By Anthony Barich
Bishop Aloysius Morgan, the fifth-oldest bishop in the world and possibly Australia’s last living World War II chaplain, has died peacefully in his sleep aged 98 on the night of May 21.
Having suffered a bad fall and short-term memory loss over the preceding two months, he died the same night after asking to return from Calvary Hospital to his home at Villagio Sant’Antonio in Canberra, reportedly telling hospital staff: “I just want to go home to prepare to die.”
Canberra-baseed Bishop Max Davis of the Military Ordinariate told The Record that Bishop Morgan the last thing he reportedly said was ‘thankyou’ to his staff, went to bed with his Rosary beads and passed away at about 10 minutes to 10 that night.
“That really sums up his personality – always appreciative of the efforts of others,” Bishop Davis said.
Bishop Morgan, who retired in 1985, became a chaplain of the Australian Army on June 12, 1941, serving in Papua New Guinea and the Vietnam War and was present at the formal surrender of the Japanese at Wewak in September 1945.
Bishop Davis said that Bishop Morgan significantly raised the profile of army chaplaincy and the level of solidarity and coordination between army chaplaincies around the world.
After Vatican II gave a higher priority to the care of people in armed services, John Paul II issued on April 12, 1986 the Apostolic Constitution “Spirituali Militum Curae” (“On the Spiritual Care of the Military”).
The late Pope’s document that elevated military vicariates to the level of ‘ordinariate’, placing them on the same status as territorial dioceses with their own bishops.
As the last ‘Chaplain General’ of the Australian army in the old system, Bishop Morgan was instrumental in establishing a special network of military vicars around Australia and the world, according to Bishop Davis, who stands as a successor to the recently departed bishop.
According to both Bishop Davis and Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn – the diocese that Bishop Morgan served while in the military – the late bishop was “legendary” in the Church and army in Australia, with a very “personal approach to soldiers and servicemen”.
“There are legendary stories of him trekking for three days across mountainous terrain in Papua New Guinea to Australian soldiers who hadn’t seen a chaplain or priest in weeks,” Bishop Davis said.
“He grabbed his Mass kit and rations and set off, just to spend four days with the soldisers, celebrating Mass, giving the sacrament and having a yarn.”
Bishop Davis said that the late bishop also crossed the infamous Kokoda Trail, the site of much brutality that Australian soldiers endrued.
Bishop Davis said that Bishop Morgan had a great devotion to Our Lady, as the first thing Bishop Morgan did having been appointed bishop of the Australian military in 1969 was to petition the Holy See to have Mary as patron saint of the military vicariate in Australia, under the title of Help of Christians.
“While it is certainly the passing of an era, he has left a wonderful legacy, and was a real example of being a genuine, committed, faithful presence of Christ in sometimes the most aweful circumstances that armed forces have to endure,” Bishop Davis said.
“He was a gentle but firm man; he had a side that was quite decisive. He was a man’s man, and you always knew exactly where you stood with him.”