It was to honour the memory of this man that this College was so named. How he died is uncertain. Where he died is unknown. Why he died has never been established. For that matter it has never been established that he did, in fact, die. But since that day in 1943 when the Japanese led him away, no one was ever to see or hear from Columban Father Frank Douglas again.
Frank believed in taking time before making important decisions. After graduating from high school, he worked in the Post Office of his home town Thorndon, New Zealand, for a year before making any plans about the future. He wanted time to think things out, investigate all the options before choosing one. When he did decide – it was the Priesthood.
In 1934 he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Wellington. Even then he felt a pull to the missions – but spent the next three years in New Plymouth as Assistant Pastor. But he knew “something greater” was still before him.
Part of that “something greater” he found in the Columban Fathers. In 1936 he joined them and following a year of training and missionary formation in Australia, went to the Philippines.
The first months in his new ministry were spent learning the language and customs of the Philippine people. In 1939 he was appointed Pastor of Pililla, a town of 10,000 on the Island of Luzon. Rumours of war spreading to countries of the Far East were beginning even then. “War or no war, I’ll stick it out here,” Father Frank wrote home in 1940. Pililla was his mission … he’d remain.
The people were poor, their faith even more so. It was a small, struggling town when Father Frank arrived – with a half-ruined church, a dilapidated rectory and a mere handful of practising Catholics. His work was clearly cut out for him – and it wasn’t going to be easy.
Father Frank began with the youth. “They’re the future of the Church here and they also seem the best avenue to reaching other people” he said. Within a few months he organised a troop of Boys Scouts and began working with the older youths of Pililla organising recreational activities and a social action committee.
Before long, his labours began to bear fruit. The Church was repaired, the rectory made habitable and faith was gradually coming back to the people. “Think I’ve made a sound start – but still so much to be done…” he wrote in 1940.
Much did remain to be done – but Father Frank was not the man who would do it. The Japanese invaded the Philippines shortly after Pearl Harbour was bombed in 1941. Although he had ample time to escape, he stuck to his earlier decision. For him leaving his people in such a time of need would have been self-defeating. “They have nowhere else to go - nor do I”, he wrote.
For two years Father Frank lived the precarious existence of those who will not collaborate and cannot revolt. As a Priest and foreigner, he was suspected by the Japanese in his every move. Often he was taken in for questioning, held for hours and accused of being a spy against the Japanese. But he knew nothing to satisfy their intensive interrogations.
He was simply a priest, a missionary doing his job in an occupied country – of anything else about the war he was ignorant.
On 25th June 1943 Father Douglas was arrested by Japanese soldiers who were trying to stamp out guerrilla activity in the mountains near Pililla. He was taken to a Church in the neighbouring town of Paete and beaten and then tied to a pillar in the baptistery for three days.
At one point during his confinement Father Francis was subjected to the “water torture”. A large funnel was inserted in his mouth and water poured through until his stomach became hideously bloated. A wooden slab was then placed across his middle which the soldiers jumped on.
According to one report, the Japanese suspected that Father Douglas had been hearing the confessions of resistance guerrilla fighters who hid out in the surrounding hills. Through means of the “water torture” they attempted to make him reveal the guerrilla’s whereabouts and any pertinent information confided in the confessional. Whether or not he was aware of the guerrillas – Father Douglas remained silent through the whole ordeal.
At his request he was allowed to make his confession to a native Filipino Priest in the presence of a Japanese interpreter. The Priest later recounted the physical appearance of Father Frank at the time. “His face was bloody, one eye was blackened and swollen and his arms were covered with infected cuts and sores.”
At the end of the third day, as darkness was coming on, the Japanese took Father Frank from the Church and dragged him to a military truck – surrounded by soldiers with fixed bayonets.
The truck drove away from Paete towards Santa Cruz. When it returned later that night Japanese soldiers were its only occupants. Father Frank’s “something greater” was completed somehow, somewhere in the time between. His body was never found.