A priest from Northern Ireland says a lucky escape from a Nazi German bombing in 1941 propelled him on his faith journey into priesthood.
Canon Sean Rogan from Belfast, who resides in Carryduff, Co. Down, narrowly avoided being bombed during the Second World War and was evacuated with his family.
The retired 81-year-old clergyman told The Irish Catholic how this harrowing event set him on a pathway to being in God’s service.
“Our house was right beside a huge flax-spinning mill which took a direct hit during the Nazi Germany raid on April 15, 1941,” Fr Rogan explains.
“My mother went upstairs and took myself and my sister out of bed right before the mill was bombed and completely destroyed. Part of the mill came down through the roof of the house, where we had been just a few minutes before.
“We were then evacuated down to Killough, Co. Down the next day and there I was reared.
“I remember saying to a group of Germans one time that I thanked the German pilot or bomber who dropped the bombs there,” he jokes. “The reason for that was because I probably would never have been a priest had I remained in Belfast because it was a middle district and I would not have had the opportunities that I got from being in Co. Down.
“Perhaps it was fortuitous or coincidental or maybe even providential? The Lord does some strange things in some strange ways.”
Fr Rogan says clergymen in his adopted parish of Killough encouraged him to join the priesthood, practice his gift of music and share it with others.
“What motivated me then to be a priest was the clergy in my parish, the old Canon in Killough and the De La Salle Brothers at St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick,” he says.
“They inspired me and I wanted to do service for and be of service to others, which is why I use whatever talents I have to sing and play the piano, so that it might give people some help and joy.
“I started music in 1946 when I was 7 years old,” adds Fr Rogan.
“I call myself a ‘piano player’ rather than a pianist because when I was at grammar school, there were different dance bands that I used to play just for amusement on Saturday nights and things like that.”
Fr Rogan entered religious life at the age of 17 and was ordained a priest at St Peter’s College in Co. Wexford on June 3, 1962 and has been involved in many parishes over that period of time.
He worked as a curate in Downpatrick in the 1970s before being sent to St Luke’s in Twinbrook, Belfast where he built a parish in a very deprived and troubled area.
The Canon also served as a parish priest in Coleraine, Lisburn, Kilcoo and Killyleagh until his retirement.
“Some of them (parishes) were in Belfast and one of the worst times I had was during The Troubles at St Luke’s, one of my parishioners there was Bobby Sands, who was the first of the hunger strikers and I officiated at his funeral.
“There were killings, bombings and shootings; it was a terrible time, but thanks be to God that things are much better now.”
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, Fr Rogan has rekindled his love for music and taken to social media on Saturday nights in an effort to boost morale during difficult times.
“What prompted me? While we were in this lockdown it suddenly struck me that our own parishioners are confined to their homes could use a wee bit of entertainment.
“So I decided one Saturday night to use the web cam in the church and I play the piano for over an hour doing different songs, for example, ‘La Paloma’ – a tango piece in honour of Pope Francis who loves tango music, ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ and so on.
“The response I got was very good,” he adds, “parishioners told me that when I played swing, tango and jazz they danced at home and they began to ring up and say ‘could you do another one?’.
“So about three weeks ago, I did and this time – which I didn’t realise at the time – it was on Facebook and got about 3,000 hits.
“I did another one on Saturday two weeks ago,” continues Fr Rogan, “because people kept asking me to and it went very well. I got a good response once again and I thought it was the best of the three I have done so far.
“I said I was doing this as a tribute to all the NHS workers in all the hospitals, hospices and nursing homes to credit, praise and honour them for their heroism.
“I also asked to pray for those who are ill at this time and those who have died during the pandemic and their families who are mourning them as well.”