25 July 2018

75th Anniversary of Death of Columban Martyr, Fr Francis Vernon Douglas

Fr Francis Vernon Douglas
(1910–1943)
Fr Francis Vernon Douglas, known as 'Vernon' to his family, was taken away by Japanese soldiers on 27 July 1943 and never  seen again. It is presumed that he died on that date. This brief article is by my Columban confrere Fr John Keenan who has spent most of his life since 1966 in the Philippines, with a stint in Britain, and has done more than any other Columban to tell the story of Fr Douglas. He first wrote about Fr Douglas in 2001 in Here was a brave and strong man, an article that describes the suffering of the New Zealander and that has appeared in a number of publications since then.

Fr Francis Vernon Douglas Remembered
by Fr John Keenan
L to R: Vernon Douglas (nephew), Verne Turner (niece), Brendan Douglas (son of  Vernon) and Cliff Turner (husband of Verne)
Douglas Family at St Mary Magdalene Church, Pililla, Rizal, September 28, 2016

It is now 75 years since the martyrdom of Fr Vernon Douglas on 27 July 1943. For a long time he was almost totally forgotten. But over the past few years, providentially, we have become very aware of his suffering and death.

On 14 October 38 years after his death, Pope Francis will canonise Archbishop Oscar Romero who was shot dead as he celebrated mass in San Salvador, El Salvador, on 24 March 1980. He only suffered for a few seconds. But Fr Francis Vernon Douglas suffered excruciating torture for three days and three nights at St James the Apostle Church in Paete, laguna, Philippines, now in the Diocese of San Pablo.

Verne Turner at the pillar in Paete church where her uncle was scourged
Verne was born in April 1945 on the day the Douglas family received news of the death of Fr Vernon, hence her name.

From his abduction from his parish of St Mary Magdalene in Pililla, Rizal, now in the Diocese of Antipolo (during World War II both parishes were part of the Archdiocese of Manila) his tortuous journey to Paete and his three days and three nights of suffering, it is hard to imagine what he endured. His memory must be kept alive by reading more about him and by praying for him and to him. In his home Archdiocese of Wellington, New Zealand, the Friends of Fr Francis Douglas are praying for his beatification and hopefully canonization someday.

Similar prayers can be said in Pililla and in Paete. Already some petitions are being granted through his intercession. Pray for more.

No miracles are needed for martyrs. But at the same time miracles help as in the case of Blessed Oscar Romero, some of whose former critics have been healed through his intercession.

So let us continue to pray that someday in the not-too-distant future, Fr Francis Vernon Douglas will be numbered among the saints along with St Oscar Romero and so many other martyrs in modern times. That would be the crowning jewel of the Columban Centenary. (The Missionary Society of St Columban was officially established on 29 June 1918 in the Diocese of Galway, Ireland). 

I have a dream that someday he will be the first Columban saint, the first New Zealand saint and the first saint connected with Pililla and Paete. Amen.

Fr John Keenan (2nd from right) and concelebrants at Paete Mass

Here is the homily that Fr John Keenan gave on 28 September 2016 in the Church of St James the Apostle, Paete, during a one-day Columban pilgrimage to Pililla and Paete. 

This coming Friday, 27 July, there will be another Columban pilgrimage to Pililla and Paete, and also including Binangonan, Rizal,  where Fr Douglas served for a while. Parishioners in those places will be very much involved.

Some Articles About Fr Douglas

Columban Pilgrimage 2016. This page gives links to article about the Columban pilgrimage to Pililla and Paete and also to other articles about this great missionary priest.

I do not know of any other martyr whose sufferings so resembled those of Jesus himself during his scourging. Fr John Keenan said in his homily: The prisoners did not fail to notice that torture on them ceased after Fr Vernon’s arrival. All the anger seemed to be concentrated on him. They thought of him as their saviour, like Jesus.



Patricia Brooks has written a biography of Fr Douglas, With No Regrets.


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