Bishop Edmond (Ned) Fitzgibbon was born in Ballylegan, Glanworth, Co Cork in 1925. He and his twin brother Jim were the last born in a family of ten boys whose only sister Margaret had died in the great flu epidemic of 1918, at the age of three. Ned joined the Presentation Brothers but decided within a year that he had a vocation to the missionary priesthood. He came to Kiltegan in 1943, having failed to gain admission to the Missionary Society of St Columban who considered him too frail to face the rigours of the Far East. It was a poor judgement on their part as Ned went on to be ordained for Kiltegan, in 1950, and, afterwards, to enjoy fifty-five years of rude health in Nigeria.
His first appointment was to the port town of Calabar where he made a name for himself as a football manager, training the local team to win the prestigious Governor's Cup in 1954. He became a household name in the South East of Nigeria and there is a street in Calabar named after him. Ned was transferred to Lagos in 1960 as Press Officer for the Nigerian Bishops and was entrusted with the task of setting up the Nigerian Catholic Secretariat. He did this very efficiently and became the first Secretary General.
During this period Ned made many contacts. He was a close confidant of Archbishop -later Cardinal - Pignedoli, the Apostolic Delegate. He got to know many of the leading politicians of the time as well as a number of literary figures and journalists. He was excited by the possibilities of a sovereign Nigeria and by the truly indigenous Church that was emerging. He had great rapport with Nigerian people. African bishops, priests and laity trusted him and he was once described in a newspaper as "the white man with the black heart". He was a man of simple tastes who kept the most basic of tables and placed little value on personal comfort or possessions.
The Prefecture of Minna was entrusted to the Society in 1962 and Ned was appointed Prefect two years later with the title Monsignor. Situated in the Muslim North of the country, the new prefecture was the size of Ireland, a semi-desert area almost entirely bereft of health and education facilities. In the early days, Ned was too demanding of his priests but, following an approach from the Society leadership, he became more benign and caring. Then, the Civil War started and there was wholesale slaughter of Ibos in Minna, many of them pillars of the Church. In spite of the chaos that followed and many other difficulties, Ned handed over a well developed prefecture to an African bishop in 1973. It had a strong pastoral emphasis with deep respect for the local culture and it provided the people with good health and education facilities.
In 1974, Ned was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Port Harcourt diocese. He was made a titular bishop the following year but never became Bishop of Port Harcourt, a prestigious diocese which would be more fittingly governed by an indigenous bishop as it had been since it was set up in 1961. In 1981, while still in Port Harcourt, Bishop Ned was made Apostolic Visitor to nearby Warri where there was a lot of tension and division. He went on to administer the diocese of Warri for ten years and became its Bishop in 1991. He resigned from that post in 1997.
Ned continued to minister in Nigeria, working as chaplain to the shrine of our Lady in Maryland, Lagos. Ill health forced him to return to Ireland in 1995 and he retired to Kiltegan soon afterwards. His last five years were peaceful and would have been idyllic but for an underlying anxiety that raised its head ever more frequently as time went on. He laid aside all the symbols of Episcopal authority and lived a very simple life, making few demands. He took part in all community activities and had a ready smile for everyone. He kept in close touch with his family especially with the family of his twin Jim, a legendary pharmacist in Limerick, whom he outlived by two years.
Bishop Ned's death on April 21 2010 in St Patrick's, Kiltegan, at the age of eighty-five, drew the curtain on an heroic missionary life which saw a shy, reticent man reach across religious, racial and cultural barriers and make meaningful connections that have promoted and extended the reign of God.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan