Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Fahey (1883–1959)

by Michael McKernan

This article was published:

John Fahey (1883-1959), Catholic priest and military chaplain, was born on 3 October 1883 at Glenough, Tipperary, Ireland, son of Michael Fahey, farmer, and his wife, Catherine, née Ryan. Educated by the Cistercians at Mount Melleray and at the Brignole Sale Seminary, Genoa, Italy, he was ordained priest in May 1907. Leaving almost immediately for the Australian mission he worked briefly in Perth at the cathedral and was then appointed to the parish of York and of Yarloop-Pinjarra in the south-east. Fahey was a manly type of priest well suited to the timberworkers he served. He was an excellent sportsman, a fine shot and lived a rough unconventional life. Bush experience provided him with an excellent preparation for the Australian Imperial Force which he joined on 8 September 1914 as a chaplain, 4th class (captain). He was assigned to the 11th Battalion.

Fahey reached Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and although chaplains were ordered not to disembark because every available space was reserved for combatants, he disregarded this, asserting his duty to go with his men. His work, consoling the wounded, burying the dead and encouraging the living, was widely appreciated and he became a very popular figure; he typified the active, robust priesthood so admired in Australia. From Gallipoli he wrote that he 'was shot twice through my overcoat without the skin being touched. I had a book shot out of my hands, the jam tin I was eating out of was shot through'. Evacuated sick in July, he resumed duty in September and remained at Gallipoli until 7 November. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order for 'gallantry under fire'.

Rejoining the 11th Battalion in March 1916 Fahey left for France in April. Here a new battle experience awaited him; to the horrors of Gallipoli were added the might of heavy artillery. 'For an hour or so', he wrote, 'shells of all calibres, mostly high explosive, simply rain on a small sector of the front … It is appalling, it is diabolical, and it is wonderful how anyone escapes'. He remained in France until 14 November 1917, becoming the longest-serving front-line chaplain of any denomination, although he only won promotion to chaplain 3rd class (major). He left for Australia on 16 March 1918. Against his wishes, he was fêted on his return to Perth. War service had aroused in him a deep admiration for Australian soldiers: he explained that 'the more I knew them the more I loved and admired them … Their bravery has been written in deeds that will live to the end of the world'.

Fahey was stationed at Cottesloe in 1919-32, at Kellerberrin in 1932-36 and at various Perth parishes in 1936-39, after which he was parish priest at Cottesloe until his death. He was a faithful pastor, kept up his A.I.F. and sporting contacts and occupied a number of minor diocesan positions. He died at the St John of God Hospital, Subiaco, on 28 April 1959 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. About 2000 people attended his funeral.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. McMahon, College, Campus, Cloister (Perth, 1969)
  • M. McKernan, Australian Churches at War (Syd, 1980)
  • London Gazette, 14, 28 Jan 1916
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 31 July 1915, 7 Aug 1915
  • West Australian, 29 Apr 1959
  • Record (Perth), 30 Apr, 7 May 1959
  • Geraldton Guardian, 30 May 1959
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael McKernan, 'Fahey, John (1883–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 October, 1883
Glenough, Tipperary, Ireland


28 April, 1959 (aged 75)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.