in 1944. His theological studies were completed at Corpus Christi, Melbourne, with ordination sixty years ago, in 1950, at Dunedin.

Sacred Heart Basilica, Timaru, New Zealand [Wikipedia]

His first mission assignment was to the Philippines, to the province of Zambales, north-west of Manila. He first grappled with the intricacies of Ilokano, a language brought by migrants from provinces in Northern Luzon. He was to work in Ilokano parishes in the Diocese of Iba for twenty years.

San Narciso, Zambales, Diocese of Iba, where Fr Griffin was parish priest [Wikipedia]

A medical emergency in 1970 sent Father John home to New Zealand for the amputation of his right leg due to cancer. The medical specialist spoke of a choice, 'Your leg or your life". With an artificial limb, plus a car adapted to his needs, he joined the mission education team based in Lower Hutt.

Lower Hutt from the air, looking eastwards [Wikipedia]

In 1974 he was nominated by the Bishops' Conference to head the National Missions Office. For ten years he brought his talent, charms and enthusiasm to promoting the mission cause in all corners of the country. In addition he established close personal contacts with Kiwi missionaries across the world.

Santiago, Chile [Wikipedia]

Next, Father John volunteered to serve in Latin America, learn Spanish and settle in Chile. For ten years he assisted the Columban team in the capital, Santiago. On his return to New Zealand in 1995, he moved around the Diocese of Auckland with a message of mission awareness. He made a deliberate effort to keep mission alive in the local church. In retirement at the Columban Mission Centre he was by no means house-bound. Family, friends and colleagues enjoyed his company, visits, phone calls and emails.

Ageing and a loss of mobility led to dedicated healthcare and professional nursing at the Aroha Centre for the Elderly. He spoke of his final blessings In terms of ‘aroha’ – warm care and attention based on love and respect.
Father John Griffin died peacefully in Wellington, New Zealand, on 25 September 2014, remembered as a gifted missionary priest with a remarkable interest and concern for people. One tribute says it well: 'He arrived among us bringing short moments of joy and encouragement; he departed leaving long memories of friendship and celebration.'

Santiago Cathedral at night [Wikipedia]

In reviewing his life, Father John recalls wisdom learned as a youth. 'You will receive much more than you will give; you will learn much more than you will teach'. He has no doubt that learning that truth and humbly accepting it has been the greatest experience of his life.

Praise to the Holiest, by Blessed John Cardinal Newman
Sacred Heart Basilica, Timaru, New Zealand


Father John, a tall, handsome, distinguished-looking and very kind man, wrote an amusing account of the unexpected obstacles he met while travelling from Australia to New Zealand for his ordination in 1950 in Ordination Misadventures.

San Alberto Hurtado SJ, Chile's second saint

Father John also wrote an article on San Alberto Hurtado SJ which we have used a number of times in MISYONonline.com, A priest, I bless you - Alberto.

In that article Father John writes about the Hogar de Cristo (Home of Christ) founded by the saint. May he join San Alberto in the Hogar that Christ has prepared for us all.

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