Remembering Our Deceased
Rest In Peace
Eternal rest grand unto them,
O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Fr Joseph Spillane
John Joseph (Joe) Spillane was born on the 18th of October, 1924 to Simon Spillane and his wife Annie (née Coston) of Guileen, Whitegate, Co Cork. He was one of a family of five; his older brother Richard was killed in the Battle of Crete in 1941 while part of the crew of the HMS Gloucester. Joe attended Guileen National School from 1929 to 1938. He received his secondary education at Midleton CBS where he studied from 1938 to 1944.
He spent a year at home helping his family before entering St Patrick’s Missionary Society in September 1945. He completed the Spiritual Year at Humewood Castle in June 1946. After the usual courses in philosophy and theology he was ordained with seven classmates on the 13th of April, 1952 (Easter Sunday) in St Mary’s Church, Killamoat, by Bishop John W Heffernan CSSp, the retired Vicar Apostolic of Zanzibar.
After ordination Joe was sent to Rome to study missiology. He graduated from the Gregorian University in June 1954 with a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) and later that year he was appointed to the then Prefecture of Ogoja. He ministered in Ugep with Leo Sheridan, in Kakwagom with John F Sheehan and in Afikpo with Christy Donlon. He was then asked by Bishop Thomas McGettrick to build a Junior Seminary at Ezzamgbo near Abakaliki. After completing the building of the Junior Seminary, which was called St Augustine’s, he was appointed its first Rector in 1958.
Ill-health forced his return to Ireland in 1961 and he was appointed Spiritual Director to the theology students at Kiltegan from 1962 to 1965. He was appointed Bursar General of the Society in 1965 and he held the post until 1982. He went to work in the Diocese of Cork and Ross in September 1982. It was to be his home for the next thirty one years. He worked first in Kealkill, which is in the parish of Bantry, and later he went to work in Ballydehob. Shortly after celebrating his Diamond Jubilee of priestly ordination in July 2012 Joe retired to Kiltegan.
Joe was Bursar General of the Society during a time of great expansion when resources were limited. He was a very wise and faithful steward of the Society’s purse strings. He also took a great interest in the farm and in the maintenance of the grounds. He spent many a happy hour mowing the lawns on a Ferguson 35 tractor. He was noted for his fairness and his attention to detail.
He made the transition to parish life very easily and his pastoral ministry was very much appreciated by the people whom he served so devotedly. He was very proud to serve the people of his native county Cork. He retained a life-long love of hurling, a game which he played with distinction in his youth. He was one of the stars of the Midelton CBS team that contested a Harty Cup Final in 1944. He followed the fortunes of the Cork hurling team with keen interest throughout his life and seeing the Liam McCarthy Cup come to the Banks of the Lee was always a source of great joy and pride.
Shortly after celebrating his Diamond Jubilee of priestly ordination Joe retired to Kiltegan in June 2013. He remained active until shortly before his death. He died peacefully on February 1st, 2018, the feast day of St Brigid.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Patrick (Pat) Scanlan
Patrick Francis Scanlan was born in Ballydonohue, Co Kerry on the 26th of January, 1929 to Patrick Scanlan and his wife Catherine (nee Hanrahan). He attended Lisselton National School from 1934 to 1942 and St Michael’s College, Listowel from 1942 to 1947. He came to Kiltegan in September 1947. After the regular probation year of introduction to prayer and to the work of the Society, he studied philosophy for two years and theology for four. He was ordained on the 18th of April, 1954 in Killamoat Church by Bishop John Heffernan CSSp, retired Vicar Apostolic of Zanzibar and Nairobi.
Pat was appointed to Calabar in Nigeria where he spent fourteen years, six of them in Oron with Fr Willie Fitzsimons and the rest in Essene, Anua, Ikot Erene and Ikot Edibon. In 1968, he was withdrawn due to the civil war. He was then given a temporary appointment in Denver, Colorado and served in the parish attached to the Shrine of St Anne. On his leaving the Pastor wrote, in a glowing report to the Superior General Fr Peter O’Reilly, ‘He is a credit to your Society and goes with the heartfelt good wishes and prayers of all of us.’
Towards the end of 1970, Pat was appointed to the Diocese of Eldoret in Kenya. His first parish was St John’s in Eldoret town. He was next appointed Vocations Director and assigned to Turbo parish. He proceeded to recruit many young men for the diocesan priesthood. His kindness and concern for the students was legendary and he did everything in his power to encourage and support them. He remained close to them after ordination and also Sisters. Indeed, Pat got on with everyone. He enjoyed a warm friendship with Bishop John Njenga and made many friends among the lay volunteers from Ireland and elsewhere who were serving in social, medical and educational roles. In the mid-eighties Pat was replaced as Vocations Director by an African priest and he was appointed to St Joseph’s, Kitale where the majestic Mount Elgon on his doorstep was reminiscent of his native Kerry. St Joseph’s was a parish house and a house of hospitality and Pat was ideally suited to serve its dual function. Pat and Fr Willie Walshe lived happily there for twenty years and built a fine parish church at St Joseph’s.
In 2004, Pat was transferred to the Society house at Kibomet and into semi-retirement. His health declined and the time came, in June 2011, when he had to return to Ireland having lost the ability to walk. He was cared for in the nursing unit in Kiltegan attending specialist doctors and going to hospital from time to time but he never recovered his mobility. His final four months were spent in hospital undergoing a variety of tests and therapies. There was much suffering, loneliness and frustration but Pat bore it all with his usual gentleness and good humour. He died peacefully on Tuesday, the 15th of January, 2013, and is buried in the Society graveyard in Kiltegan.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Jim Sharkey
Michael James (Jim) Sharkey was born on the 27th of January 1934 to Thomas Sharkey and his wife Winifred (née O’Hara) of Reylawn, Monasteraden, Co Sligo. For his primary education he attended Clooncunny National School from 1939 to 1947. He received his secondary education at St Nathy’s College, Ballaghaderreen. He joined St Patrick’s Missionary Society in September 1952 and completed the Spiritual Year in June 1953. He studied philosophy at St Patrick’s College, Kiltegan, from September 1953 to June 1955. He continued his studies at Kiltegan in September 1955 pursuing a four-year course in theology. He was ordained along with twenty-three classmates on the 23rd of May 1959 in St Mary’s Church, Killamoat. It was the biggest class ever ordained for the Society. The ordaining prelate was Most Rev Thomas McGettrick SPS, Bishop of Ogoja.
After ordination Jim was appointed to the then Diocese of Calabar. Calabar was a vast territory that underwent many changes during Jim’s time there. The Diocese of Ikot Ekpene was created from Calabar in 1963 and the Diocese of Uyo was created in 1989. Calabar was elevated to the status of an Archdiocese in 1994. Jim spent all his time in Nigeria in what is now the Diocese of Uyo. He began in Ndon Ibom with his great friend Fr Dan Dolan (1920-2015). He was stationed in Edem Ekpat and Ikot Okure from 1961 to 1962. He was then appointed to Ibiono where he ministered from 1962 to 1974. During the Civil War (1967-1970) he was forced to stay at home for a while and during that time he did a course in Community Development at Antigonish in Canada. In 1974 he returned to Ndon Ibom. In 1978 he was appointed to Essene, a huge parish which today consists of five parishes with sixty-two outstations. He did the GABBA course at Eldoret in 1981. On his return he was appointed to Eket where he spent nine years. He returned to Ibiono in 1991 and spent four years there before being sent to St Michael’s Parish, Uyo Road, where he ministered from 1995 to 2013.
Jim immersed himself totally in the life and culture of the people he served. He learned their language, studied their traditions, ate their food and enjoyed their company. He became very fluent in the Ibibio language and was able to preach in the language without the aid of notes. He was highly regarded by the people who appreciated his dedication, commitment and generosity to them. While on sabbatical in Eldoret in 1981 he learned about the DELES method (Development Education and Leadership Services) and he brought it to Nigeria and put it into practice. He offered courses on training for leadership to many in the parishes in which he served. Jim also had a great commitment to the poor and the handicapped. He organised surgery for those who needed orthopaedic surgery and who did not have the resources to do so. This work of mercy on Jim’s part improved the quality of life of countless people. He continued to help many even after he had left Nigeria.
Ill-health forced Jim to retire to Kiltegan in June 2013. He was very reluctant to leave his beloved people after fifty-four years of missionary service. He settled well into life at Kiltegan. He died peacefully on Monday, the 24th of June, 2019.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr John F. Sheehan
John Finbar was born in Douglas, Cork on the 23rd of September, 1913. After his primary education in the local Glasheen N.S. he pursued his secondary studies at Presentation College, Cork, a well known nursery for rugby in that city, a game in which John F. was no mean exponent, as exemplified when he tried to inculcate the basics to many of us in the nineteen forties, when he was Rector in Kiltegan. On completion of his secondary studies, he had one semester in U.C.C. but he abandoned that and went to All Hallows College, Dublin, where he studied philosophy from 1932 to 1934 when he came to Kiltegan for his Spiritual Year. Ordained in June, 1939 John F. went to Calabar and there did pastoral and educational work, until 1942 when he was appointed Army Chaplain to a West African Division and was stationed at Enugu and Freetown.
On being demobbed in 1944, he returned to Kiltegan as a delegate to the General Chapter of that year. He was elected to the Superior General’s Council and served as Rector of the College from 1944 to 1947. A tribute to this era of his life says ‘He is remembered by students of that time for his boundless energy, solid piety and a warm compassionate heart under a somewhat ascetic lifestyle’.
When his period of Councillor expired, he returned to Nigeria this time to Ogoja Diocese in 1950. He ministered in the parish of St. Patrick’s, Kakwagon and there he remained until 1969. He returned to Ireland in that year and following brief assignments in Drumshambo and Clogheen, he made a fresh missionary beginning, this time as a member of our first group to go to Grenada in October, 1970. Records indicate that he spent 27 years there, most of the time in Carriacou. Just before Christmas, 1997, John F. retired to Kiltegan and died on the 1st of December, 1998.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Jim Sheerin
Whether in good health or, during his final years, bravely confronting serious illness, Father Jim Sheerin, brought to a variety of missionary assignments a remarkable commitment. Each undertaking received his full and generous attention.
Born in 1930 in Horseleap, Co Offaly, Jim was educated at Horseleap and Tubber National Schools and St Finian’s College, Mullingar. He came to Kiltegan in 1948 and was ordained in 1956. Appointed to the diocese of Ogoja in Nigeria, he ministered for fourteen years as a teacher and Principal in secondary and teacher training colleges. Recalled to Ireland, he was a dedicated and innovative editor of Africa from 1971 to 1978. Two quite different assignments completed, a new appointment saw him embark, in Nigeria, on what was to become a fifteen year involvement with the recently founded St Paul’s Missionary Society. He made a considerable contribution to the promotion and development of what is today a thriving and already distinguished missionary society.
In 1994 another appointment; and again a whole-hearted response to the travel and administration demands of mission promotion in England and Wales. Six years later, at the invitation of Archbishop John Onaiyekan, he returned to Nigeria as Spiritual Director in the Gaudium et Spes Institute in Abuja. Extremely busy, he still found time to initiate and publish a West African edition of Africa.
His health deteriorating, he returned in 2008 to Kiltegan. He completed a book on priesthood that he had been writing and continued to lead an active life until a few days before his death on the seventeenth of January, 2009.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Leo Sheridan
Leo, baptised Patrick Leo, was born on the 10th of April, 1925 to Patrick Sheridan and his wife, Susan Flanagan. He attended Ardlow and Virginia National Schools and received his secondary education in St. Patrick’s College, Cavan. He came to Kiltegan in 1943 and was ordained by Bishop Heffernan CSSp in 1950. He was appointed to Ogoja Diocese where he worked for 12 years.
His first appointment was to Ikom. He was later transferred to Ugep where he began to show his aptitude for construction, building the mission house to great acclaim. He came on home leave in 1954 and did promotion work for the Society in Dublin, Cloyne and Cashel. Leo returned to Ogoja in 1956 and in the following year he built St. Benedict’s Cathedral in Ogoja and a similar church in Abakaliki later to become a Cathedral also.
Leo was called home to Ireland in 1966 to work on mission awareness and promotion. For the next thirty-six years he travelled the length and breadth of Ireland promoting the missionary work of the Society. He also raised his brother’s children on the death of both parents. He lived with them and while carrying on his work in promotion he managed successfully to be father to his two nieces and four nephews.
Leo was a great reader and a frequent contributor to journals like Intercom and The Furrow. He also wrote the Noogey column for Africa magazine for over 40 years and in recent times reviewed books for the magazine. Leo retired in 2002 continuing to live in his native Cavan while making regular trips to Kiltegan. He died, after a short illness, on the 10th of June, 2008. He is buried in the grounds of St Mary’s Church, Cross, Virginia, Co. Cavan.
Place of Rest: Virginia, Co Cavan
Fr Charlie Smith
It is easy to articulate the physical facts or the C.V. of Charlie, but the man was greater than the sum of the parts, the intangible was so much more than the tangible. Perhaps two sentences in the Superior General’s homily at Charlie’s funeral Mass epitomise the person, the character of the man: ‘Charlie was a special person. We were very blessed to have him in our Society’.
The biographical facts seem ordinary enough. Charlie was born on the 13th of October, 1909 at Maullymagavin, Co. Cavan. He had his primary education locally and his secondary in St. Patrick’s College, Cavan from 1922 to 1927, the year he entered Maynooth. He was ordained for the Diocese of Kilmore in 1934. Deep in his thoughts was the idea of going on the missions, but the then Bishop was not amenable to the suggestion and instead, Charlie was sent on loan to Brentwood Diocese in England. When he was recalled in 1938, there was a new bishop in Kilmore who acceded to his request to go on the missions and Charlie went to Ogoja in October, 1938. Ill-health however, in the form of persistent malaria, forced him to return early in 1939 to Kiltegan.
What was Ogoja’s loss was certainly the Society’s gain as Charlie went on to become “synonymous with Kiltegan”. There were so many facets to his contribution to the Society. History records that Charlie received permission from his bishop in Kilmore to join the Society on the 16th of August, 1942. He took the temporary oath of membership on the 24th of September, 1946. That might be called the formalities disposed of but Charlie had already begun making his great impact on our Society. He had taken in hand the Society’s promotion office, something he continued to do until 1973.
At different times, he was Spiritual Director to the students, he had the responsibility for the promotion and distribution of Africa. In this aspect of his apostolate, an interesting statistic was that circulation increased from 10,000 copies in 1940 to approximately 200,000 in the late 1960’s. On the administration side, Charlie was Bursar General from 1944 to 1950 and Vicar General from 1950 until 1972. During the 1970’s also, he was National Director of the Propagation of the Faith in Ireland.
This catalogue of Charlie’s responsibilities in the Society is testament to his versatility, but it is the tangible aspect only. The intangible can be summed up in a quotation from the Superior General’s funeral homily; ‘Charlie will always be a reminder to us of our call to mission, to tell the story of God’s love to all peoples. He reminds us of the need to give Christ the central place in our lives. He reminds us too that Christian charity, kindness, courtesy are great virtues and make the world a better place for us all. Charlie died on the 4th of November, 1999. He was the first member to reach 90 years of age.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Tom Smith
Fr Tom Smith was born to John Smith and his wife, Brigid (née Brady) of Kilcogy, Mullahoran, Co Cavan, on the 8th of September, 1940. He attended Kilcogy National School from 1945 to 1954 and St Mel’s College, Longford from 1954 to 1959. In September, 1959, he came to Kiltegan for the Spiritual Year and then went to Cork for two years of Philosophy studies. He then returned to Kiltegan to study Theology and was ordained in Killamoat Church on Easter Sunday, the 10th of April, 1966 by Bishop Patrick Cleary SSC, Bishop of Nancheng, China.
Fr Tom was appointed to the Prefecture of Minna in Nigeria where he ministered in Kafin Koro, Gawu, Zuru, Kontagora, Guni, Gussoro and Bida. In 1970 Tom was transferred to Kenya to the Diocese of Eldoret. He ministered in Kiminini, Tongaren, Immaculate Conception Parish, Kitale and Christ the King, Kitale, Cherengani, and Kapsabet. Tom was appointed Vicar General of the Diocese in 1974 and became Diocesan Administrator in 1989 when Bishop John Njenga was appointed Archbishop of Mombasa. Tom was given the title of Monsignor which he was entitled to use afterwards but never did. Tom handed over the diocese to Bishop Cornelius Arap Korir when the latter was appointed Bishop of Eldoret in 1990. He remained on as Vicar General until 1993 when he returned to Ireland with health problems.
For the next twenty-three years Tom did not enjoy good health. He tried his best to keep going as usual and served in many places for short periods of time and even returned to Kenya for a few years. Among the places in which he worked were Foynes, Co Limerick, St Patrick’s, Buchlyvie, Scotland, Loughglynn with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Dowra, Nakuru Diocese and Kitale Diocese in Kenya and lastly Chapelizod, Dublin, with the Congregation of the Servants of the Mother of God.Tom was a very dedicated, hard-working and committed missionary priest. He immersed himself totally in the cultures and situations where he ministered. He was a gifted linguist and had a deep love and respect for the people whom he served. He lived a simple life and travelled by motorbike to outstations where he was genuinely loved by the people. In his youth he excelled at Gaelic football and was a keen tin whistle player. Though big and imposing in stature he was a gentle, kind, and humorous person who was gifted with strong leadership qualities. Tom’s health deteriorated in late March 2016 and he spent a number of weeks in hospital. He died peacefully in the early hours of Saturday, the 30th of July, 2016.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Thaddeus (Ted) Smyth
Thaddeus (Ted) Smyth was born on the 21st of July, 1925, to Richard and Mary (née Lynch) Smith at Castletownmoor, Kells, Co Meath. He was one of a family of ten children, five boys and five girls. Ted attended Fletcherstown National School, Kells Convent School and Cormeen National School. He pursued his secondary education at St Finian’s College, Mullingar from 1939 to 1944.
Ted came to Kiltegan in September 1944 and did the Spiritual Year at Humewood. He studied philosophy in Kiltegan for two years and was then sent to UCC to study for a BA degree. He returned to Kiltegan and after the usual four year theology course was ordained in St Mary’s Killamoat along with eight others on Easter Sunday, the 5th of April, 1953 by Bishop J W Heffernan CSSp. retired Vicar Apostolic of Zanzibar.
After ordination Ted was appointed to the Prefecture of Eldoret in Kenya, a new mission territory that the Society had taken charge of two years earlier. He began his missionary career in Eldoret town and very soon was sent to Kiminini parish, near Kitale. In 1958 Bishop Houlihan sent him to Ireland to do some training with a view to opening a technical school on his return. He studied in the Bolton Street Institute of Technology and did a course in woodwork in Coláiste Carmen, Gorey.
On his return to Kenya he opened a technical school in Kituro in Baringo District. In October, 1964 he was appointed to Tambach where he taught geography. In 1966, ill health forced him to return to Ireland. He did a H.Dip.Ed and was appointed to St Patrick’s, Buchlyvie, Scotland. In 1968 he went to teach with the Patrician Brothers in Tullow and later in the Vocational School in Hacketstown. Restored to health, he returned to his beloved Kenya in 1979. He remained there until 2007 stationed first in Eldama Ravine in Baringo District and then in Londiani and Kiptere and Kipkelion in Kericho District. He was deported by the government in 1988, because of his staunch defence of the forest dwellers of Eldama Ravine, who were being evicted from their homes. However, Ted was allowed to return in 1990 and went to Londiani. He will be especially remembered for the fine church and school buildings he provided for the communities he served.
Ted retired to Ireland in 2007 and was based in Kiltegan. However, he did extended periods of parish work in Meath Diocese and in Kerry Diocese. He was always active, always ready to explore new ideas and new places. He liked to travel and only the year before his death made a pilgrimage to Turkey following the journeys of St Paul in that area. He was diagnosed with cancer in July and underwent treatment. He died peacefully in St Luke’s Hospital, Dublin, on the 2nd of December 2012, having been admitted two weeks earlier.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Reggie Smyth
Reggie was born in Monaghan Town on the 1st of November, 1923. He received his early education, first at Aughnacloy Elementary school from 1927 to 1930 and later at Castleblayney N.S. from 1930 to 1937. In that year, he entered St. Macartan’ Secondary School, Monaghan, where he completed his Leaving Certificate in 1942. In that year, he entered Kiltegan and was ordained in 1949.
Following ordination, he was appointed to Calabar Diocese. There he ministered until 1967, mostly in the capacity of Education Secretary with the remit of getting education in the Diocese up and running. This he pursued with the same enthusiasm Reggie exhibited as a student in his involvement in ‘things Irish’ such as the Gasra and popularising theFainne and his membership of the Pioneer movement. However, ill-health forced him to leave his Nigerian mission in 1967.
Thereafter, he ministered mainly in Irish Dioceses such as his native Clogher and Elphin, with a short interlude in Ilford, Essex. He also ministered for a short period in Grenada. Finally, he spent a short time as chaplain to a Convent in Newport, Co. Mayo and he was there until his death on the 17th of January, 1991.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Willie Stack
William Austin Stack was born on the 31st of December 1944 to John Stack and his wife Bridie (née Leen), of Doon, Tralee, Co Kerry. He received his primary education at Listellick National School from 1949 to 1957. He attended Tralee CBS from 1957 to 1960. He worked in McCowen’s of Tralee from 1960 to 1966. During his time at McCowen’s he began to think about becoming a missionary priest. He decided to join St Patrick’s Missionary Society. In September 1966 he went to St Patrick’s College, Buchlyvie, Scotland, where he completed his secondary education. He came to Kiltegan in September 1968 for the Spiritual Year. He studied philosophy at St Patrick’s College, Douglas, Cork, from 1969 to 1971 and returned to Kiltegan for a four year course in theology. He was ordained in St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, Co Kerry, on the 8th of June 1975. The ordaining prelate was Bishop Eamonn Casey, the Bishop of Kerry.
After ordination Willie was appointed to the then Diocese of Calabar, Nigeria, where he ministered in Ikot Ene, in Ikot Okure and in Sacred Heart Cathedral, Calabar. He was the last Society priest to minister in Sacred Heart Cathedral. In January 1983 he went to work in the Diocese of Galway where he served in Renmore Parish, in Salthill Parish and in St Joseph’s Parish. Later he spent a short time as Chaplain at Gormanston Army Camp in Co Meath. In September 1985 Willie was appointed Local Bursar in Kiltegan, a post he held until 1994. He then went to work in his native Diocese of Kerry and was stationed at Castleisland. He wanted to be near his ageing father. In 2001 he was appointed to Grenada in the West Indies. He ministered in Sauteurs, in Grand Roy and in Crochu. In 2007 he did promotion work in Kerry Diocese. In 2014 he offered his services once again to the promotion team in Ireland. He opted to live at the Society House in Cork.
Willie touched the lives of many people during his forty-four years as a priest. He impressed all to whom he ministered by his cheerful disposition, his dedication to his work and his deep faith in Christ. He was an outstanding pastor. When he served as Local Bursar in Kiltegan he loved to get out at weekends to say Mass in the churches nearby. While he was a shrewd and wise Local Bursar and a very able administrator, at heart he was a people’s priest. He lived a frugal and simple life and had little interest in worldly things. In April 2018 he moved to Kiltegan. He died peacefully on Thursday, the 20th of June 2019.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Leo Staples
Laurence (Leo) Staples was born on the 19th of April 1925 to Francis Staples and his wife Margaret Mary (née O’Dwyer) of Wygram Place, Wexford. (Although christened Laurence he was called Leo from an early age). Leo received his primary education in the local national school before moving to St Peter’s College, Wexford, for his secondary education. After sitting the Leaving Certificate in June 1945 he applied for admission to St Patrick’s Missionary Society but was refused by the medical doctor who examined him. He was told he did not have the health for life in Africa as his mother had died at a relatively young age. He entered the philosophy wing of St Peter’s College and completed a two year course in philosophy in June 1947. Leo decided to seek admission once again to St Patrick’s Missionary Society and this time he was successful. He joined the Spiritual Year Class of 1947 and was part of the first group of students to live in the Nissen Huts at Kiltegan. After completing the Spiritual Year he went directly to the theology programme in September 1948. After a four year course he was ordained priest in St Mary’s Church, Killamoat, on Easter Sunday (13th of April) 1952 along with seven classmates. The ordaining prelate was Most Rev John W Heffernan DD CSSp, the retired Vicar Apostolic of Zanzibar.
After ordination Leo was appointed to the new mission in Kenya which had been entrusted to the Society the previous year. Originally it formed part of the Diocese of Kisumu and in 1953 it became the Prefecture of Eldoret under Msgr Joseph Houlihan SPS. He ministered at Nerkwo and Tartar for short periods before being transferred to Ortum in West Pokot. This vast area would be his home for the following fifty years. His first task was to learn the Pokot language. He admitted that this was a great struggle initially and there were times when he wanted to give up. But after two years of immersion in the language he became very fluent in Pokot. He was then ready to embark on a ministry which would be extraordinarily fruitful. Through his dedication, creativity and enthusiasm he evangelized thousands of people and helped set up thriving Christian communities all over West Pokot. One of his means of evangelization was the use of local dance. The Pokot people love to dance. He enticed the local people into the Christian community through dance and when he had their attention he preached the Word of God to them. It worked very well as a pastoral strategy.
Leo’s ministry involved long treks high up into the mountains around Ortum and Sigor. Some communities were almost 9,000 feet above sea level. No doubt all this physical exercise was a factor in keeping Leo fit and enabling him to have such a long and healthy life. During his years in West Pokot he also set up Health Clinics in collaboration with the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary with whom he worked very closely. He also helped set up schools and educational projects. When Leo began his ministry in Sigor there were 13 Catholics in the area. Today there are 15 parishes with dozens of Religious Sisters and local clergy. One of his greatest joys was to see West Pokot native, Robert Psinon, being ordained for St Patrick’s Missionary Society in 2018.
In 2002 Leo left his beloved people of Sigor and went to work in Kipsaina Parish about 15km from Kitale.. After a number of years in that parish he had to go to Ireland for medical treatment. On his return to Kenya he was appointed to Holy Family Parish, Chepchoina, where he worked closely with the Servants of the Mother of God Sisters and with the Andersen family. In 2005 he opened a Centre near Tartar for people with special needs. It became known as The Bobleo Centre and still flourishes today. This project was very dear to Leo’s heart and was funded by family and friends. It was dedicated to his brother Fr Bob (Ferns Diocese) who was a very generous supporter of his missionary work.
Leo was the oldest member ever in the Society and he was the longest ordained. He will be remembered above all as the Apostle to the West Pokot people. He learned their language and their customs and immersed himself totally in their rich culture. In turn they took him to their hearts and even gave him a special name which was a real sign of their respect for him and their appreciation of his contribution to their lives. The name they gave him was “Lokomol” which means “the bull with the brown spot”, “the leader of the herd”. Leo had a great sense of humour and was an extremely joyful person. He was always ready for a joke and a laugh. He endeared himself to people by his great warmth, humanity and sincerity. His whole life was dedicated to the service of others. This attitude remained with him right up to the end of his life.
Leo’s health began to decline shortly after his ninetieth birthday but his fighting spirit never waned. He went to live at the Society House in Kibomet on the outskirts of Kitale. His movement became more restricted and his eyesight began to fail. In August 2020 he went to live at a retirement home run by the Daughters of Charity in Thigio outside Nairobi. He was very happy there. He came to Kiltegan in late May 2022 for a holiday. It was to be a short visit as his heart was set on returning to Kenya in September. He participated fully in the Society Jubilee Celebrations on the 13th of July when he celebrated his Platinum Anniversary of priestly ordination. He died suddenly in the Care Unit at Kiltegan in the early hours of Monday, the 22nd of August, 2022.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan