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Société des Missions Africaines –Province des Etats-Unis

SHEEHY John né le 3 août 1900 à Brooklyn
dans le diocèse de Brooklyn, USA
membre de la SMA le 8 juillet 1925
prêtre le 9 juin 1929
décédé le 22 septembre 1966

1929-1938 missionnaire au Nigeria
1939-1963 au service de la Province d'Amérique
1963-1966 Rome, conseiller général

décédé à Brooklyn, USA, le 22 septembre 1966,
à l'âge de 66 ans


Father John D. SHEEHY (1900 - 1966)

John Sheehy was born in Brooklyn, New York, USA on August 3, 1900. He died while visiting the home of his sister, Mrs Nora O’Shea, at Brooklyn, on September 22, l966.

John was one of four children born of Michael and Jane (nee Horan) Sheehy. Born in America and baptised in St. Joseph’s Church, Pacific St., Brooklyn, he was five years old when the family came to live in Basin View, Tralee, Ireland. He received his early education with the Christian Brothers in Tralee. In 1916, having obtained his intermediate certificate, he left school and went to work. Four years later, in 1920, deciding to become a missionary priest, he entered the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo and, in the following year, came to St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork, where he matriculated in 1923. It is said that John’s vocation was inspired by the heroism of the 1916 Easter Week Rising in Ireland. John made his novitiate and studied philosophy in the Society's house at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, and entered St. Joseph's seminary, Blackrock Road, Cork, in the autumn of l925. He completed his theological training at Dromantine, Co Down, to which the seminary was transferred in l926. John was received as a member of the Society on July 8, l925 and was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, Co Down, on June 9, 1929. He was one of a group of fifteen ordained on that day.

After ordination John was appointed to the prefecture of Northern Nigeria. The mission to northern Nigeria had been pioneered in l907 when three SMA priests travelled to Shendam and established a station. The prefecture of Northern Nigeria had been originally established in l9ll (with the inaccurate title 'prefecture of Eastern Nigeria'). Its boundaries were greatly enlarged in l922 and, after other adjustments of boundaries; it was renamed 'the prefecture of Northern Nigeria’ in July 1929. The prefecture's ecclesiastical capital was in the great town of Kano. The other principal stations were Zaria, Kaduna, Jos, Shendam and Makurdi/Udei. On his arrival, in October 1929, John was posted to Kano as assistant to Alphonse Sittler, an Alsatian member of the Society. Like John, he was later to join the American Province. In 1931 John was transferred to Jos as superior. Jos mission had been founded as an outstation of Shendam in 1918, becoming a residential station in 1929. John, assisted by Michael McKeever, looked after a Catholic community of 500 members and 100 catechumens, mainly Igbos, located in Jos town and in the outstations of Bukuru, Bauchi, Barkin Ladi, Ropp, Kura Falls and Vom. In April 1934 the prefecture was divided into two new jurisdictions, the prefectures of Kaduna and Jos. John was incorporated into Jos prefecture, whose superior was William Lumley.

Mgr. Lumley had a staff of four priests at his disposal, William Gannon, Michael Flynn, Celestin Monpoint and John. Within a year, through reinforcements from Ireland, the number was doubled. John remained on in charge of Jos, where he lived with Mgr. Lumley. In addition to his pastoral work John was appointed 'Visitor' by his superiors in Ireland. In this capacity he was responsible to the Provincial for the spiritual and temporal welfare of his Irish colleagues, the number of who had grown to fifteen by the end of 1936. John changed his residence from Jos to Udei during that year, although he spent most of his time on visitation. In 1937 the size of the staff was to be reduced after the tragic deaths of two young Irishmen from yellow fever, John Marren and Tony Dwyer. John had the difficult task of conveying the news to the Irish Provincial, Stephen Harrington. His letter, following the initial telegram, started with the lines: 'I don’t know how to convey to you the dreadful happenings we have just gone through. The double loss of two of our best confreres has staggered and bewildered us. The experience we shall never forget'. He went on to give a detailed account of the circumstances of the tragedy.

The Fathers had contracted yellow fever at Kwande mission. On Thursday evening, September 30, two days after Fr. Marren's death, John was notified and, accompanied by Fr. Gannon, set out in all haste for Kwande. However a torrent of rain was falling and the roads were virtually impassable. They reached Kwande the following morning at 9 am where they met Fr. Dwyer who had just returned from Kwande where he had buried Fr. Marren. 'To all appearances he seemed to be keeping up well after his terrible experience. We were not long with him, however, when he complained of a pain in the back and soon he was in bed with a high fever'. The following day John set out for Kwande to visit Patrick McAnally who had also contracted yellow fever. 'When I arrived at Kwande I cannot say how relieved I was to find Fr. McAnally had taken a good turn, though he was not yet out of danger. That night, or rather at 2 am on the following morning, October 3rd, Fr. Gannon sent word that Fr. O'Dwyer's temperature had gone up and was dangerously high.' A doctor ordered Fr. O'Dwyer to Jos hospital on October 4 where he died on the following day. Fr. McAnally recovered and lived to become the oldest member of the Irish Province dying in his 93rd year. John wrote another letter to Fr. Harrington on 29th October which provides testimony of his great courage in the face of adversity. 'The deaths of our two best men have left a big gap in the ranks. It might be thought the terrible happenings we have experienced would have bewildered and staggered us. But no actually we are more determined than ever to carry on with new courage the work they so heroically served...' In the following weeks John wrote letters to the parents of the two priests, giving them a detailed account of the deaths and assuring them that the missionary staff would re double their efforts to preach the Gospel. He also visited all his confreres, strengthening them and encouraging them. He gave particular attention to three newly arrived young missionaries (Frank McArdle, Francis Hughes and Andy Geraghty). A further responsibility was to arrange for Fathers to go to Lagos to be inoculated against yellow fever with a serum which had just become available. The serum was of a 'live variety', capable of infecting others, so those inoculated had to be quarantined in Yaba. Two Fathers from Lagos who were inoculated died some time later and although the doctors claimed it was unrelated to the injection, there were many who had misgivings about its efficacy.

John's care for his confreres during these turbulent times was deeply appreciated and in July 1938 they recommended him to the Provincial for re appointment as 'Visitor'. John was duly nominated in August, however five months later, in January 1939, he fell ill and, after almost ten years unbroken service, came to Ireland on home leave. On his arrival he went to Dromantine for a rest. While there he was seriously injured in a car crash (he was a passenger in a car driven by another priest) and was taken to the Mater hospital in Dublin. There he was found not only to be cut and bruised but also to be suffering from a serious form of anaemia. After two courses of injections he made a partial recovery and went to Brooklyn, New York, to visit his brother in July 1930. John had intended returning to Ireland in October but, with the outbreak of the war, he was unable to secure a sea passage. He was still far from well, but informed Fr. Harrington that he would go directly from America to Nigeria in May 1940. But when the time came he was unfit to travel and when he was eventually ready it was impossible to get a passage. Meanwhile he took up a temporary curacy in the Church of the Nativity, in Washington DC, to replace a pastor who had volunteered as an army chaplain.

Unable to secure a passage either to Ireland or Africa, his superiors decided to put John at the disposal of the Society's works in the America. The Society had established a number of mission parishes among African American communities in the early decades of the century. The priests who staffed these parishes formed the basis of an 'American branch of the Society' which, it was hoped, might in time be developed into a full Province. Ignace Lissner, superior of the branch, made repeated requests for personnel to Stephen Harrington from 1938 when the branch was erected as a pro Province. Additional personnel were badly needed to raise funds for the projected Province, to staff its seminaries and to undertake recruitment. John was to make a unique contribution to the American Province which was formally erected in March 1941. Becoming a founding member of the Province, he played a central role in the establishment, direction and maintenance of the SMA house of philosophy and apostolic school (named Queen of Apostles), at Dedham, Massachusetts (He served in the Boston area during 1940-1952; 1955-1958; 1962-1963)). In addition to his pioneering work at Dedham where he was superior, he filled successively the posts of superior of the SMA. Promotion house at Tenafly, New Jersey (1952-1955); pastor of St. Augustine's Mission, East St. Louis, Illinois (1958-1961); and was founder director of the Vocation Centre in Chicago, Illinois. In this latter task, carried out in the latter half of 1961, he successfully skilfully negotiated the necessary permissions from the Archdiocese of Chicago, as well as locating a suitable property. In 1963 John was called to the important position of councillor to the Superior General in Rome. He was on vacation in the city of his birth when the final call came from the Master he had served so faithfully. He died at the home of his sister, Mrs Nora O'Shea in Brooklyn, New York.

John served as moderator with several organisations, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in Union City, New Jersey, and the SMA Guild in New York City.

He is buried in the SMA Community Plot, Mount Carmel cemetery, Tenafly, New Jersey, USA.