Nicholas Walsh was born on February 17th, 1922, to Thomas and Mary (née Clavin) Walsh of Newtown, Rahan, Co Offaly. He was one of eight children, five boys and three girls. Two of the boys were to join St Patrick's Missionary Society, Nicholas first and his younger brother, Donal, five years later. All three girls entered religious life, two in the Mercy Congregation and one in the Presentation.
Nicky attended Durrow National School from 1927¬1936 and the Christian Brothers in Tullamore from 1936¬1942. While at school he was known for his prowess at hurling and he played at minor level for the county. He joined the Spiritual Year at Kiltegan in 1942, based then in nearby Humewood Castle. After completing his Philosophy and Theology studies in Kiltegan he was ordained in Killamoat Church by Bishop JW Heffernan CSSp on April 17th, 1949 along with his fourteen classmates.
Nicky was appointed to the Prefecture of Ogoja in Nigeria and served in Ikom, Afikpo, Kakwagom, Ishiagu and Ezza parishes between 1949 and 1968. In 1968 he came home from Nigeria because of the Nigerian Civil War and was assigned to the Diocese of Brentwood in England. He remained there until 1975, ministering in the parish of Clacton.
Nicky was very happy in Brentwood but in 1975 he was withdrawn from there and was appointed to the Diocese of Kerry. The Kerry mission to Nakuru, Kenya, was launched that year and priests of Kerry Diocese who volunteered for the missions were to be replaced by Kiltegan priests who, for one reason or another, were not available for mission abroad at that time. Nicky was one of the first to be chosen and he was appointed for a period of three years. Those three years were extended many times and, in all, Nicky spent thirty-three very happy years in Kerry Diocese serving in the parishes of Waterville, Glenflesk and Beaufort.
While Nicky enjoyed his time in Kerry, and took the people to his heart, he never forgot his roots in County Offaly and kept in close contact with family and neighbours. In 1982, he got quiet pleasure in seeing Offaly derail the Kerry football team’s hopes of winning a record five All Ireland titles in a row! Nicky enjoyed a game of golf and for many years he employed the services of his pet dog, Darby, as caddy, to help him pull his specially designed golf cart. When Darby died Nicky decided not to get another dog in order to avoid the pain of possibly losing it.
In early 2008 Nicky suffered a stroke and had to leave his beloved Beaufort and return to Kiltegan where he was to spend his remaining years. Nicky settled into life in Kiltegan very easily and played a full part in community life over the last six years. At first he was able to drive and loved to visit his family and to trawl the shops to look at the latest gadgets on offer. He had time to pursue his keen interest in photography and computing. He continued to publish his personalised calendar and took great pride in presenting a copy each year to the Society Leader. He loved his Kindle and his laptop and liked to watch television. He produces a collection of his homilies and made them available to his fellow priests. A second stroke brought serious impairment in speech and movement and eventually he depended on a wheelchair to get around. Nonetheless he continued to live life to the full insisting on being wheeled to the early mass every morning, having meals with the community and continuing to operate his IT equipment. He had a great zest for life and showed remarkable resilience, overcoming adversity and setbacks with determination and sheer willpower.
Nicky was admitted to Naas Hospital in mid-October. He was mentally alert and able to communicate up to the end. He died peacefully on November 2nd, 2014 and is buried in the Society cemetery at Kiltegan.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Pat Walsh
Pat was born in Westport, Co. Mayo on the 5th of February, 1919. He received his early education from 1926 to 1932 in the local National School. He pursued his secondary studies from 1932 to 1938 in St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, after which he studied in All Hallows College from 1938 to 1941. In 1941 he entered Kiltegan and was ordained in December, 1945.
In September, 1946 he went to Nigeria and worked in Calabar and Ikot Ekpene until 1970. At that time, Pat was among the first group of our missionaries assigned to the West Indies. There he died tragically in a fall from the bell tower of the Cathedral on the 2nd of April, 1973. He is buried in a cemetery near the Cathedral in Grenada.
Place of Rest: Grenada
Fr Seán Weldon
Seán Weldon was born on the 6th of March 1932 – eleven days before the foundation of the Society. He was one of ten children born to Patrick and Jane (née Mulligan) Weldon of Collinstown, Co Westmeath. He attended Collinstown National School from 1937 to 1944 and did his secondary studies in St Finian’s College, Mullingar, from 1944 to 1950. He came to Kiltegan in September 1950 and did the Spiritual Year there. In 1951, he began university studies in Cork and graduated with a BA Hons from UCC in 1954. After studying theology for four years in Kiltegan he was ordained in St Mary’s, Killamoat, by Bishop James Moynagh SPS, on the 6th of April 1958.
Seán was appointed to Ogoja Diocese in Eastern Nigeria and ministered there until 1969. He taught in Maryknoll College and Ishieke Government School and was the first principal of St Brendan’s Secondary School, Iyamoyong. He also taught in the Whitney Memorial Secondary School in Abakaliki. During the Nigerian Civil War he did parish work in Effium in present day Abakaliki Diocese. Seán, one of the many priests who were displaced by the war, returned to Ireland in 1969. He did a short supply in Drumshanbo during which he told the Leitrim Observer that his greatest desire was to return to Nigeria at the earliest possible opportunity. That desire was not realised as Seán was appointed to the Diocese of Eldoret, Kenya, in 1970. He taught in Mother of Apostles Junior Seminary, Eldoret, in Uasin Gishu Harambee Secondary School and in St Francis High School, Suwerwa. In 1979, he left teaching and went into full-time parish ministry. He served in Kapsabet, Kapcherop and Cheptiret. On his eightieth birthday he moved to the Society house in Kapsoya where he assisted the parish priest, Fr Oliver Barry.
Seán returned to Ireland for medical treatment in May 2014 and took up residence in Kiltegan. In spite of continuous treatment, his health deteriorated further. He accepted the situation and was determined to live out his life as normally as possible. He officiated at the funeral of his brother Donie in early July. In early August, his doctors told him that the medication was not working. However, Seán continued to attend morning Mass and to join the community in all its activities until about ten days before his death. He died peacefully on the 3rd of September, 2015.
Seán was a dedicated missionary who spent fifty-six years in Africa. He was a quiet and unassuming man who lived a simple life and was single-minded in all that he did. He was an effective school principal and teacher and a caring and compassionate pastor. Seán had a life-long love of Gaelic games and enjoyed nothing better than a good hurling match.
Place of Rest: Kiltegan
Fr Frank Whitney
Frank was born in Drumlish, Co. Longford on the 1st of July, 1896. He attended the local national school and received his secondary education in St. Mel’s College, Longford. Frank was ordained in Maynooth in 1921 for the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.
Being a cousin of Monsignor Pat Whitney, his thoughts gravitated to the missions. Records show that after a few months of fund-raising on behalf of Bishop Shanahan, he went to Nigeria working in Calabar. However, due to health problems, he was forced to return in late 1923. He spent a year fund-raising on behalf of the Holy Rosary Sisters and then returned to his home Diocese, taking up an appointment as curate in Keadue, Co. Roscommon. He remained there until August, 1930.
Frank is credited with being the one who secured the gift of the High Park Estate as a base for the proposed new missionary Society of St. Patrick. The offer was made by John Hughes in late 1929.
Events quickly followed one another, Frank was released from his Diocese and his cousin Fr. Pat took over High Park in March, 1930. In the meantime procedures were in place for the establishment of the new Society and the three founder members who included Frank, took the oath of temporary membership on St. Patrick’s Day, 1932.
From then, Frank was to serve on the Council of the Society during the critical years of its infancy, from 1932 to 1938. During that time, Frank played a major role in promoting the Society and raising funds to run it. With a new administration in 1938, Frank was not involved in an administrative capacity as such and confined his activities to office work until 1950. In 1950, Frank transferred to the Society house in Douglas, Cork where he operated as Bursar for many years. He died on the 11th of July, 1973. He is buried in his native Drumlish.
Place of Rest: Drumlish, Co Longford
Monsignor Patrick Whitney
As befits a co-founder – perhaps de-facto founder, Pat Whitney has been an icon for the early generations of St. Patrick’s Missionary Society – some would say a legend. The details of his life and mission have been chronicled by Fr Tom Kiggins in his book.
Pat Whitney was born in Breenletter near the northern tip of County Roscommon on the 7th of July, 1894, the eldest of seven children. Life followed the usual pattern of a boyhood in rural Ireland. His early education was at Dereenargon National School, from which he went to St. Mel’s College, Longford. He entered Maynooth in 1913 and was ordained in 1920 for the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. It could be said that the Irish missionary movement was at its zenith around this time.
Therefore, when Bishop Shanahan of Southern Nigeria appealed for volunteers to the ordination class of that year in Maynooth, Pat responded enthusiastically. He arrived in Calabar on the 13th of December, 1920. He laboured there until the end of 1923, when he returned to Ireland “to promote the cause of the Holy Rosary Sisters” – some would call it the rather mundane task of fund-raising.
In June 1926, however, he returned to Nigeria to resume his mission in the Vicariate of Southern Nigeria. At this time the idea was mooted to have a specific group whose remit would be to care for the needs of Southern Nigeria. In May 1929, Pat Whitney left Nigeria for Ireland. In October 1929, a letter from the Apostolic Delegate Archbishop (later Cardinal) Hinsley recommended the foundation of a new Society.
By a stroke of providence, High Park was acquired in January 1930 with formal possession taken on the 7th of March of the same year. March 17, 1932 saw the formal establishment of St. Patrick’s Missionary Society with Pat Whitney as co-founder and first Superior General. He continued in this capacity until June 1938.
Towards the end of his tenure, in March 1938, Ogoja was established as a separate Prefecture and Fr. Pat was appointed Prefect in November of the same year. However, illness forced him to return to Ireland in March, 1939. This was followed by his resignation as Prefect in May of the same year.
The following three years were spent in the care of his family and in a number of nursing homes with intermittent visits to Kiltegan. Finally, Fr. Pat died at his brother’s home on the 17th of July, 1942. He was buried in the family plot in Kilronan and his body was later exhumed and re-interred in Kiltegan in July, 1963.