by MIKE SMITH
Fr Dan Robert Johns, who died on New Year’s Eve, liked to refer to his wife if he had to wake his congregation up.

Fr Dan Johns
Fr Dan Johns

Fr Johns, who had been a priest in Fiji, became a priest in Hamilton diocese many years later. His marriage in between times added another dimension to his service, whereby he might throw in a line at Mass such as: “I said to Monica my wife once . . ,” if he realised the congregation might be drifting.
Fr Johns could have been likened to the Jonah Lomu of the priesthood.
He lived his life as robustly as the late All Black and, sadly, also shared aspects of tragedy and illness that seemed to dog the younger man.
Aged 78 at the time of his death, Fr Johns was a priest at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hamilton.
He was renowned for rising early every morning to walk 2½ kilometres to buy meat and milk, then be home in time to go to Mass at 6.30am.
Fr Johns grew up on Viti Levu, the main island in Fiji, the youngest boy of nine children in a religious family.
In 1951 he was invited to go to St John’s College, Cawaci, and to Ovalau the following year, where he excelled at sport.
As well as breaking the Fiji school record for 440 yards, he received attention and adulation from spectators in a rugby career that included playing in the first Fiji Secondary School XV against a Tongan school boys team.
Although drawn to sport, Dan joined three others from Fiji to study at Holy Name Seminary in Christchurch under the Jesuits, from 1956-58.
The then archbishop of Suva, Victor Foley, thought it was time for Fijians to have local clergy who belonged to the bishop and, although he was a Marist, he decided they should study under the Jesuits.
At the seminary Fr Johns met now Bishop Emeritus of Hamilton, Denis Browne, who remembers his young counterpart as playing rugby like an early version of Lomu.
“Dan could have represented Fr Dan referred to his wife in homilies Fr Dan Johns
At the seminary Fr Johns met now Bishop Emeritus of Hamilton, Denis Browne, who remembers his young counterpart as playing rugby like an early version of Lomu.
“Dan could have represented his country at rugby or athletics, but he gave it all away to go to the seminary.” Fiji’s loss turned out to be the seminary’s gain, as he became the star winger on the rugby team.
“He was a similar type to Jonah — a high-stepping winger who could not be tackled and scored try after try,” Bishop Browne said.
The four who had travelled to the seminary in 1956 were ordained in Suva on July 8, 1962.
Fr John’s first appointment, from 1963 to 1966, was in Vanuakula, an area with few roads, followed by postings in Suva and to a seaside mission station at Naiserlagi.
It was there that Fr Johns decided to take leave from his priestly duties and return home.
What followed was what he later described as “the most difficult period of my life”.
After struggling to find work, he eventually got a job as an assistant salesman with an Australian land management company.
He then worked for an Australian pest control firm before going out on his own. Business flourished, until the 1987 military coup.
He remained in business until 1993, when parliament was re-elected, at which time he took a job as a parliamentary secretary for the General Voters’ Party, of which he was a member.
On December 17, 1977, he and Monica Martha married, after he had received a dispensation from the Holy See to marry.
Monica was described by one source as “the love of his life”. She had been a teacher and religious of the Sisters of Our Lady of Nazareth.
The couple moved to Suva and remained there until her death nearly 30 years later.
Tragedy touched Dan John’s life in other ways, but his commitment to his faith never dwindled.
He opened the Suva cathedral every morning at 6am and was chairman of the parish council.
Archbishop Petero Mataca was a friend and encouraged him when he came back and said he wanted to go back into ministry.
Bishop Browne was ordained about the same time as Bishop Mataca and was a good friend. He said that he suggested to Archbishop Mataca: “Dan is such a well known person in Fiji; it might be easier for him to get back into priestly ministry somewhere else. So if you would like to send him down to Hamilton, we’ll give him a position.”
The last five years of his life, apart from a short spell as a priest in Suva, were spent at the cathedral in Hamilton. Fr Johns kept up his habit of saying early morning Mass. His other strength was that he loved taking confessions at 11.30am daily, to the extent that he built up a following. “He said to me not long before he died that once a person goes regularly to the same confessor, the person becomes relaxed and gets to know themselves and their spiritual progress. Instead of people having a shopping list of things they’ve done wrong, it’s a relationship journey with Jesus and God,” said Bishop Browne. “He used to say, the less you can say the better as a confessor, because it is God working through the confessor.” After a requiem Mass at the cathedral, Fr Johns was buried at Ohaupo Catholic Cemetery, as he wanted to stay in New Zealand rather than imposing the cost on the community of being taken back to Fiji.

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