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Columban priest farewelled

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Fr James Columban - The Catholic Weekly
Fr James’ funeral 21 June. Photo: Patrick Lee.

More than 800 people filled the Korean Martyrs and St Stanislaus Catholic Church in Silverwater to farewell beloved Columban priest Fr James Duggan SSC, after his death on 14 June at 95 years old. 

However, the name “Fr James Duggan” might not have been so recognisable to most at his funeral, known affectionately by the Korean community as Fr Hong. 

“The word ‘hong’ in Korean means ‘red,’ which for the Koreans became his title because of his reddish cheeks and facial tones. His name was too difficult to pronounce in Korea!” said parishioner and close friend Geopus Kim Kwong Ho. 

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“We absolutely adored him because he brought so much faith into our community. So much love saturated his heart and he was a man dedicated to the people.” 

Born in Sydney to Irish Catholic parents and the eldest of two, Fr James aspired to be a priest from a young age. So young, that he was first rejected to the seminary at 16 for that very reason. 

He was eventually accepted and later ordained in 1955 before he was sent to Korea. 

There Fr James won his new name from a Korean bishop, served faithful Catholics and evangelised for more than 40 years—building a number of churches, and baptising generations of Korean families.  

Fr James returned to Sydney in the late 1990s. 

Fr James Columban -The Catholic weekly
Mourners gathered at Fr James’ funeral to pay their respects. Photo: Patrick Lee

Mourners at his funeral on 21 June heard he was a humble soul dedicated to the service of his parishioners and the wider community. 

Upon returning from Korea, he was the first bi-lingual priest at the Silverwater church and played a pivotal role in building the youth and adult groups.  

Despite illness or retirement, he continued to offer Mass whenever possible, scoffing at the thought of hanging up the vestment. “Priests don’t retire,” he would say. 

Despite decades in his second home in Korea, he ironically never took to Korean food despite constant attempts by the community to change his mind.  

He remained an avid supporter of his beloved South Sydney Rabbitohs and enjoyed playing cards with his friends. 

“He enjoyed reading, enjoyed life and enjoyed being with people above all,” said Fr Patrick McInerney SSC, who would visit Fr James in his Dulwich Hill home before he moved into aged care.  

The director of the Columban Mission Institute said Fr James had a “special effect” on the Korean and the Sydney community, who were both “very devoted to him in return and very grateful for his ministry.” 

Fr James Columban - The Catholic weekly
Photo: Patrick Lee

I worked in Korea with him at the same time and in my early years, I used to spend time on weekends with him in his parish, and you could see how the people gathered around him,” Fr Kelvin Barrett SSC told The Catholic Weekly. 

“To the people that knew him, he was stability. He was open, friendly, someone that they could relate to. He was just a gentle presence.” 

Fr James was laid to rest at the Field of Mars Cemetery in Ryde. 

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