In a vain effort last Thursday to save the life of a boy of 13 who, with another aged 10, had got into difficulties while swimming in the Cotter River, near Canberra, Rev. Father John McCusker, B.A. Dip.Ed. (Goulburn Diocesan Inspector of Schools), of Bungendore, was drowned along with the lad he went to save. The boy was Clifford Lee, of Bungendore. Both bodies were recovered. The tragedy came as a sequel to a picnic on which Father McCusker had taken seven altar boys from Bungendore to the Cotter River picnic ground. When, after lunch, Clifford Lee and Fergus Campbell got into difficulties in deep water, Father McCusker went immediately to their aid. Mrs. M. Fisk, who heard the cries, plunged in and rescued the boy Campbell. In the meantime Father McCusker and Lee had disappeared. After diving operations by Mr. Harold Cabban and a police party, comprising Constables Brodribb, Grove and Egan, had recovered the bodies, they were taken to the Canberra morgue and an inquest was announced for the Monday.
Brilliant Scholastic Career
Father McCusker, whose kind, genial, and patient character, made him very popular, was born on December 29, 1899, at Lack, County Fermanagh, Ireland. He passed from the little village school to the Christian Brothers’ School at Omagh. At the close of a brilliant course there he made the big decision of his life. The call led him to All Hallows College, Dublin, then: to prepare himself for the priesthood. His career in the seminary was crowned with successes. He took an honours degree in Arts at the National University of Ireland and followed up with the Higher Diploma in Education. His success in theology was equally brilliant. On June 15, 1924, he was ordained to the priesthood by the Most Rev. Dr. Downey, present Archbishop of Liverpool, then Coadjutor-Bishop of Ossory. Father McCusker arrived in Goulburn on November 21, 1924, and from 1925 to 1927 was stationed there. The peoples of Binalong, Goulburn, Crookwcll, Cootamundra, Murrumburrah, Yass and Bungendore, all bear testimony to the fact that Father McCusker was a priest after God’s own heart. But his influence extended not only to these parishes, for he was known throughout the length and breadth of the more than 36,000 square miles of the Goulburn Diocese. In January, 1932, he was appointed to the onerous position of Diocesan Inspector of Schools. During the nine years that have since elapsed, Father McCusker endeared himself to thousands of children. His was a difficult task and coupled to his duties as Inspector he was pastor of the parish of Bungendore since January, 1937. In January, 1938, he was also appointed Synodal Examiner.
The Church of St. Mary, Bungendore, was filled to overflowing last Saturday with priests and people who had travelled from far, and near to pay their last respects to Father John McCusker. Between two and three hundred people were unable to gain admission to the church. Over 60 priests participated in the obsequies. His Lordship the Bishop (Most Rev. T. B. McGuire, D.D.) presided, and also in the sanctuary were their Lordships Bishops H. Ryan (Townsville) and T. McCabe (Port Augusta, S.A.). The celebrant of the Mass was Right Rev. Monsignor P. M. Ilaydon, V.G., P.A., P.I. (Canberra), the deacon being Rev. Father M. Bugler. B.A. (Koorawathn) ; sub-beacon, Rev. Father C. Donovan (Berala, Sydney) a .classmate of deceased at All Hallows; master of ceremonies, Rev. Father S. Wellington. The cantors of the Office for the Dead were Rev. Fathers T. Moore and J. Comerford. Other clergy present included Ven. Archdeacon J. F. Leonard, P.P. (Yass), Very Rev. Fathers A. McCusker, O.M.I. (Sorrento, Vic), J. C. Thompson, CM., M.A.,. Dip.Ed. (Rector of St. John’s College, University of Sydney), A. Deegan (Adm., Goulburn), Wilfrid, C.P. (Goulburn); Right Rev. Monsignor T. I. Barry, P.P., V.G. (Junee), and Very Rev. Father J. H. Larkins (Adm., Wagga), representing the Wagga Diocese; Rev. Fathers J. J. McKenna, P.P. (Cootamundra), J. C. Ryan, P.P. (Cooma), A. H. O’Connor, P.P. (Murrumburrah), E. Sheehan, P.P. (Boorowa), T. Lynch, sen., P.P. (Temora), P. P. O’Doherty, P.P. (West Wyalong), A. J. McGilvray (Adm., Pambula), L. C. McKennn (Adm., Crookwell), T. Collins (Adm., Adelorig), T. J. Pierse, B.A., Dip.Ed. (Diocesan Inspector of Schools, Sydney), J. D. Sullivan, J. Smythe, P. Masterson (representing his Lordship Bishop Norton, of Bathurst), J. Tierney, M.S.C., James, C.P., W. Dowling, C.SS.R., G. Bartley, J. Tierniin, F. Bouchier, D. O’Hurley, E. Favier, T Dunleavy, Kelly, F. T. Carson, C. M. O’Donovan, J. J. Deely, T. Leen, J. Butler, M. Juasoy, U.B. Egan, J. Twomey, E. Barry, I. Ekerick, L. Gallagher, J. Blakeney, D. J. Griffin, J. Downey, D. Greene, M. L. Edwards, P. O’ Carroll, J. B. Kiernan, M.S.C., J. E. Cannon. M. D. O’ Sullivan, and Lonergan. Also present were Rev. Brother Joyce and representatives of the Christian Brothers, Goulburn; representatives of the Sisters of Mercy (Goulburn ), Sisters of St. Joseph (Goulburn) Sisters of St. John of God (Goulburn), Good Samaritan Sisters from Canberra, Queanbeyan and Braidwood, Sisters of St. Joseph (Bungendore), and members of the Holy Name Society the Goulburn branch of the St. Vincent de Paul Society was represented by Mr. J. C. Walsh (president); and tho Diocesan Union of the St. Vincent de Paul Society was represented by Mr. W. A. Meere (Canberra).
In delivering the panegyric at the close of Mass his Lordship Bishop McGuire said he wished to offer his sympathy, and that of all the priests of the diocese, to the parents and family of the little boy who had also died. Continuing, Bishop McGuire said they had all known Father John McCusker, parish priest of Bungendore and inspector of schools in the Goulburn Diocese. Father McCusker had come to a very sudden death after a week’s retreat with his brother priests at Goulburn. At the end of that retreat he had spoken in very beautiful and eloquent terms, as was his gift, at the Month’s Mind for the late Father Timothy Harnett. And so, it is our loss to be here to-day to lament his very sudden death. I offer my sympathy to all his brother priests of the diocese, to his parishioners and, in a very particular way, to his immediate relatives, both here and in Ireland, continuing Dr. McGuire, said he also wished to offer his sympathy to the children and teachers in the Catholic schools. The latter had lost a great friend, one who understood them, helped them, encouraged them and loved them all with a priestly love. The making of a priest was a great work. In the Catholic Church, especially in such tradition as the Irish tradition of the Catholic Faith, there was the setting aside of the child. Every sign of virtue, every sign of intellect and every sign of generosity that might be found or detected in a little boy in an Irish home was interpreted at the least as a hope and also as a sign that God would call him to the priesthood. In the Church this was regarded as a great glory; not for earthly benefit or emoluments, but because being a priest of God made the one so called a minister of God even in this world. It gave him great powers, greater than the power of miracles; it gave him the powers Jesus Christ left to His Apostles when He commissioned them to preach His Faith to all nations. And so was John McCusker set aside. We who have had the privilege of knowing his constant life know that he must have given early signs of great ability, but even greater signs of generosity of heart — always a wonderful proof of a heart constituted for the best of priests, continued the Bishop.
Great Help in Education
After stressing the late priest’s brilliant career at Ireland’s own national university of All Hallows and his subsequent arrival in Australia, Dr. Maguire said that in tho university Father McCusker received high honours, especially in education, and when he came to Australia he gave himself entirely to the work of the Goulburn Diocese. His Bishop was indeed glad to have a man of such qualifications in education, to help and advise the teaching Orders of the Church, to encourage the children, to test their work, to award bursaries and prizes and, above all, to encourage them to their highest achievements they were capable of by his own ability and example. Speaking as the Bishop of the diocese, he had occasion to know the wonderful trust and thrift great gratitude and appreciation that was entertained by both children and the teachers towards Father McCusker for his work in their schools. In stressing Father McCusker’s untiring labours in the Bungendore parish, the Bishop declared that a sad event such as had occurred made his parishioners appreciate the wonderful qualities that were offered to them and given to them ungrudgingly.
He belonged to you, Bishop McGuire remarked, ‘more than he did to the diocese, and I know that amongst you will be secret memories never to be forgotten, but handed on, in tradition, to your families — the great sorrows of life solved by his sympathy; the great mysteries of death solved by his faith, his preaching and his ministry.
Lived For High Ideals
Dr. McGuire said that thinking for a moment of John McCusker as a priest of the diocese and pastor at Bungendore, they realised how regular was his life and how utterly reliable he was because they knew that his mind was habitually set on high ideals. He had no other. He lived for them and strove to make himself better. Looking back on his life, they knew how perfectly as a priest he had followed Jesus Christ, and what he did in life so he did in his death: he sacrificed himself for others and did it without thought and without hesitation. Perhaps it was the only thing he undertook in life that he had no qualifications for but, as the great gifts he had laboured for long years to prepare for God were always given, so, at the last, when it was a test for him to be like Jesus Christ and give his life for others — and what man could do more than die for others — he gave it. All present were assembled to mourn his death and profit by his example.
I hope he will not be easily forgotten, concluded Dr. McGuire, who said that Father McCusker’s example would be a exire for many of the problems of life. Their weakness made many things problems which should not be and they should remember his faith, his undaunted life, his undaunted death and, above all, his consistency and heroic finish, because John McCusker was a great priest of Almighty God. At the conclusion of Mass the last blessing was given by his Lordship the Bishop, and also at the coffin of Clifford Lee, whose remains were also in the church. Over 200 cars followed the hearse to the graveside, and it is estimated that more than 800 people were present at the cemetery. As the casket was borne from the churchy a guard-of-honour was formed by the priests. The chief mourner was Miss May McCusker, of Sydney, a sister of Father McCusker, and his only relative in Australia. His mother and another sister and brother survive him in Ireland. The last prayers were said at the graveside by his Lordship the Bishop, and the Rosary was then recited by all present. The pall-bearers were Messrs. Max Murphy, Alan Murphy, Darcy Murphy, Mattie Campbell, Pat Sherd and Kevin Doyle.