Fr Branagan was a Redemptorist priest who spent many years working in the Townsville diocese, and is remembered fondly by many people here. His funeral was held on 5 April 2006, and the following obituary was prepared by Bruce Duncan.
Fr Charles Martin Branagan died in Melbourne at the age of 97 on Saturday evening, 1 April. The staff at the Good Shepherd Nursing Home at Abbotsford contacted us about 8.00 pm that Marty was sinking. Fr Kevin Hickey and myself went to sit with him. He was not conscious and was breathing very heavily. We prayed with him for about an hour, with his niece Helen Bourke who was very close to Marty. At 9.25 pm, Marty simply stopped breathing, and his spirit took flight for the companionship of heaven.
He had been very weak for some weeks beforehand and sleeping a lot, but was restless at times. Many confreres and his family visited him during these weeks, but he was able to respond to visitors only with difficulty. The staff was very attentive to Marty, and very fond of him. On first moving to Abbotsford in December 1999, the got a new lease on life, responding to the company around him, but age finally wore him down.
His funeral was held at the Redemptorist Chapel at Majella Court, Kew at 10.30 on Wednesday 5 April. We were expecting perhaps 40 relatives and friends, but 60-70 arrived. However, everyone fitted in comfortably, making the ceremony very family-friendly. The confreres from Brighton joined us, with Paul Bird as principal celebrant, standing in for the Provincial, Michael Gilbert, who was still recuperating from his operation. Five or six people came from Townsville, including Fr Terry Lyons, Vicar General of the diocese, who also represented Bishop Michael Putney who was unable to attend. Mr Robert Ryan represented the Old Collegians from Assumption College, Kilmore. The readings were those Marty chose for his farewell from Townsville in August 1997: Zechariah 12: 14-17, 1 Corthinians 15: 20-26, and Luke 1: 39-56.
Beside Marty’s coffin were various items symbolising his life, including a mouth organ, his old cricket cap, and a copy of his book Chattering Teeth, now much sought after by the family and friends. He used to claim he clearly remembered his birth, but that it was so cold his little teeth were chattering. Marty’s little joke endeared him to many people.
On behalf of the family, Mr Paul Branagan talked about Marty’s importance for their family, and a friend from Townsville, Elizabeth Tillack, read a poem that had been written for Marty before he left Townsville.
Born in 1908 in Ballarat, Marty was educated at the State school at Yendon (1914-17) and St Augustine’s Catholic School at Yarraville (1918-21) before winning a bursary to Assumption College, Kilmore (1922-25). He was initially thought puny and weak, but later excelled at sport. In 1925, he won the Good Conduct Award (for the second time), was a member of the 1st XI cricket team and the 1st XVIII football team. He was especially proud of winning the 220 yards race at a carnival for the Catholic Secondary Schools Victoria, and being a member of the team in the 400 yards relay which set a record that lasted 30 years. He retained a life-long passion for sports. He was also keen on the piano and harmonical, and loved to play and entertain others with his music and magic tricks.
When he was professed, Marty gave an account, long stored in the Redemptorist archives, of how and why he joined the order. He had heard Redemptorists preaching during his early years, and was attracted to join them but afraid to tell the priests about this attraction. At the urging of his parish priest, he was on the verge of applying to the diocesan Corpus Christi College, but after making a novena to the Little Flower, ‘I longed more than ever to become a Redemptorist.’ After this long struggle, he wrote to the Ballarat Redemptorists, and was accepted into the Novitiate in January 1926 under Fr Bannon. It was not a decision he came to lightly. He mentioned elsewhere that he was so homesick for the first six months that he nearly returned home. ‘Fortunately I changed my mind at the last minute’.
He was professed in 1927 and ordained in 1932. The next year he was appointed to Galong where he taught in the Juvenate for nine years, developing his wide knowledge of history especially. From 1942, he gave missions and retreats throughout Australian and New Zealand (for six years), including even Fiji. He joined the community in Townsville in 1947, and returned again in 1964, becoming assistant parish priest at Aitkenvale in 1967, and parish priest in 1972. He was posted to Galong in 1973 to teach for a year, but then sped back to his beloved Townsville in 1974 where he remained until his retirement to Kew in 1997. He was immensely popular in Townsville, and was awarded the OAM in April 1995 in recognition of his services to the community. He was the only one so honoured in Townsville that year.
Fr Terry Lyons then spoke briefly on his three years living with Marty in Townsville. As two extraverts, they had a lot of fun together, despite the great difference in age.
Marty gave the eulogy for his brother Fr Leo, on 16 March 1982, at Ballarat. What he wrote of Leo could also be applied closely to Marty himself, and gives us some insight into his spirituality and prayerful acceptance of old age:
By the end of 1974 he would seem to have done a good life’s work. But it was just then that his greatest work began. That work was the apostolate of suffering in Christ and with Christ.
We read in the Gospel, that Our Lord worked great miracles during his three years of missionary labours – and yet his greatest work was in the last hours of His earthly life. It was just when he seemed completely helpless, a prisoner in the hands of His executioners – in that very time He was accomplishing the Salvation of men.
And so it was with his faithful follower – the chosen grain of wheat – it was to fall into the ground and die, so as to yield fruit. God asked of him the sacrifice of all he had held so dear, a sacrifice that was to mean long years of illness and frustration and disappointment – years of silence, years of shadow, but years that were preparing a hidden harvest.
So too this human grain – cast into the fruitful soil of resignation to God’s Will, it was really doing its greatest work of patient and silent acceptance – and in that very time of dying to self, was bearing the rich harvest that only the mind of God can know.
After Mass, people were invited to refreshments in the community dining room, and then we proceeded to Box Hill cemetery.
Marty was not only the oldest Australian Redemptorist to that time, but perhaps the shortest. He developed a strong voice for his missions, but was not overbearing in any way. He was everybody’s grandfather and a genuinely humble man, at a loss to explain his popularity in Townsville. His life has been a great grace for Redemptorists and people in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand.