JOHN FAGAN from Easterhouse,Glasgow has just survived cancer for the third time.It was his first illness which led to the canonization of the Blessed John Ogilvie in 1976. There have been further twists to his remarkable story. Fagan himself,now approaching 76 ,reveals them to Jack Webster...
In a very private existence John Fagan relaxes to the mellow music of Radio 2, gets up to make himself a light evening meal,consumes a can of Guiness---then settles down to a session of prayer which generally tapers off in the premature onset of sleep.
His prayers are for other people and he hopes that he they will find as much response as other people's prayers have found for him.
For John Fagan,former Glasgow dock worker,was the Miracle Man of the Seventies,so inexplicably cured of stomach cancer that the Roman Catholic Church put it all down to the intervention of a long-dead Banffshire priest ,John Ogilvie,who was then declared a saint.
Thrust into the world spotlight of a spectacular ceremony at St. Peter's in Rome, the wee man from Glasgow took it all in his stride,then withdrew to his chosen obscurity in the new town of Livingstone,from which there has been very little word of him since 1979.
The extraordinary news,which can be revealed today,is that John Fagan has now been declared as cured of cancer for the third time. No claims of a miracle on this occasion, just the successful surgery of a team at Bangour Hospital, West Lothian,who have removed a malignant tumour from the large bowel.
At the Catholic Press Office in Glasgow,FatherTom Connolly told me:
"This is the first I have heard of it. But I am absolutely delighted to hear of John's cure-and I know the Archbishop will be too.
The extraordinary story of John Fagan and St. John Ogilvie is a source of encouragement to some and will strengthen the faith of others"
The frail little figure,who came back from the dead in miraculous fashion one bewildering morning in 1967,gathered his depleted strength to give me the sequel to that remarkable story:
"This latest episode began last April, when I found that food was going straight through me. I'm always reluctant to bother a doctor so I took medication of my own.
''But I let it go too far and by the time I called for help I was in a terrible condition. The surgeon was working with a very dicey situation and they had to build me up before they could operate.
''However,the cancer was removed and I have now been told that I am cured again.Fortunately,the surgeon had known me before. About five years ago I had the prostate operation and ,at that time,they found trace of cancer in the bladder. That was removed and the surgeon joked that I had two for the price of one Now I have survived a tumour in the bowel as well. ''The lesson for other peopleis to go to the doctor as soon as they have their suspicions.
The other lesson is that ,if you are told you have cancer ,don't give up .You must fight on regardless,with determination. If you happen to be religious,then prayer will prove to be of great help. That will to survive has never had a finer champion than John Fagan,a quietly humble soul who still cannot understand why his God selected him as an instrument of wondrous things.
Even for those with no belief at all,his story leaves a trail of question marks.
John Fagan was born just before the First World War and brought up in the tenements of Whitehall St,Anderson,where his future wife,Mary,was also raised.
Even in marriage, they remained in the street of their birth before moving out to the perimeter sprawl of Easterhouse and raising their six children. John continued to work at the Glasgow docks,destined to a life in the anonymous masses which suited his nature to perfection.
But the fates had a curious pattern in store for him. In 1965,he fell ill and was taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary,where surgeons operated on a massive tumour of the stomach.They expected him to live for about six months. Secondary tumours had developed by the end of that year and Mary Fagan was told nothing more could be done for her husband.
John regarded himself as a pretty wishy-washy Roman Catholic but that did not prevent a concentration of prayer among the people of Easterhouse, which happened to be the only parish in the world named after the religious martyr, John Ogilvie.
Ogilvie was a Banffshire aristocrat who was hanged at Glasgow Cross in 1615 for refusing to accept the supremacy of King James in spiritual matters. A heroic figure in Roman Catholic eyes, he had already been beatified and there was a ground swell movement to claim him as a saint, an ambition which would require some evidence that he had interceded in miraculous fashion.
In the intermediary manner of Roman Catholics,the Easterhouse prayers for John Fagan were channelled through the Blessed John Ogilvie, whose medal was pinned on his pyjamas.But time was running out for Fagan. Dr.ArchibaldMacDonald, the family GP, realised that the stomach was finally breaking up and administered what would almost certainly be the final shot of pain-killer.
Now down to a pathetic five stones of weight,which included a mass of tumour,John Fagan looked up and said:"I'm going doctor." They would surely be his closing words. He received the last rites and his wife,Mary,settled down on the armchair for an all -night vigil.
At 6am,John lay motionless. There was no heartbeat. As all life drained away,Mary buried her face in her hands in a final acceptance of the inevitable. Then came a voice which said:"Mary I'm hungry....Mary,I feel so different"She rose in disbelief and fed him an egg.
In came Dr Macdonald, expecting only to sign the death certificate. Instead, he found his patient alive and improving, a bewildering sight which sent him slumping into a chair,with the involuntary exclamation:"Good God, I don't understand it."
His temptation to call it a "bloody miracle"was undermined by the fact that he himself had no religious beliefs!No such difficulty presented itself to Father Thomas Reilly, parish priest at Easterhouse, who had become Vice-postulator of the JohnOgilvie cause:
When John Fagan was taken back to hospital and the massive cancer was found to have vanished from his body, the big investigation was under way. Was this the miracle needed for Ogilvie's Sainthood?
The Vatican tends to resist such overtures, on the basis that a subsequent explanation in medical terms could destroy all notion of miracles. A panel of experts took nine years to conclude that they could find no other possible explanation.
There was one dissenting voice in Dr Gerard Patrick Crean of Glasgow Southern General Hospital,who put forward the theory that the growth could have been an abscess. He did not, however examine Fagan.
So the Vatican accepted the verdict and ,in theSpring of 1976, Pope Paul declared that John Ogilvie had had a hand in the survival of John Fagan, who was promptly paraded before journalists at the Catholic Press office in Glasgow. Despite rumours,his identity had been a very well kept secret.
By the Autumn of that year, 20 plane-loads of Scots, more then 4000 people in all, were heading for Rome and a memorable celebration under the great Dome of Michelangelo, within the biggest church in the world.
Among those who filed into St Peter's that day were Princess Alexandra and her husband, Mr Angus Ogilvie, a relative of the man about to be canonised.
As Pope Paul pronounced that John Ogilvie from Banffshire was a saint in Heaven -Scotland's first Saint in 700 hundred years-the crowd burst into such spontaneous cheering as they might normally have reserved for Celtic Park."Honour to you, the representatives of a Scotland which has given to humanity such a great hero of freedom and faith,"said His Holiness.
As proof that there are always two sides to astory , the 15,000 people emerging into daylight were confronted on the steps of St Peter's by Paster Jack Glass and followers of the 20th Century Reformation Movement, who had driven all the way from Glasgow .
Their banner proclaimed that "Four million Scots are against this canonisation. Ogilvie was a traitor , not a Saint."There were minor scuffles but the appearance of the Pope on the balcony diverted the attention of the crowds, who became more interested in recieving the papal blessing .Backstage at what seemed like a Hollywood extravaganza, His Holiness received John and Mary Fagan and said :"John, I hear you nearly died."
It was the greatest moment in the lives of the two Glasgow citizens who suddenly found themselves with their hour ofGlory. Mary had never been further than Blackpool. But John had been here before,as he told me outside St Peter's that day. Serving with the Amourded Corps in Italy during the Second World War, he had made his own way to Rome one day and stood alone upon these steps,never imagining that he would return more than 30 years later,as the living proof of a miracle.
But here he was; and tonight the Eternal City would belong to the Scots. Then it was back home to normality-and a weird sequence of events which led John Fagan to where he is today.
After all he had been through, he suffered a mild heart attack but, much worse, his cheery wife, Mary, fell victim of a stroke and died. Mary's brother to whom John was very close,had also died.Tragically, the young Dr Macdonald, who had come to sign his death certificate, took ill and died and so did Father Reilly,who had guided the whole John Ogilvie movement to itsconclusion.
Among others who had been particularly close toFagan was my Herald colleague, Colm Brogan, member of a well-know Roman Catholic family. Before long he, too, was dead, while still in his thirties.
A bewildered John Fagan was left to wonder why,amid the rejoicing for his own survival, so much of the life around him had been taken away.
He went willingly to Livingstone to be near two of his daughters, May and Margaret, and there he lives alone in a terraced, new-town flat.
That was where I found him this week,reflecting on the unlikely pattern of his days on earth:"I have lived a fairly quiet life here, with no regrets about leaving my native city. It's not my Glasgow any more. The Camaraderie of places like Anderson has never been matched and my landmarks have gone.
"This last operation took a lot out of me and I don't feel strong enough to go out. I get up about 7.30 and have tea and a biscuit, then a sandwich at lunchtime and a main meal at night.
I turn on the radio and listen to people like Derek Jameson, Jimmy Young and David Jacobs and I wouldn't miss Friday night is Music Night. Sometimes I listen to a radio play.That's my life."
What about those critical days of 1967,particularly that moment when he seemed to be dead?
"I had 24 hours to live and the house was filled with people who knew that the end was near. There came a moment when Mary thought I was dead; then something very strange happened.
"I thought I was at the gates of Heaven,looking in. And there I saw my Auntie Annie, who had been dead for along time. She was dressed in her Sunday best, black taffeta,and she was beckoning me to come in. I was one step from Heaven.
"That scene finished and the curtain came down,as if to keep the audience in suspense.That was when I woke up and said I was hungry. The more I look back on what happened, the more I believe it was a miracle. I hadn't eaten for seven weeks and there seems no other answer.
"I am more strongly religious than before and I have a list of people I pray for every night. I pray through John Ogilvie, who's medal I wear regularly around my neck, and I pray to God.
"I am not unhappy with life but I think back on all those people around me who died-and I do sometimes ask God about when my own time will come..."
@ & Courtesy of The GlasgowHerald