Hügel, Franz Fr, (1902-1991)

Prepared by: 
Regina Ganter
Birth / Death: 

born 11 August 1902 in Leipzig

died 23 January 1991 in Rossmoyne, age 88

Fr. Francis spent 21 years at Beagle Bay, and altogether 50 years in the Kimberley including Rockhole (1934-37), Lombadina (1945-47), Broome (1947-48), Derby (1951-54), and LaGrange and Balgo (1955-61).



Franz Hügel was born in Leipzig as one of six children of opera singer Josef Michel Hügel and Keszentia. When his father became too ill to work the oldest daughter Ida financially supported the family. Franz completed his schooling to Grade 8 in Kassel-Wehlheiden and then attended the Pallottine high school at Ehrenbreitstein from 1918 to enable him to complete his matriculation exam (Abitur). He received his habit in Ehrenbreitstein in May 1923 and made his profession in May 1925. With financial support from his sister he studied philosophy and theology in Hofstetten and Limburg and was ordained in Limburg July 1929.


He attended a two-months course in mission medicine in Würzburg together with Fr. Ernst Worms1 and on 11 November 1930 they both departed for Australia together with Brothers Anton Boettcher, Tautz and Schüngel. They travelled via Rome to have an audience with Pope Pius XI, then to Genua to board the German Lloyd ship Trier to Singapore, and from there on the Minderoo to Broome. After a seven-week sea journey Bishop Raible greeted them at Beagle Bay.2


Bishop Raible intended to establish a Pallottine centre in the West Kimberley and purchased a sheep farm at Rockhole near Halls Creek. He dispatched Fr. Hügel with Brothers Krallmann and Schüngel to make a start in 1934. The property consisted of just a couple of huts. Patrick, George and young Philip Cox from Beagle Bay assisted them. Chief Protector of Aborigines Neville objected to this relocation of indigenous people without his consent and continued to make difficulties for the new project.3 By 1937 it was clearly not going ahead and Hügel returned to Beagle Bay.



Huegel at Rockhole about 1934




Fr. Hügel at Rockhole ca. 1930


Source: A0063 P1030413 Society of
the Catholic Apostolate (Australia) Archives,


In 1939 he became naturalised.4 He spent the war years at Lombadina (1945-47) and after a short stint in Broome returned to Beagle Bay (1948-49). Later he also worked at La Grange and Balgo (1955-61) and Derby (1951-54) where he lived in a galvanized iron lean-to at the back of the church, which was also built from galvanized iron. From here he also oversaw the Catholics of Fitzroy Crossing.


During a visit to Germany in 1961 he was recuperating in the Franciscan Jordanbad near Biberach (now a five star thermal spa) where he formed the plan to accompany the German migrants on the Castel Felice departing for Australia in November, as their priest. He also planned to undertake the Via Sacra pilgrimage with Bishop Raible from Vienna to Mariazell in late June.


By 1973 the Limburg Provincial acknowledged that Fr. Hügel was now ‘the senior amongst the Fathers in the Australian region’, but times were changing and ‘the government is no longer positive towards missions’.5 Less than two years later, Hügel had to report that the government health inspector ‘recently condemned most buildings’ at Beagle Bay, and as a result ‘our community is almost defunct’.6 Hügel asked Mary Durack for help to record the memories of one of the respected elders of Beagle Bay Joe Nangan aka. Butcher Joe. Durack made contact with Hugh Edwards, who in 1974 collaborated with Joe Nangan, to record ten stories illustrated by Nangan and published as Joe Nangan’s Dreaming (1976).7


Fr. Hügel’s golden jubilee as a Pallottine in 1979 was celebrated with a big party, the children performed a concert, the choir sang a choral mass, and there was a big feast, ‘like a family feast’. A retrospective of his life and contribution was published in the Pallottine Fathers Newsletter,which noted his love of singing and of liturgy, including Gregorian chant. The enthusiastic response of his pupils did ‘not always produce the tone and sound that would be genuine music to his ears’, but he ‘would accept and love the vitality and the faith of his singers, who could readily change from a kyrie eleison to the latest song by Slim Dusty’.8


Fr. Worms made a similar observation in his description of the intrepid Br. Wollseifer who played the reed organ without any training in voice or music, but passionately, loudly and idiosyncratically according to Fr. Worms, ‘to the doubtful exaltation of choral-loving Br. Hügel’. 9


In 1980 he was still living at Beagle Bay and reported that television reached the community.


Now modern materialism can bear down on us with all its seductive charms. We Pallottines eschew the flicker box. 10


In 1981 he visited Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Rome again, and during this time his eldest sister Ida died (9 June 1981).11 Former Brother Bernhard Stracke was interviewed for an oral history project at this time and stated that ‘Fr Francis became very disillusioned about the policy turns, he is in Germany at the moment. It is often said [about Aboriginal people] that alcohol will ruin them or kill them’.12


In the lead-up to the mission’s centenary Hügel collaborated with Sister Brigida Nailon to gather a collection of memoirs from the indigenous residents, published in 1990 as This is your place: Beagle Bay Mission


It was not until 1989, age 86, that he came to the retirement home of the Australian Region at Rossmoyne. At the funeral of Clare Bowler, a lay missionary who had worked for over 30 years at LaGrange mission and St Joseph’s hostel in Derby, Father Francis related ‘stories of his work on the mission and sharing stories about our founder. He seemed to be very much alive and enjoyed the evening. God took him when he was getting dressed the next morning.’13He was 88 years old.






1 Antonia Leugers Eine geistliche Unternehmensgeschichte – Die Limburger Pallottiner-Provinz 1892-1932, St. Ottilien EOS Verlag 2004

2 Josef Schüngel SAC to Bernd Worms 2. 8. 1988, in Worms, Ernst, P ( -1963) P.1-27, ZAPP.

3 Alfons Bleischwitz ‘Geschichteder australischen Mission’ in Bleischwitz, Alfons [P] P1 Nr 13 ZAPP.

4 "Advertising." Northern Times (Carnarvon) 28 Jul 1939: 4. Web. 30 Sep 2013 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76080569.

5 LM [Ludwig Münz, Provincial] to Franz Hügel at Beagle Bay, 23 October 1973, in Hügel, Franz [P] P1 Nr 19 ZAPP.

6 Hügel at Beagle Bay to Provincial in Limburg, December 1975, in Hügel, Franz [P] P1 Nr 19 ZAPP.

7 "Joe Nangan: retelling the Dreamtime." The Australian Women's Weekly 20 Oct 1976: 43-45. Web. 11 May 2011.

8 Pallottine Fathers Newsletter Nr 3/79:2-3 ZAPP.

9 Ernst Worms, Brothers in Australia in Worms, Ernst, P ( -1963) P.1-27, ZAPP.

10 Hügel at Beagle Bay to Provincial, December 1980, in Hügel, Franz [P] P1 Nr 19 ZAPP.

11 Hügel in Stuttgart to Provincial in Limburg, 10 June 1981, in Hügel, Franz [P] P1 Nr 19 ZAPP.

12 Jeffrey, Chris ‘An Interview with Bernhard Stracke, (age 73), 6 August 1981, Battye Library Oral History Programme, transcript, WA State Library.

13 Circular Nr 75 Society of the Catholic Apostolate, Rossmoyne in Hügel, Franz [P] P1 Nr 19 ZAPP.