Thomas Joseph (Tom) Kiggins was born on the 2nd of August, 1942, to John Kiggins and his wife Winifred (née Ward) in Roxboro, Kilchreest, Co Galway. He attended Kilchreest National School from 1947 to 1955 and St Brendan’s Secondary School (De La Salle), Loughrea, from 1955 to 1959. He came to Kiltegan in September 1959 for the Spiritual Year. He then went to St Patrick’s, Douglas, Cork and studied at University College Cork where he graduated with an honours degree in History and English in 1963. He returned to Kiltegan for his theological studies in September 1963 and was ordained on Easter Sunday, the 26th of March, 1967 in St Brigid’s Church, Hacketstown, by Bishop Patrick Lennon, then Auxiliary Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin.
After ordination Tom was appointed to study for a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, specialising in dogmatic theology. He graduated in June 1969 and was appointed to the Diocese of Kitui, Kenya, but was first sent to teach theology at St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, Nairobi. In 1972 he went to Kitui and taught at St Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Mwingi. He was then appointed to the Diocese of Eldoret and ministered at the Mitume Centre in Kitale. He spent a short while studying theology in San Francisco before taking up a pastoral appointment at the Curragh Camp, Co Kildare. From 1976 to 1980 he was a member of the teaching staff at St Patrick’s College, Kiltegan. He returned to Africa in 1980 and ministered in Nakuru Diocese. He was very involved in diocesan administration, in communications and in publishing. Along with Fr Liam Blayney he edited a monthly magazine in Swahili called Mwananchi.
Tom returned to Ireland in the late 1980s and took on the massive task of writing the history of the Society. Maynooth Mission to Africa, the Story of St Patrick’s, Kiltegan was published in 1991 and is regarded by all as the definitive history of the Society. He also acted as Assistant Local Superior during the last year of his stay in Kiltegan. In 1992 he was appointed Executive Secretary of the Irish Missionary Union, a post he held until 2000. He was elected a member of the Central Leadership Team at the 2002 Chapter. When his term finished in 2008 he joined Fr Martin Smith and Loretta Brennan on the Africa magazine team until 2011. He “retired” for a short while until his appointment as Assistant District Leader for Ireland in December 2014.
Tom was a big man physically and he also had a very big heart. He was a powerful and kindly presence wherever he went. He was generous and gracious in his dealings with everyone. He was blessed with a very keen intellect and was a brilliant writer. His written work was noted for its clarity, its succinctness, its sobriety and its elegance. He knew the Society like nobody else. Members valued his advice and judgement and he was at all times fair, balanced, objective and blessed with an abundance of common sense. He had a special bond with past students and forged life-long friendships with many of the Kenyan priests whom he taught during his time in St Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Nairobi.
He had a special feel for those who struggled and found life difficult. He was very open about his own struggles. He had a constancy and solidity which were remarkable. He was a very gracious host and was meticulous in his preparations for any Society event. He had a mischievous sense of humour at times and never took himself too seriously. He remained close to his family and neighbours and loved his visits home. Despite his great intelligence and his many gifts he remained a very humble and unassuming man with simple tastes.
He died on 10th November, 2017, following a brief illness. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan