Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

McNEILL Leo Patrick né le 10 juin 1918 à Tanderagee
dans le diocèse d'Armagh, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 2 juillet 1939
prêtre le 13 décembre 1942
décédé le 3 octobre 1986

Father Leo Patrick McNEILL (1918 - 1986)

Leo McNeill was born at Tanderagee, Co Armagh, in the archdiocese of Armagh, on 10 June 1918. He died, following a heart attack, in Dromantine, Co Down, on 3 October 1986.

Leo studied at the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (1932 1933) and at St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork (1933 37), before entering the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. He received his theological formation in the Society's seminary at Dromantine. He was admitted to membership of the Society on 2 July 1939 and was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, in the seminary chapel at Dromantine, on 13 December 1942. Normally class ordinations took place in Newry cathedral, however restrictions on wartime travel led to a dispersal of the ordinations in 1942. Members of Leo's class from the west were ordained in the chapel of Moyne Park seminary, Tuam, while those from the south were ordained in the cathedral at Skibbereen. Ordained with Leo were Lawrence Carr and Kevin Carroll.

Leo was a student at a time when the Province, responding to requests from bishops in West Africa anxious to develop the educational apostolate, was making strenuous efforts to supply priests with university education. In 1936 7, during his last year in Wilton, Leo was among a group which studied at U.C.C. and which, during the two years at Kilcolgan, attended lectures at U.C.G. (receiving additional lectures in the house from one of the priests designated by the university). In 1939 Leo was awarded a B.A. degree from U.C.G., graduating in education and philosophy. After ordination he undertook further studies at U.C.C., obtaining a higher diploma in education in 1944.

In 1945 Leo was assigned to the prefecture of Jos, in northern Nigeria, a mission then under the leadership of William Lumley. Leo was to serve in the Jos region until he was invalided home in October 1973. During that period Nigeria became an independent country and Leo was to see his mission grow into a flourishing Church, with large Christian communities, led by an African archbishop and with a growing number of African priests taking their places alongside the European missionaries. The seeds of this astonishing progress sown during the Lumley era were reaped during the tenure of Bishop John Reddington, appointed when the prefecture became a diocese in June 1953. Leo was to make his own irreplaceable contribution over the years, primarily in the education apostolate.

On Leo's arrival in Jos, Mgr. Lumley gave him a pastoral appointment to Kafanchan district where Eugene Sirlinger, the last Alsatian priest to work in the Jos jurisdiction, was superior (Fr. Sirlinger was venerated throughout the prefecture for his translations of liturgical texts and catechisms into Hausa, Birom, Eggon and other indigenous languages). When Leo returned from his first home leave, in December 1949, he was appointed superior of a teacher training college for men which Mgr. Lumley had just established in Kafanchan. This was the renowned Mary Immaculate teacher training college (C.M.I.). which supplied elementary school teachers for the ever increasing number of diocesan schools. By the time Leo went on his next home leave, in May 1953, student numbers in the college had grown from 35 to almost 100. Leo remained principal of C.M.I. until 1956 when Bishop Reddington appointed him education secretary for the diocese. In this capacity he was responsible for the diocese's large network of elementary and secondary schools, for the appointment of teachers, the maintenance of academic standards and for liaising with the government education department.

Leo's appointment coincided with the government's 'Education Plan' (issued in 1955) which made available large grants for capital works. Bishop Reddington applied for these grants, and not only were new schools established but C.M.I. was extended and doubled its student intake. In October 1958 Leo was re-assigned to Pankshin mission where he was placed in charge of the diocese's vernacular teacher training college (where students who had little English were trained through the medium of Hausa). In October 1962 he joined the staff of Blessed Murumba's college, the secondary school opened by Bishop Reddington in Jos in 1959. Leo became principal of this college in 1963 and remained in charge until January 1964 when ill-health intervened and he took on less onerous responsibilities in C.M.I. When he returned to Ireland on home leave in June 1964 he was very sick and remained on in Ireland convalescing until January 1965. Despite increasing ill-health Leo was to work in Jos for almost another decade, until October 1973 when he was invalided home with a very virulent form of hepatitis. From 1965 until 1970 he taught in St. Joseph's college Vom. In his last years (1971-1973) he served as 'Divisional Inspector of Education for Jos' (appointed by the State government).

On his return to Ireland and after a period of convalescence, Leo ministered in the diocese of Raphoe until he fell seriously ill in June 1983. Some months later he retired, taking up his final residence at Dromantine. In his youth Leo was an outstanding footballer, playing for two counties, his own Co Armagh, and later for Cork when he was a student at U.C.C. A kindly, hospitable man, he is remembered with great affection in the diocese of Jos where he spent so many long years, and latterly by the people of Donegal town and of Clar church, where he exercised the pastoral ministry with cheerfulness and enthusiasm despite constant ill health. When Archbishop Jatau of Kaduna, northern Nigeria, heard of his death, he remarked: 'I am alive today because he cared for me when I was seriously ill as a schoolboy'.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.