Fr Joe Petit
Joe was born in Ballinabrackey, Co. Meath on the 20th of February, 1928. His primary education was at Kinnegad N.S. from 1934 to 1942 from which he passed on to St. Finian’s, Mullingar. In 1947, he began his spiritual year in Kiltegan and was ordained at Easter, 1954. Following ordination, he was appointed to Calabar Diocese where he ministered for 33 years.
He served in various missions which included Arochukwu, Assumption Parish, Ndon Ebom, St. Peter and Paul’s Parish, Essene and St. Peter’s Parish, Ibiono. Unfortunately, Joe had to return to Ireland for heart surgery in 1987. Upon his recovery he did the NCPI renewal course in Gort Mhuire, and then went to his home Diocese, Meath. He ministered in the parishes of Duleek, Dunshaughlin and finally in St. Mary’s, Tang, where he died on the 12th of October, 2005.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Corny Plunkett
The name of Corney Plunkett is inextricably linked with the formation and development of St. Patrick’s Society. The salient facts of Fr. Corney’s life and ministry have been adequately chronicled elsewhere notably in Tom Kiggins’ book Maynooth Mission to Africa, so a brief synopsis here will suffice.
Corney was born in Finea, Co. Cavan on the 25th of August, 1905 to Francis and Mary Plunkett. Following his initial education at the local National School, he studied in St. Mel’s College, Longford, from which he entered Maynooth in 1923. On his ordination in 1930 he became one of the “Famous Five” who volunteered for missionary work in Nigeria. There he laboured for eight years. Following his recall to Kiltegan in 1938, he became synonymous with the formation of our students, a task he fulfilled for sixteen years.
He studied the Jesuit model of spirituality and introduced it to the Society formation programme. His health began to deteriorate in 1955, and he died on the 26th of February, 1960.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Paddy Prendergast
Paddy was born on the 18th of November, 1925 in Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny. His primary education was in the local National School after which he entered Knockbeg College, Carlow in 1940. He began his Spiritual Year in Kiltegan in 1944 and was ordained at Easter, 1951. After ordination, he was appointed to Calabar Diocese and ministered in the parishes of Essene, Arochukwu and Adiabo. This completed in 1955, his first, and only tour in Nigeria.
On his return to Ireland in 1955, he was appointed to the promotion team which entailed touring the country, preaching mission sermons at Sunday Masses and promoting the sales of Africa. In the words of a colleague “these years were his finest contribution” and he made the Society known in Ireland, Scotland and finally, England. One could say that, in a sense, Paddy had a chequered career in his ministry as 1968 found him in the United States working in Society parishes, first in New Orleans from 1968 to 1972 and then in the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado during the years 1972 and 1973.
In the latter year he was appointed to Grenada where he ministered for three years. Then it was back to promotion work for the years 1976 to 1977. In that year, he re-located to the Society parish in Slough, an appointment he held until 1979, the year of his last appointment to St. Aidan’s Parish, Tullogher, New Ross, in the Diocese of Ossory. Ill-health, in the form of diabetes, restricted his activities to some extent, but he had a happy and fruitful ministry in this parish. Paddy died suddenly there on the 15th of January, 1999.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Pat Prunty
Patrick Joseph Prunty was born on the 10th of January, 1938 in Breanrisk, Drumlish, Co. Longford. He was one of nine children born to Thomas and Anne Prunty. He attended Clonteagh National School from 1943 to 1951 and went on to St. Mel’s College, Longford where he studied from 1951 to 1956. He joined St. Patrick’s Missionary Society in September 1956, did his Spiritual Year in Kiltegan and then studied philosophy in Cork from 1957 to 1959. He returned to Kiltegan for theology and was ordained in Killamoat at Easter, 1963.
Pat was appointed to the Prefecture Apostolic of Minna and worked in Bida and later in Minna town. In 1973 Pat accompanied Monsignor Edmond Fitzgibbon to Port Harcourt Diocese where he was to spend the remainder of his life. He lived with the Bishop for a time and then moved to Christ the King parish where he worked for many years. He was noted for his cheerful disposition, his frugal living and his total dedication to the people he served. His final appointment was to St. Jude’s Catholic Mission, Rumuokoro. He came to Ireland for heart surgery in January, 2007.
He survived the operation but died the next day, the 3rd of February, 2007. On the same day the first Nigerian priests of the Society, Joseph Archibong and Emmanuel Edet, were ordained at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Calabar.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Tony Prunty
Another of the Society’s pioneers in Kenya passed away on January 15, 2010, at the age of 81. Fr Tony Prunty, a native of Clontibrit, Co Monaghan, came to Kiltegan in September 1946 after completing his secondary studies in St McCartan's College. He and his twenty classmates, spent their first year in Humewood Castle in the village of Kiltegan. Tony went on to the Society Hostel in Cork and graduated from the National University with a BA degree, three years later. He studied theology in St Patrick’s College, Kiltegan for four years and was ordained in 1954 with ten colleagues, six of whom have predeceased him.
Tony was appointed to the Society’s new Kenyan mission. At the time, the Mau Mau uprising was in full swing and security was a constant concern. Tony and his fellow missionaries were there primarily to serve the indigenous population but they had to keep in with the white settlers whose permission was required to enter the farms and engage with the workers. Outstation masses and the provision and supervision of Catholic primary schools in the rural areas depended on the goodwill of the farmers. Tony was well equipped to bridge the gap. Handsome, charming, courteous and formal in manner, he was very acceptable to the white settler-community to the great benefit of his missionary work.
Tony was totally committed to missionary work on the ground. He believed that the foundations of the christian community were laid in the outstation. When the idea of the basic Christian community came to Kenya from Latin America he seized on it and made it the main vehicle for his subsequent ministry. The small christian community is an independent unit with its own leadership but it is also part of the wider parish. This suited Tony’s vision of mission but also his passion for structure and order. He took the diocesan pastoral plan very seriously, ensured that his catechists and community leaders were well trained and well disciplined. Tony’s talent for mission work was appreciated by the diocesan authorities and he was always assigned to large centres of population, ministering in Nakuru Town, Kitale, Eldama Ravine, Bahati, Njoro and Subukia. He was also a great believer in the opportunities for religious instruction offered in the primary schools and always had in place a well-structured programme taught by himself, his catechists and Catholic teachers.
Tony was never a man to spend undue time away from his mission or to waste time that could be devoted to the apostolate. However, he was careful to take a free day each week in order to play a game of tennis or golf and to relax with his comrades. He was a gifted sportsman and his skill in gaelic football was much admired in his native County Monaghan and in the colleges he attended. Later on, arthritis curtailed his participation in sport but he remained an enthusiast and when Sky Television became available in the Society house in Nakuru, he took full advantage of sports coverage on his free day and would occasionally make a special journey in for a big game.
Family and friends in Ireland were very important to Tony. He always kept in contact with them and visited them during his home leave. They in turn helped and supported him throughout his life. Tony’s final two and a half years brought a total reversal of his style of life. He became ill quite suddenly while on a visit to Ireland, in 2007. He lost his independence and his ability to converse freely and was reduced to near-total dependency. But, after the initial shock, he appeared very reconciled to his situation displaying great dignity and courtesy throughout his illness. His death was quiet and peaceful, an appropriate way to draw the curtain on an illustrious missionary career.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Joseph Purcell
Unassuming and considerate, his obviously genuine interest in people, especially the disadvantaged, always greatly appreciated by those among whom he ministered, Father Joe Purcell, who died recently, was for thirty-four years a missionary in northern Nigeria.
Born in 1939 in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Joe was educated at St Mary’s CBS, Sts Peter and Paul High School and High School CBS. He trained and worked in Clonmel as a compositor in printing before, aged twenty-seven, coming to St Patrick’s, Buchlyvie in 1966 and St Patrick’s, Kiltegan two years later. He was ordained in 1975.
He was appointed to the recently created diocese of Minna in the northwest of Nigeria. A demanding assignment. The diocese was almost as large as Ireland but had just ten parishes. Local Christians were few in number. During the following twenty-nine years, Joe was engaged in the essential but challenging ministry of first evangelisation and the nurturing of the resulting Christian communities. Joe worked tirelessly for those numerous communities and they, in turn, responded to the faith and kindness of the man known affectionately throughout the diocese as Father Joseph.
Minna diocese today is an increasingly vibrant and significant local church. Indeed, five years ago, Joe was asked to transfer to a neighbouring diocese so that he could minister in one of the more disadvantaged areas of the Federal Capital of Nigeria, Abuja. Once again those to whom he ministered recognised a caring friend and pastor.
Late in 2009, Joe was re-appointed to Minna diocese. Feeling unwell he went, at the end of March, to Abuja where, preparing to return to Ireland for medical treatment, he unexpectedly died during the night of the eighth of April.
Place of Rest: Minna, Nigeria