The Lyons-Ryan Family of 'Ellendale', Marong, Victoria

A Missionary in Eastern Papua

Francis Patrick Lyons (Frank) was the eldest son of William and Johanna Lyons and the grandson of Patrick and Ellen Lyons.

Frank was born in Cootamundra, New South Wales on 10 June 1904 and subsequently moved with his family to Stanmore and then to Strathfield, suburbs of Sydney. He was educated at the Christian Brothers College at Burwood but left at the age of 14 years. He worked for a short period at a pharmacy in Strathfield and for a firm of solicitors.

In October 1919 he applied to enter the Junior Seminary of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) at Douglas Park, NSW to complete his secondary studies. Subsequently he entered the main Seminary at Kensington to study for the Priesthood. He was ordained at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney on 1 December 1930.

Prior to completing his studies, Frank expressed a desire to become a missionary and volunteered for the Papuan Mission. On 28 January 1931 he sailed from Sydney to Papua on the SS Morinda, spending a year at the MSC headquarters at Yule Island. In 1932 he was delegated the task of establishing the MSC mission in eastern Papua.

SS Morinda
SS Morinda

Father Francis (Frank) Lyons on board the SS Morinda, 28 January 1931
Father Francis (Frank) Lyons on board the SS Morinda, 28 January 1931, bound for Papua. Persons in the foreground are (from left) Mary Kathleen Prowse and Leonie Josephine Prowse (Francis' cousins) with (probably) Johanna and William Lyons, Francis' parents

The following is extracted from the publication "First Fifty Years; Australian MSC Missions in Eastern Papua":

"On April 22nd 1932, Father Lyons, in the company of a Kuni native, Camillo Loula; a Yule Island trained young woman, Basilia Obi, with her husband, Solomon, and two young children and a young man, Ediinodo, sailed aboard a very small launch, through the reefs and dropped anchor in a quiet little bay on Sideia Island. This island, ten miles due East of Samarai, is very large and heavily timbered hills rise abruptly from the foreshore. Mangrove trees grow tall and straight around the coastline. Coral reefs abound in front of the selected Mission site and make the approach to the anchorage very tricky. The island of Sideia was chosen for several reasons. The land had been given by Mrs. Patching; its position like Samarai, was central enough; and offered reasonable communication with the mainland. Furthermore, it did have a reasonable native population.
Let Father Lyons tell the story of his arrival: "When I surveyed the launch with its mixed cargo, and glanced across at the little opening in the mangroves where I presumed our landing place would be, and then looked at the one crazy canoe which a native had brought across to convey us to the shore, I wondered what the result would be. There were packing cases and all kinds of lumber collected in and around Samarai... not to speak of the nanny be transferred to dry land; and the old canoe seemed to say, "Well, it all depends on me'. I can still see those, goods making the perilous crossing. Anyhow, everything arrived safely at that little opening. There was water on one side of us and bush, bush, bush on the other three - a wilderness in every sense of the word. Night was coming on - it did not take very long to find the sago-palm dwelling that a native boy had erected some time earlier in view of the coming of the Missionary"."

Map - Location of Sideia Island
Location of Sideia Island

For the next year, Father Frank had only some of the local people for company as clearing and building of a church and school was carried out. This extract from "The Annals of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart", July 1 1946 describes the progress:

"Next day the work began and the silence of the tropical jungle was rent as the tall trees toppled and fell under the axes of the native boys. There was the slash of the long knives as others hacked at the undergrowth; above all rose the din of the natives singing as they went about their work.....  (Father Lyons') nearest neighbour was at Samarai and he made the wireless his recreation and company.......  Every day for two months the work of clearing went on, and gradually there arose small buildings of sago-palm and sago-sticks,  There was no sound of hammer nor nail for all the buildings were devoid of nails, everything being tied together by a very strong kind of bamboo. I am going ahead with a building programme,'' writes Father Lyons, ''local architecture and materials....... I have to laugh when I look up at the sago-palm roof and at the rough walls and transparent floor and then at the wireless set - the ancient and the modern - the meeting of two worlds.''......
In September, Father Lyons took up the role of schoolmaster for some hours of the day when he gathered his first twelve pupils into the little school.  School over, he went to supervise his work boys as they cleared the mangrove from the foreshores, brought in the timber for the buildings, or were waist deep in the water building the jetty......
Christmas passed and early in the New Year Father Lyons broke his solitude by a hasty visit to the Yule Island Headquarters. He brought back two sisters but they had only come for a visit. In May he was joined by the first Australian Lay Brother to be his constant companion and the sharer of his labours. The work went on apace when in October a visiting Missionary, who confessed that he had not been over optimistic about the future of this foundation, admitted that the transformation had made him change his views. He was welcomed at the jetty which stretched two hundred feet from the shore. A Church, Mission House, houses for school girls, boys and working boys, a Convent in course of erection met his gaze as he came to the land that eighteen months previously had been swamp and jungle."

Gradually additional brothers, priests and nuns arrived to help with the new mission. Father Frank remained at Sidea until early 1938 when he was compelled to return to Australia in ill health. He recovered sufficiently to return to Papua later in 1938 first in Port Moresby and later as the Secretary to the Bishop of Rabaul (New Britain). At the outbreak of World War II he acted as liaison between the German Missionaries in Rabaul and the Australian Government. He again returned to Australia in ill health in early 1941.

Missionaries' House, Sideia
Missionaries' House, Sideia as it was when Father Frank left prior to World War II
From The Annals of Our lady of the Sacred Heart, July 1 1946

During the war Father Frank became an Army Chaplain, serving in Western Australia. He was diagnosed with cardio-vascular degeneration at the end of the war. This was accepted as being "attributable to war service" and he was granted a war pension in October 1945.

Father Frank Lyons died in hospital at Lewisham, Sydney on 30 April 1946. The remembrance card below was produced following his death.

Fr. Francis Lyons - Rembrance Card
Fr. Francis Lyons - Rembrance Card

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