A remarkable father remembered

A remarkable father remembered

Maria Rankin

The 50th anniversary of my father Peter Gallagher's death occurred on 10 October 2007. At his funeral there was a full guard of honour consisting of the school children from Our Lady Help of Christians School at Epping, Sydney, where, during life he had attended the church connected to the school.

He donated the beautiful statue of Our Lady Help of Christians which remains prominent in that church to the present day.

The son of two Irish immigrants originating from Antrim, North Ireland, he had a very poor background.

He attended the Catholic school at Lewisham, Sydney, and subsequently won a scholarship to St Ignatius College, Riverview, the leading Jesuit school. However, as his father could not afford the uniform he was unable to accept the place.

Peter then studied shorthand becoming a Commonwealth Court Reporter and on the outbreak of World War I enlisted and became a second Lieutenant. He fought at Pozieres, France, and subsequently lost his left arm, having led his men into battle. He was promoted to a Lieutenant and sent home.

Upon arrival home he won a war scholarship to study Law at Sydney University and in 1921 topped the entire course after attending night classes, while working fulltime during the day.

A few years later he stood for Parliament as an Independent but was unsuccessful. In a newspaper article he was referred to as a 'man of the soil' - in those days the classes were clearly differentiated.

Not much later he established the Catholic Evidence Guild with Frank Sheed, the well known Catholic apologist, author and publisher. The Guild's main aim was to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all. It set up stands all over Sydney including Haymarket and the Domain.

Many speakers were trained and it was necessary that each be fully competent on a topic before being allowed to speak.

My mother, then single, had studied all the topics and was qualified to speak on all aspects of Church teaching, as did my father, who after meeting her got married, despite there being an age difference of 26 years, in 1942.

Thanks to the work of the Catholic Evidence Guild during the middle years of the 20th century, there were many vocations to the priesthood and religious life as well as many conversions. The speakers were open and spoke simply but with authority about the truths of the Catholic Church. They were trained and equipped to handle the many questions asked by their audiences and passers-by.

At the time my father was a practising barrister with chambers in Phillip Street, Sydney. He had a brilliant legal mind and had been offered silk, that is to say, to become a Queen's Counsel barrister. He had also been offered a judgeship, but turned down both offers, fearing such promotions could jeopardise the work he was doing for the Church. For Dad, God always came first and he would be later knighted for this work by Pope Pius XII.

Prayer

My father had always prayed. During the war the soldiers often found him kneeling beside his bed and in the last months before he died he told my mother that he was still praying the full fifteen decades of the rosary.

He worked right up until two months before he died, having given up law and returning to his original employment, that of a court reporter, since he was still a very competent shorthand writer. Despite his lost arm, he had won medals in speed notation. Even though ill, he strove to save money for Mum to provide for us after he had died.

This plan was not realised, however, as the government of the day probated his estate to the extent that they took all his savings. Mum told me she almost lost the house and was forced back to work when we were still only very young.

My father had indeed sacrificed a very promising legal career for the work of the Catholic Evidence Guild, in order to provide spiritual nourishment. Given a choice he did not hesitate to devote his life for the good of souls, and for the God who made him. He expressed his gratitude for his life through good works - the spreading of the Good News.

Despite his brilliant mind, Peter was always empty of self and concerned for others. Even though marrying at 55 years of age, he fathered three children, myself and my identical twin brothers, Peter and John, four-and-a-half years my junior. Peter would follow in his father's footsteps in later becoming a barrister. I was only nine and my brothers not yet five when he died.

I remember my father well, but my only surviving brother, Peter, says he remembers him very little.

He used to smoke a pipe and cigars as he reclined on the sofa on the front verandah and told me many stories. One was about a man who watched a spider trying to climb his web back to his home, but kept falling back down. He kept trying, persevering, until, after many failed attempts, succeeded.

I believe perseverance was my father's lifelong motto. Being human it is easy to give up, but God wants us to continue trying. We must do so if we are to reach our true home in Heaven. In this respect, like the spider in my father's story, we will eventually succeed, not necessarily by our own efforts alone, but with the assistance of the God Who loves us.

With the passing of the 50th anniversary of my father's death, such an account as this is timely for people today can all too easily forget what human nature at its best can achieve with God's help. Appreciating and emulating the good example of outstanding individuals like Peter Gallagher is one of the keys to rebuilding our Christian culture.

Maria Rankin is a retired secondary school teacher involved in promotion of the Living Rosary Association. A violinist, she contributes musically in her parish of Gympie, Queensland.

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