Born: 15 February 1909, Limerick City
Entered: 01 September 1925, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1939, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 07 February 1942, Mount St Mary’s College, Spinkhill, Derbyshire, England
Died: 21 January 1945, Katha (Yangon), Burma (Military Chaplain)
Second World War chaplain
Brother of Francis Hayes - LEFT 1932; Nephew of Francis Lyons - RIP 1933; Early education at Crescent College
Died as WWII Chaplain
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
Fr John Hayes: a Jesuit at war
Limerickman Patrick McNamara has just published Their Name Liveth for Evermore, a book about the involvement of Limerick in the Second World War. Included is the story of Fr John Hayes SJ, a chaplain in the armed forces who died of typhus in Burma. John Hayes, the son of Michael and Agnes Hayes (nee Lyons), 21 Ascot Terrace, O’Connell Avenue, Limerick was born on 15th February 1909. His early education by the Jesuits at The Crescent College in the city was to be an introduction to the priestly life. He joined the Jesuits at St. Stanislaus College, Tullabeg where he started his novitiate in 1925. From 1934 until 1936 he taught as a scholastic at Belvedere College, Dublin. In 1936 he went on to study theology at Milltown Park, Dublin where he was ordained priest in July 1939. He was engaged in further studies until June 1941.
In July 1941, he was appointed as a chaplain to the British Army and writing back from Redcar, Yorkshire he expressed his feelings about his new appointment ‘completely at home and experiences no sense of strangeness’. In 1943 he was selected for overseas service and in May of that year, set sail for India. On arrival there, he was assigned to the 36th Division at Poona. In early 1944, the Division moved to the Arakan front, where it was committed to help stop the Japanese advance; the fighting was hard; this was John Hayes’ introduction to active service. He was to prove an outstanding chaplain who was both loved and respected by all with whom he came in contact with; he was a man of tireless energy and indomitable courage.
On the 31st August 1944, John, in a letter home, wrote:
The 36th Division is now fighting the Japs about 30 miles south of the ‘city’ of Mogaung, about 22 odd miles from Mandalay, to the north. Having left cool Assam (where I was able to help administer to many American troops who greatly edified by large numbers frequenting the Sacraments) we flew over the hills to Myitkyina and went by jeep-pulled train to the ruins of Mogaung, captured just before by our allies, chiefly Chinese. The fight started about 12 miles south of Mogaung (Hill 60) which was cleared by one of our brigades and continued (though not toughly) over 20 miles to the south, our men clearing the road and rail which run mostly together in the direction of Mandalay. We were ‘on the road to Mandalay’ for our sins!
I missed the first phase but fortunately was in for the second phase of the battle. I attached myself to a Scotch Regiment and gave them Mass, Confession and Communion standing by a stream. We were in a long narrow plain between hills. Our Chinese allies hold the hills: we advance along the road and rail southwards in the valley. Occasionally the heat is oppressive, but heavy rains and scanty overhead shelter are the great difficulties. Sickness: malaria, dysentery, bad feet, jungle sores are common. (I’m completely fit D.G.). Last Monday, the 28th of August, I buried a Catholic, Corporal Kelly; he lay dead 30 paces from the railway; 10 yards away a Jap sat, his back to Kelly, dead, with his hand resting on his knees. While the grave was being prepared the moaning of a dying Jap was heard 40 paces away. I baptised him conditionally; he died 15 minutes later. I was so thoroughly affected by his sufferings that I could hardly carry out the burial of Corporal Kelly for tears.
A Chinese interpreter is showing interest in the Catholic Faith. Our casualties were reasonably light. The Jap has displayed great heroism in spite of our dive-bombers, strafing and heavy guns (to which he has no reply in kind). He has stood his ground with sublime courage. I feel somehow that God will reward his enormous spirit of self-dedication. I find it an inspiration myself. The effect of actual work during action is terrific. One feels ready to sacrifice everything to save a single soul. So far God has given me the grace never to have felt fear on any occasion. No thanks to myself, for I know much better men who have felt fear. Largely, I think, a matter of natural complexion and texture of nerves. This monsoon-swept valley between low hills is beautifully and softly green with running streams, but it is a valley of death; many bodies lie decomposing; the villages are all smashed, the people homeless, and God is looking down, I think, with pity on it all …….
It was during the hard fighting to capture Myitkyina, that Fr. Hayes was to earn the soubriquet of ‘Battling Hayes’. After Myitkyina, the Division pushed on to the Irrawaddy. It was on the banks of the great river that Fr. Hayes was to die, not from battle wounds but from disease.
On 28th December 1944 he was evacuated to the casualty clearing station at Katha where he was diagnosed as suffering from typhus. His condition got progressively worse, pneumonia set in. Fr. Hayes must have sensed that the end was near; he requested the last rites on 6th January 1945. John died on 21st January 1945 on the banks of the Irrawaddy just two months before the 14th Army decisively defeated the Japanese at Meiktila, on the road to Mandalay and Rangoon.
John’s work as a chaplain is best described by an old Belvederian, Captain William Ward of the 36th Division, in a letter to the Rector of Belvedere after the death of John.
Dear Fr. Rector,
As an old Belvederian, I feel it my duty to give you the sad news of the death of an old member of the staff of Belvedere. I refer to the late Fr. John Hayes S.J. who died of typhus at Katha on the Irrawaddy in Central Burma on January 21st 1945. He was our chaplain here in the 16th Division and a more likeable man one would find it hard to meet. He was loved by one and all from our G.O.C., General Festing, who was a Catholic, to the most humble Indian.
He joined us at Poona in 1943 and came with the Division to the Arakan early last year and later flew in with us on our present operation. To one and all he was known as ‘Battling Hayes’, utterly devoid of any fear. It was only on the express order of General Festing that he took his batman to act as escort when on his rounds. No matter where one went, more especially in the height of battle, there one would find Fr. Hayes in his peculiar dress: Ghurkha hat, battledress blouse and blue rugger shorts. It was common to see him walking along a road known to be infested with the enemy, without any protection of any kind, happy in the thought that he was doing his job.
The highest praise I can pay Fr. Hayes, and this our present chaplain, Fr. Clancy from Clare, agrees with me, is that he reminded me very much of the late Fr. Willie Doyle. Nothing mattered; monsoon, rain, heat, disease, the enemy, his one thought was to be among his flock, doing all he could to help them. Nothing was too much trouble and the further forward a Unit was, the greater his delight in going forward to celebrate Mass. By his death all the Catholics of his Division and many of the Protestants, have lost a great friend and the finest chaplain one could wish to have ….
In a letter to John’s mother, General (later Field Marshal) Festing, wrote:
I would like on behalf of this Division and myself to express our very deepest sympathy to you in the loss of your son. We all were fond of Fr. Hayes who was an exemplification of all that a Catholic Priest and an Army Chaplain should be. He was a tireless worker, and if any man worked himself to death, it was he. Your son was an undoubted saint and he died fortified by the rites of Holy Church. May he rest in peace.
Fr. John Hayes was 36 years old when he died. He is buried in grave 7A. F. 24, Taukkyan War Cemetery, outside Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Myanmar (Burma). He was the only Irish Jesuit chaplain to have died during the Second World War.
Their Name Liveth For Evermore by Patrick McNamara, is available from most book shops in Limerick city. The main centre is: Hamsoft Communication, Tait Buiness Centre, Limerick. Phone (061) 416688. Price €30.00 (hardback only) + P/P. ISBN 0-9554386-0-8.
◆ Fr Francis Finegan : Admissions 1859-1948 - Went to Juniorate without First Vows. Died in January 1945 from typhus while a Chaplain in the British Army in India
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 16th Year No 4 1941
Seven more chaplains to the forces in England were appointed in July : Frs Burden, Donnelly, J Hayes, Lennon and C Murphy, who left on 1st September to report in Northern Ireland, and Fr Guinane who left on 9th September.
Fr. M. Dowling owing to the serious accident he unfortunately met when travelling by bus from Limerick to Dublin in August will not be able to report for active duty for some weeks to come. He is, as reported by Fr. Lennon of the Scottish Command in Midlothian expected in that area.
Of the chaplains who left us on 26th May last, at least three have been back already on leave. Fr. Hayes reports from Redcar Yorkshire that he is completely at home and experiences no sense of strangeness. Fr. Murphy is working' with the Second Lancashire Fusiliers and reports having met Fr. Shields when passing through Salisbury - the latter is very satisfied and is doing well. Fr. Burden reports from Catterick Camp, Yorks, that he is living with Fr. Burrows, S.J., and has a Church of his own, “so I am a sort of PP”.
Fr. Lennon was impressed very much by the kindness already shown him on all hands at Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh and in his Parish. He has found the officers in the different camps very kind and pleased that he had come. This brigade has been without a R.C. Chaplain for many months and has never yet had any R.C. Chaplain for any decent length of time. I am a brigade-chaplain like Fr Kennedy and Fr. Naughton down south. He says Mass on weekdays in a local Church served by our Fathers from Dalkeith but only open on Sundays. This is the first time the Catholics have had Mass in week-days
Irish Province News 17th Year No 1 1942
Our twelve chaplains are widely scattered, as appears from the following (incomplete) addresses : Frs. Burden, Catterick Camp, Yorks; Donnelly, Gt. Yarmouth, Norfolk; Dowling, Peebles Scotland; Guinane, Aylesbury, Bucks; Hayes, Newark, Notts; Lennon, Clackmannanshire, Scotland; Morrison, Weymouth, Dorset; Murphy, Aldershot, Hants; Naughton, Chichester, Sussex; Perrott, Palmer's Green, London; Shields, Larkhill, Hants.
Fr. Maurice Dowling left Dublin for-Lisburn and active service on 29 December fully recovered from the effects of his accident 18 August.
Irish Province News 20th Year No 2 1945
Fr. John Hayes, Chaplain to the British Forces in Burma, died of typhus on January 21st, 1945.
Irish Province News 20th Year No 2 1945
Fr. John Hayes (1909-1925-1945)
Fr. John Hayes died on the Feast of St. Agnes, Sunday morning, January 21st, 1945, as Senior Catholic Chaplain to the British Forces on the Burma Front.
Born at Limerick on February 15th, 1909, he was educated at the Crescent, and entered the Novitiate at Tullabeg on September 1st, 1925. Two years later he commenced his four years' Juniorate at Rathfarnham whence, in 1930, he returned to Tullabeg as one of the first group to do philosophy there. During these years of study he gave good promise as a writer, and had published a number of articles dealing with life and activity in the Mission Fields of the Church.
From Tullabeg he went to Belvedere for his three years teaching, 1933-36. In his final year there his love of the Missions found outlet through the Mission Society of which he was a zealous and capable Director.
At the end of three years' Theology at Milltown he was ordained by the Most Rev. Dr. Wall on July 31st, 1939. In September, 1940, Fr. Hayes was again at Rathfarnham for his Tertianship, which ended with his appointment in July, 1941, as a Chaplain to the British Army. He reported duty on September 1st, and by the following month wrote of himself as being “completely at home” in his new life . During the next year and a half he was stationed in various parts of England. On February 7th, 1942, he took his final vows at St. Mary's, Spinkhill. Early in the year 1943 he was selected for overseas service. At the end of a long sea voyage he found himself in India, where, as Chaplain to the 36th Division he did valiant work for many months prior to departure for the Burma front.
During practically the whole of 1944 Fr, Hayes was with his men in the jungle-fighting in Burma. It was a tough assignment, but the asceticism which for so long had moulded his character stood every test and strain. In their Chaplain the men saw a strong, fearless man of God fired by an intense passion to win all he could for Christ. Affectionately, they dubbed him “Battling Hayes”. Hardship and privation found him always cheerful. Weariness and fatigue seemed strangers to him. If he felt any fear of wounds or death he never gave sign of it. His courageous conduct through the long months of fierce jungle fighting was an inspiration to every officer and man who witnessed it. General Festing, under whom Fr. Hayes served, resisted every effort to have him transferred from his divisional command. The General being a Catholic, appreciated the sources of his Padre's tireless energy and indomitable courage. Writing of him after his death General Festing stated that “Fr. Hayes was an exemplification of all that a Catholic Priest and an army chaplain should be. He was a tireless worker, and if any man worked himself to death, it was he. He was an undoubted saint”.
On December 28th, 1944. Fr. Hayes was evacuated to the Casualty Clearing Station at Katha in Central Burma. His complaint was diagnosed as typhus. About the 6th of January, though the disease was taking its normal course, Fr. Hayes requested and received the last Sacraments. From that time until he was unable to swallow, he received Viaticum, every day. Pneumonia set in, and Fr. Hayes' condition became progressively worse. For about a week he was unable to speak to anyone, but he retained the use of his mental faculties up to the end. During his last night Fr. Hickson, a fellow chaplain who ministered to him during his prolonged battle with death, sat at his bedside until Mass time the following, Sunday, morning. Fr. Hickson's Mass was offered for his dying friend who passed away peacefully just as the Mass was finished.
A coffin was hard to come by, but thanks to the Providence of God one was secured, and vested in chaplain's Mass vestments the remains of “Battling Hayes” were laid to rest the same day, after an evening Requiem Mass, in the Catholic section of the public cemetery at Katha on the Irrawaddy river about 120 miles north from Mandalay. May he rest in peace.
LETTERS ABOUT FR. JOHN HAYES :
In the last letter Fr. Hayes wrote to his people, received before the news of his death, he mentions that he had baptised a dying Japanese and made his first Hindoo convert.
The last message Fr. Provincial received from him, greetings for Christmas, was dated November 28th,
A letter from THE SISTER IN CHARGE OF THE HOSPITAL, written on January 12th, says he is still seriously ill, but expresses the hope that there will be more cheerful news soon. She adds : “I shall write every week until he is able to do so himself”.
Mrs. Hayes, Fr. John's mother, received the following letter from the COMMANDING OFFICER of the 30th Division : January 24th.
“Dear Mrs. Hayes, I would like on behalf of this Division and myself to express our very deepest sympathy to you in the loss of your son. We all were very fond of Fr. Hayes who was an exemplification of all that a Catholic Priest and an Army Chaplain should be. He was a tireless worker, and if any man worked himself to death, it was he. Your son was an undoubted saint and he died fortified by the rites of Holy Church. May he rest in peace. Yours sincerely, FRANCIS FESTING, MAJ. GEN.”
MGR. J. COGHLAN, Principal Catholic Chaplain, writing from London on January 29th to Fr. Provincial, says :
“I very much regret to have to inform you that your father J. Hayes died of typhus in India, on January 21st. R.I.P. Father Hayes was a grand priest and a splendid chaplain. He did magnificent work in every post he was given, and was held in the highest esteem by all ranks with whom he came in contact. I can ill afford to lose the services of such a good priest, and we can only say: 'God's Will be done.' I send you and the Society my deepest sympathy. You have lost a great priest, and I have lost a great chaplain. I should be glad to think that you would convey to his relatives my deep sympathy in their loss”.
In a later communication Mgr. Coghlan sent the following details furnished by the REV. JOSEPH GARDNER, Senior Chaplain, South East Asia, on January 28th. :
“Fr. Hayes was anointed at his own request in the early days of the illness, and received Viaticum daily as long as he was able to swallow. After pneumonia set in, he was again anointed and finally died quietly and peacefully on Sunday morning, January 21st, just at the moment of the conclusion of the Mass that Fr. Hickson was offering for him. He was buried, coffined and in his vestments, in the Catholic section of the cemetery at Katha, R.I.P.”
FR. A. CLANCY, O.F., H.Q. 36 Division, to Fr. Provincial, 29-1-45 :
“Fr. John Hayes became ill with typhus a few days before the beginning of the New Year, and was removed to the Casualty Clearing Station to which I was at the time attached. He went steadily down hill, but we hoped that his strong constitution would carry him through. As time went by it became evident there was no hope for him, and he died on Sunday morning, January 21st. Fr. Hickson, my successor at the hospital, was with him constantly till the end, and gave him the last Sacraments. He received Holy Communion until a few mornings before he died as long as he was able to swallow.
His death was a great shock to the Division where he was universally popular and especially to the three priests who were associated with him here. I myself feel a deep sense of personal loss, as we joined the Army from Ireland almost at the same time. We were both in Northern Command, travelled out to India together, and had been near one another since I joined the 36th Division six months ago.
He was an ideal chaplain and a worthy son of St. Ignatius. He was completely forgetful of personal risks when the spiritual welfare of the men was concerned. In this respect he always reminded me of Fr. Willie Doyle. When he heard of Fr. Hayes death General Festing said to me that he had killed himself for his men, and this remark is literally true.
May I offer you on my own behalf and for the other chaplains of, this Division our deepest sympathy on the loss the Irish Jesuit Province has sustained?”
FR. C. NAUGHTON, 29-1 -45 :
“I got quite a shock this morning on reading of the death of the Rev. John Hayes from typhus. R.I.P. I heard earlier in the week that we had a chaplain casualty, as a padre was suddenly posted off to the forward area to replace him. I never dreamed that it was the Rev. John. By all accounts Fr. Hayes was a second Willie Doyle. He seemed not to know what fear was, and was always in the thick of things. He will be greatly missed by his Division, as he was tremendously popular. About three months ago a young soldier after returning from Burma wished to be received into the Church. On being asked why he desired to change his religion, he replied : ‘Sir, we have a R.C. padre who has greatly impressed me. A man who exposes himself to so much danger to save souls must have the true religion?’ Fr. Hayes was his divisional chaplain, I am writing to our S.C.F. to find out as much accurate news as possible about him. May be rest in peace.
FR. C. PERROTT, 5-2-45 :
“You have heard no doubt by this time of the death of Fr. John Hayes, R.I.P. I am very sorry that up to the present I have no news to give you beyond the bare fact. His death came as a great shock to me, I can assure you, and upset me very much. I had heard from Fr. Nevin that Fr. Hayes had gone down sick with typhus at the beginning of January or the end of December, and then got no news till I received a note from the same source last Friday announcing his death. I wrote at once to Fr. Nevin asking him to give me all the details and particulars he could about it. I have heard many people out here speak very highly of Fr. Hayes and of the tremendous work he was doing. His death will be a great loss to us, - but he will get a great reward for his zeal and enthusiasm”.
FR. C. PERROTT, 5-3-45: The cemetery in which he is buried is only a temporary one, and later on the remains will be moved into a central one, and due notice of its location will be sent you. All his personal effects will come through, after some very considerable delay, through the usual official channels”.
FR, GEORGE HICKSON, C.F., to Fr. Provincial, 15-2-45 :
“Fr. Hayes took ill with typhus on December 28th, 1944, and was evacuated to the 22 C.C.S. Typhus is a pretty terrible disease. It is heartbreaking to watch a patient suffering with it grow progressively worse. This is what happened to John. I gave him at his own request all the Sacraments and the Papal Blessing. That was about January 8th. He received Holy Viaticum daily as long as he could swallow. We had hopes of his recovery till the 18th, then pneumonia set in, and I gave him Extreme Unction again. He was conscious, in our opinion, right up to the end, although for the last week or so he was unable to speak. He was quite reconciled to death, which he did not dread in the least. I think he offered himself in reparation for the sins of the world, and almost gave the impression that he desired death for this end. was greatly influenced by the life of Fr. W. Doyle. He passed away very peacefully at 8.55 on the morning of Sunday, January 21st, 1945, just as I was concluding a Mass which I offered for him. He was with me in the 36th Division for the whole year in which we have been in action. He was loyal and devoted to his work, and, I think, worried himself over perfecting every detail. Everyone who knew him said that he was not of this world, and non-Catholic officers were unanimous in their good opinion of him. I buried him in his vestments, and I am glad to say that I was able to secure a coffin. He lies in the public cemetery at Katha, which is on the River Irrawaddy about 120 miles north of Mandalay. We erected a nice cross and railings around his grave. In his life and in his death he was an example and an ornament to the priesthood”.
FR. E. J. WARNER, S.J., of the Chaplains' Department of the War Office sent to Fr. Provincial, 22-3-45, a short letter addressed to Mgr. Coghlan by the REY. M. J. O'CARROLL, S.C.F., now in England. The latter was Senior Chaplain in India when Fr. Hayes went out there :
“Fr. Hayes was an exceptionally fine Chaplain. Would you, please, convey to his next-of-kin and to his Religious Superior an expression of my deep sympathy ? At the next Chaplains' Conference Mass will be offered up for the repose of his soul. R.I.P.”
From an OLD BELVEDERIAN, attached to the 36th Division, to the Rector of Belvedere :
Dear Fr. Rector, As an old Belvederian I feel it my duty to give you the sad news of the death of an old member of the staff of Belvedere. I refer to the late Fr. John Hayes, S.J. Fr. Hayes died of typhus at Katha on the Irrawaddy in Central Burma on January 21st, 1945. He was our chaplain here in the 36th Division, and a more likeable man one would find it hard to meet. He was loved by all, from our G.O.C. General Festing, who is a Catholic, to the most humble Indian. He joined us in Poona in 1943, and came with the Division to the Arakan early last year, and later flew in with us on our present operation. To one and all he was known as Battling Hayes, utterly devoid of any fear. It was only on the express order of General Festing that he took his batman to act as escort when on his rounds. No matter where one went, more especially in the height of battle, there one would find Fr. Hayes, in his peculiar dress : Ghurka bat, battle-dress blouse and blue rugger shorts. It was common to see him walking along a road known to be infested with the enemy, without any protection of any kind, happy in the thought that he was doing his job. The highest praise I can pay Fr. Hayes, and in this our present chaplain, Fr. Clancy from Clare, agrees with me, is that he reminded me very much of the late Fr. Willie Doyle. Nothing mattered : monsoon, rain, heat, disease, the enemy. His one thought was to be among his flock, doing all he could to help them. Nothing was too much trouble, and the further forward a Unit was, the greater his delight in going forward to celebrate Mass. By his death all the Catholics of this Division, and many of the Protestants, have lost a great friend and the finest chaplain one could wish to have. I hope you will be good enough to pass this sad news to Fr. Provincial. I believe his address is Gardiner Street, but, as I am not sure, I thought it better to inform you. No doubt either Fr. Hayes' mother, who was next-of-kin, or Fr. Provincial will be informed in due course by the War Office. Another Belvederian whom I may meet again one day is Fr. Tom Ryan, whose voice I often hear on the Chunking radio, giving talks on English literature. My very best respects to any who knew me in Belvedere, and your good self. I am, dear Fr. Rector, your's very sincerely, W. A. WARD, CAPT. (1923-1931).
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father John Hayes SJ 1909-1945
Father John Hayes was born in Limerick in 1909 and was regarded by his contemporaries as a saint and mystic.
As a philosopher he kept the minimum of furniture in his room, a bed which he seldom slept in, and an orange box which served as a wash stand and general work-table. The rest was put out in the corridor. Superiors had to check his austerity. While these signs of singularity disappeared in later life, he maintained and extraordinary communion with God, and a single-mindedness of dedication, which as a priest was turned into a burning thirst for souls.
He got his chance in the Second World War. He became a Chaplain and was stationed in Burma in the thick of the jungle-warfare. To the troops he was known as “Battling Hayes”. He was tireless in whi work and seemed consumed with a burning passion to save souls for Christ. General Festing was his close friend and admirer.
On December 28th he retured to hospital, not too ill, but his complaint turned out to be typhus, and he died on January 21st, 1945, young in years but ripe in merit. A coffin was hard to come by, but the difficulty was overcome, and vested in his chaplain’s robes, he was laid to rest at Katha, in the Irawaddy rover, 120 miles from Mandalay.