- IE IJA/CHP/1
- 18 August 1879-11 October 1917
Born: 18 August 1879, Fancroft, County Tipperary
Entered: 07 September 1897, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Professed: 17 November 1916
Died 11 October 1917, Passchendaele, Belgium (Australian 51st Battalion) - Lugdunensis Province (LUGD)
Buried at the Reningelst Churchyard Cemetery, Belgium
First World War Chaplain.
Transcribed HIB to LUGD : 01 January 1901
Fancroft is on border of Offaly/Tipperary. The border dissected Fancroft Mill, the family home on one side (Tipperary).
by 1901 in Saint Stanislaus, Ghazir, Beirut, Syria (LUGD) Teacher and studying Arabic
by 1904 in Saint Joseph’s, Beirut, Syria (LUGD) teaching
◆ Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University onlne :
Bergin, Michael (1879–1917)
by J. Eddy
J. Eddy, 'Bergin, Michael (1879–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bergin-michael-5217/text8783, published first in hardcopy 1979
Died : 11 October 1917 Passchendaele, Belgium
army chaplain; defence forces personnel (o/s officers attached to Australian forces)
Michael Bergin (1879-1917), Jesuit priest and military chaplain, was born in August 1879 at Fancroft, Tipperary, Ireland, son of Michael Bergin, mill-owner, and his wife Mary, née Hill. Educated at the local convent school and the Jesuit College at Mungret, Limerick, he entered the Jesuit noviceship at Tullabeg in September 1897. Two years later he was sent to the Syrian mission where English-speakers were needed; he felt the break from home and country very keenly but became absorbed in his missionary work and the exotic customs of the local peoples. After learning Arabic and French he studied philosophy at Ghazir, and in October 1904 began teaching at the Jesuit College in Beirut.
In 1907 Bergin was sent to Hastings, England, to complete his theology studies and was ordained priest on 24 August 1910. After a short time at home he returned to Hastings for further study and then gave missions and retreats in the south of England. He returned to the Middle East in January 1914 and was in charge of Catholic schools near Damascus until the outbreak of World War I; along with other foreigners in Syria, he was then imprisoned and later expelled by the Turkish government. By the time he reached the French Jesuit College in Cairo in January 1915 the first Australian troops had arrived in Egypt, and Bergin offered to assist the Catholic military chaplains. Though still a civilian, he was dressed by the men in the uniform of a private in the Australian Imperial Force and when the 5th Light Horse Brigade left for Gallipoli he went with it. Sharing the hardships of the troops, he acted as priest and stretcher-bearer until his official appointment as chaplain came through on 13 May 1915. He remained at Anzac until September when he was evacuated to the United Kingdom with enteric fever.
Bergin's arrival home in khaki, complete with emu feather in his slouch-hat, caused a sensation among his family and friends. Though tired and weak after his illness, he was anxious to get back to his troops for Christmas. He returned to Lemnos but was pronounced unfit and confined to serving in hospitals and hospital-ships. Evacuated to Alexandria in January 1916, he worked in camps and hospitals in Egypt and in April joined the 51st Battalion, A.I.F., at Tel-el-Kebir. He accompanied it to France and served as a chaplain in all its actions in 1916-17; these included the battles of Pozières and Mouquet Farm, the advance on the Hindenburg Line and the battle of Messines. He was killed at Passchendaele on 11 October 1917 when a heavy shell burst near the aid-post where he was working. He was buried in the village churchyard at Renninghelst, Belgium.
Bergin was awarded the Military Cross posthumously. The citation praised his unostentatious but magnificent zeal and courage. Though he had never seen Australia he was deeply admired by thousands of Australian soldiers, one of whom referred to him as 'a man made great through the complete subordination of self'.
L. C. Wilson and H. Wetherell, History of the Fifth Light Horse Regiment (Syd, 1926)
Sister S., A Son of St. Patrick (Dublin, 1932)
51st Battalion Newsletter, July 1962
F. Gorman, ‘Father Michael Bergin, S. J.’, Jesuit Life, July 1976..
◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/news/jesuitica-irish-jesuit-at-the-front-2/
JESUITICA: Irish Jesuit at the front
When they remember their war dead on Anzac Day, Australians include in that number Fr Michael Bergin SJ, an Irish Jesuit who signed up with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF)
in order to accompany them as chaplain to Gallipoli. Two facts give Fr Bergin particular distinction. Firstly, though he served with the AIF he never set foot on Australian soil. And secondly, he was the only Catholic chaplain serving with the AIF to die as a result of enemy action – not, however, in Gallipoli, which he survived, but in Passchendaele, Belgium, in 1917. According to the citation for the Military Cross, which he received posthumously, Fr Bergin was “always to be found among his men, helping them when in trouble, and inspiring them with his noble example and never-failing cheerfulness.”
Tomorrow, Remembrance Day, we might think of Michael Bergin, born in Roscrea, schooled in Mungret, a remarkable Irish Jesuit chaplain with the Anzac force, which he joined as a trooper in order to accompany the Australians to Gallipoli. He was the only Australian chaplain to have joined in the ranks, and the only one never to set foot in Australia. He always aimed to be where his men were in greatest danger, and having survived the Turkish campaign he was killed by a German shell on the Ypres salient in Flanders. The citation for the Military Cross, awarded posthumously, read: “Padre Bergin is always to be found among his men, helping them when in trouble, and inspiring them with his noble example and never-failing cheerfulness.”
Roscrea remembers a heroic Jesuit
An exhibition of the life of Jesuit war chaplain Fr Michael Bergin, who died on 12 October 1917 at Passchendaele on the Western Front, was launched on 4 October in Roscrea Library, Tipperary. Fr Bergin grew up in the millhouse of Fancroft, just a couple of miles north of Roscrea.
Though an Irishman, Fr Bergin joined the Australian forces during the war. He befriended some Australian soldiers during a stint in Egypt and then joined them, first as stretcher-bearer in Gallipoli and later as chaplain in Belgium. It was there he died from German shell-fire, one of the half-million casualties of the Third Battle of Ypres, at Passchendaele.
The exhibition was launched by Simon Mamouney, First Secretary and Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy. The curator of the exhibition, Damien Burke, assistant archivist of the Irish Jesuit province (pictured here), also spoke at the event. In attendance too were Fr. Frank Sammon, a distant relative of the Bergins of Fancroft, and Marcus and Irene Sweeney, current owners of Fancroft Mill. Irene Sweeney, in fact, is a cousin of another Irish Jesuit, Fr Philip Fogarty. The exhibition remains open until 31 October.
Damien Burke also marked the anniversary of Fr Bergin’s death on Tuesday, 10 October, with a talk in Mungret Chapel, Mungret, Limerick – appropriately, as Fr Bergin attended the Jesuit school Mungret College. About thirty people attended the talk. It was 100 years to the day since Fr Bergin made his way to the Advanced Dressing Station of the 3rd Australian field ambulance near Zonnebeke Railway Station, Belgium. The following day he was badly wounded by German artillery fire, and a day later, 12 October, he died from his wounds. He was posthumously awarded the Australian Military Cross of Honour. Damien mentioned that Michael Bergin was President of the Sodality of Our Lady while a boarder at Mungret College and “would have prayed and formed his vocation to the Jesuits here in this space”.
Jesuits at the front
This year of commemorating Irish Jesuit chaplains in the First World War will continue with an exhibition by Irish Jesuit Archives at Roscrea Library, Tipperary, from 2nd to 31st October. It will focus mainly on Fr Michael Bergin SJ (pictured here), a Roscrea-born Jesuit who was killed at the front in 1917, and five other Jesuits who served as chaplains with the Australian army in the First World War.
Fr Michael Bergin SJ holds the distinction of been the only member of the Australian forces in the First World War never to have set foot in Australia, and he was the only Catholic chaplain serving to have died as a result of enemy action.
Born in 1879 at Fancroft, Roscrea, Fr Bergin was educated at Mungret College, Limerick, and joined the Society of Jesus in 1897. From 1899 until the outbreak of war in 1914, he worked on the Syrian mission, which entailed his transfer to the French Lyons Province. When war broke out he was interned and then expelled by the Turks from Syria. While in Egypt in 1915, he become friendly with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF), then training in Cairo.
In May of that year he went to Gallipoli with the Australian Forces, having enlisted as a Trooper. He carried out his pastoral duties as a priest, and worked as a stretcher-bearer and medical attendant. After his formal appointment as a chaplain in July 1915, Fr Bergin suffered influenza, chronic diarrhoea and enteric fever at Gallipoli, and was evacuated back to London to recover. Even though it was obvious that he was medically unfit to return to the front, he insisted on doing so and was back at Gallipoli in December 1915. Due to his ill health, however, he was transferred to hospital work.
In June 1916 Fr Bergin went to France with the 51st Battalion of the 13th Brigade. He lived in the front trenches, hearing confessions and celebrating Mass. He accompanied his men through such battles as Poziéres and Mouquet Farm, and was promoted from Captain to Major.
On 10 October 1917, his battalion moved up to the Front line Jesuitat Broodseinde Ridge. The next day he was with the Australian Field Ambulance when German shell-fire severely wounded him. He died the next day. There are a number of different accounts of his death but he died the following day. He is buried in Reninghelst Churchyard Extension, Belgium.
One colonel who knew the padre remarked, “Fr Bergin was loved by every man and officer in the Brigade... He was the only Saint I have met in my life.” The citation for the Military Cross awarded posthumously but based on a recommendation made prior to his death read: “Padre Bergin is always to be found among his men, helping them when in trouble, and inspiring them with his noble example and never-failing cheerfulness.”
On Saturday 25 April, the annual dawn Anzac commemoration will take place. It is the centenary of the failed Anzac engagement at Gallipoli. Six Jesuits, five of them Irish-born, served with the Australian Imperial Forces in the First World War. Frs Joseph Hearn and Michael Bergin both served at Gallipoli.
Fr Bergin describes Gallipoli in 1915: “There are times here when you would think this was the most peaceful corner of the earth – peaceful sea, peaceful men, peaceful place; then, any minute the scene may change – bullets whistling, shells bursting. One never knows. It is not always when fighting that the men are killed – some are caught in their dug-outs, some carrying water. We know not the day or the hour. One gets callous to the sight of death. You pass a dead man as you’d pass a piece of wood. And when a high explosive catches a man, you do see wounds”
Commemorating the sesquicentenary of the arrival of Irish Jesuits in Australia
This year the Australian Province of the Jesuits are commemorating the sesquicentenary of the arrival of Irish Jesuits in Australia. Australia became the first overseas mission of the Irish Jesuit Province. To mark the occasion the Archdiocese of Melbourne are organising a special thanksgiving Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne 27 September. On 20 June Damien Burke, Assistant Archivist, Irish Jesuit Archives gave a talk at the 21st Australasian Irish Studies conference, Maynooth University, titled “The archives of the Irish Jesuit Mission to Australia, 1865-1931”. In his address Damien described the work of this mission with reference to a number of documents and photographs concerning it that are held at the Irish Jesuit Archives.
Irish Jesuits worked mainly as missionaries, and educators in the urban communities of eastern Australia. The mission began when two Irish Jesuits Frs. William Lentaigne and William Kelly, arrived in Melbourne in 1865 at the invitation of Bishop James Alipius Goold, the first Catholic bishop of Melbourne. They were invited by the Bishop to re-open St. Patrick’s College, Melbourne, a secondary school, and to undertake the Richmond mission. From 1865 onwards, the Irish Jesuits formed parishes and established schools while working as missionaries, writers, chaplains, theologians, scientists and directors of retreats, mainly in the urban communities of eastern Australia. By 1890, 30% of the Irish Province resided in Australia.
By 1931, this resulted in five schools, eight residences, a regional seminary in Melbourne and a novitiate in Sydney. Dr Daniel Mannix, archbishop of Melbourne, showed a special predication for the Jesuits and requested that they be involved with Newman College, University of Melbourne in 1918. Six Jesuits (five were Irish-born) served as chaplains with the Australian Forces in the First World War and two died, Frs Michael Bergin and Edwards Sydes. Both Michael Bergin and 62 year-old Joe Hearn, earned the Military Cross. Bergin was the only Catholic chaplain serving with the Australian Imperial Force to have died as a result of enemy action in the First World War.
◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
After his education at Mungret, Michael Bergin entered the Society at Tullabeg in 1897, and two years later volunteered for the Syrian Mission and was sent to Lebanon to study Arabic and French before moving on to philosophy at Ghazir, and in 1904 to teach in the Jesuit College in Beirut.
Bergin did his theology in England at Hastings, and following ordination did retreat work in southern England until returning to Syria in January 1914. With the outbreak of World War I, he was interned by the Turks and then expelled from the region to arrive in Egypt in January 1915. Bergin offered to assist the Catholic chaplains of the newly arrived AIP, and, though still a civilian, was dressed in a privates uniform by the men of the 5th Light Horse, and left for Gallipoli with them.
He acted as priest arid stretcher-bearer until his formal appointment came through in May, and he remained on Gallipoli until invalided home in September with enteric fever. A photo taken of him in slouch hat and emu feathers created something of sensation at home, but he was not there long, returning to work on hospital ships until January 1916, when he went to Egypt with the 51st Battalion. He followed the battalion to France, serving as chaplain during some key battles leading up to the attack on the Hindenburg line. In 1917 a long-range shell burst near the aid station where he was working and killed him.
Bergin never came to Australia, but was awarded a posthumous Military Cross and in the late 1990s was awarded the Australian Gallipoli Medal. There is a memorial to him at the back of the Cairns Cathedral, as the soldiers he mainly worked with were from North Queensland. His life is included here because of his unique connection with Australia.
John Eddy has an entry on him in the Australian Dictionary qf Biograpy, p. 274.
Note from Edward Sydes Entry
He and the Irish Jesuit Michael Bergin, who served with the AIP but never visited Australia, are the only two Australian Army chaplains who died as a result of casualties in action.