18 February 2015

Columban Fr Frederick Hanson RIP

Fr Frederick Hanson
8 September 1916 - 15 February 2015

Fr Frederick ('Fred') Hanson was born on 8 September 1916 in Belfast. Educated at St Brigid’s National School, Holy Family National School and St Mary’s Christian Brothers' School, Belfast, he came to the Old Dalgan, the original St Columban's seminary, in Shrule, County Galway, in 1933. He was a member of the last class to be ordained in Shrule in December 1939, before the seminary relocated to St Columban’s, Navan.

Donegall Square, Belfast, in the early 1900s [Wikipedia]

The Second World War prevented his being assigned overseas, so he was assigned to parish work in the Diocese of Down and Connor for three years. He joined the Royal Air Force as a chaplain in 1943 and served until 1950. This appointment clearly suited Fred’s talents. The RAF Chaplain-in-Chief pleaded that he be allowed serve a further three years, 'Fr Hanson is a most zealous priest and has done heroic work in looking after young Irishmen in several RAF stations . . . I cannot conceive of anybody doing greater work for the glory of God than he is doing in his present position.' 

The Spitfire, above, is a symbol of the RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain in 1940. The song and the singer, Dame Vera Lynn, born seven months after Father Fred and still happily with us, are symbols of  the World War II period for older people in Britain.

He was assigned briefly to Korea, but the outbreak of war in that country resulted in a change of assignment to Japan. From 1953 until 1958 he served as Editor of Tosei News (an English news service for missionaries) and NCWC correspondent for Korea and Japan.

Chuncheon Cathedral and Cemetery
Columban Bishop Thomas Quinlan was the first Bishop of Chuncheon and is buried there with some other Columbans.

From 1958-1964 he was assigned once again to Korea where he served as secretary to Bishop Quinlan of Chuncheon, Korea. There followed two years doing pastoral work on a temporary basis in parishes in England. Then he was assigned to the Parish of St Teresa, Glen Road, Belfast and later to Holy Family Parish where he served until the year 2000. 

St Teresa's, Glen Road, Belfast

Father Fred was a big man, big in stature and with a  voice to match. He was generous and kind, devoted to his sister Mary, and managed his long illness with patience and occasional outbursts of exasperation.

May he rest in peace. 

Last December Father Fred and his classmate Fr Daniel Fitzgerald celebrated the 75th Anniversary of their ordination, the first Columbans to do so. Father Dan attended the funeral Mass of his friend of more than 80 years.

Homily for the Funeral of Fred Hanson  
Columban Fr Neil Collins gave this homily at the funeral Mass on 17 February.  

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me’ (John 14:1).
First Assignment

Fred Hanson read these words many times during his wonderfully long life. I’m sure there were moments when he heard them addressed to him personally. He was ordained on 21 December 1939 and appointed to Hanyang, China, but the outbreak of WWII prevented him from going to the missions.

Cave Hill, overlooking Belfast [Wikipedia]

In 1942, after helping in several parishes in Down & Connor, he got permission to apply to be a chaplain in the RAF. There were postings in the Midlands and the north of England, and in 1945 he even had three months in France.  After the War he asked to be demobbed, but the Principal Chaplain, Mgr H. Beauchamp, wrote to the Superior General on 11 Feb 1948:

‘Father Hanson is a most zealous priest and has done heroic work for me in looking after young Irish boys in several RAF stations in the vicinity of where he lives. Were it not for him they would be assigned to the care of English Priests who really would not understand them, neither would they understand them. I would, therefore, ask you if you would be so kind to allow Father Hanson to remain with me for another three years. I cannot conceive anybody doing greater work for the glory of God than he is doing in his present position.’

Dr Jeremiah Dennehy (Superior General), who had been a chaplain himself, sympathized with the Monsignor but refused, citing the needs of the missions, and arguing that Fred needed to go East as soon as possible while still young enough to learn a language and make the necessary adjustments. On 1 February 1949 he appointed him to the Prefecture of Kwoshu, Korea. Unfortunately the North Koreans invaded on 25 June 1950, and we have a photo of Fred on a boat for Pusan, with a caption, ‘the climax to a hectic twenty four hours evacuating from Mokpo’.

Appointment to Japan

Fred, with some other Columbans, was transferred to Japan where the superior used them to open new parishes. After language school he became ‘the first priest Hashimoto has ever seen’, conspicuous by his height and his dreadful Japanese. He wrote several informed articles for the Far East resulting in an invitation to become editor of Tosei News and NCWC correspondent. His accreditation as a war correspondent enabled him to travel freely between Japan and Korea and in 1955 the society assigned him to Seoul. A term as Bishop Quinlan’s secretary followed.

Assignment to Ireland

St Peter's Catholic Cathedral, in the Falls Road area of Belfast. [Wikipedia]

In the mid-1960s, with minimal Japanese and no Korean, Fred was shocked when he was re-assigned to Ireland. From October 1966 to March 1988 he worked in St Teresa’s on the Glen Rd, Belfast, and then in Holy Family. In 1968 the RUC attacked a civil rights march in Derry and in 1969 loyalists burned the nationalist Bombay St in Belfast. Fred was on the Glen Rd. For those who don’t know Belfast the Glen Rd is the upper part of the Falls Rd. There were many funerals, many times when the priest had to read today’s gospel, searching for words that would comfort grief-stricken families. How could you say, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me?’

Retirement to Dalgan

By the year 2000 an 84-year-old Fred decided that his active ministry was over. He moved to Dalgan (St Columban's Retirement Home). I remember him saying, ‘Neil, don’t grow old. There’s no pleasure in it.’ Among the crosses he had to bear was the death of his sister Eileen in December 2000. When Mary showed increasing signs of Alzheimer’s Fred brought her to Dalgan to let her see our retirement home, and then the Kilbrew Nursing Home, where he visited her until she died in 2008.

I go to prepare a place for you

In today’s gospel, (John 14:1-6) on that first Holy Thursday, Christ said simply, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’. It was a remarkably undramatic way to describe what was about to happen – the Agony, the Scourging, the Crucifixion. Fred shared in that suffering. Now he has heard the rest of Christ’s words, ‘After I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am you may be too’.

1 comment:

Edward Kane said...

I grew up in Saint Teresas parish on the Glen Road and will always remember Father Hanson. He had a very powerful skill in convincing you of the truth of the Gospel. No technical sermons, just pure honesty.
I will never forget his devotion to the sick and dying of the parish. I am sure the parishioners he was with at the end of their lives, including my grandmother, will be there to welcome him into heaven.

Rest In Peace.