Société des Missions Africaines – Province d’Irlande

HALES Robert né le 5 juin 1928 à Knockacurra, Bandon
dans le dans le diocèse de Cork (Irlande)
membre de la SMA le 1er août 1952
prêtre le 13 juin 1956
décédé le 31 octobre 2004

1956-1968 archidiocèse de Lagos
1968-1969 université de Londres
1969-1978 diocèse d’Ibadan (Nigeria)
1979-1984 diocèse d’Ekiti (Nigeria)
1985-1993 Rome, généralat
1993-1996 maison sma de Kabwe, Zambie
1996-2004 Wilton, retiré

décédé le 31 octobre 2004 à Cork (Irlande),
à l’âge de 76 ans

Father Robert HALES (1928 - 2004)

Robert Hales was born in Knockacurra, Bandon, Co Cork, in the diocese of Cork, on 5th June 1928.
He died in the SMA house, at Wilton, Cork, on 31st October 2004.

Born into a farming background, Robert (Bob) was the son of Thomas and Anne (nee Lehane). His family were very active during the War of Independence and Civil War (on both sides). Bob’s father was a senior member of the famed West Cork I.R.A, and commandant of Cork No.3 Brigade, taking the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War. An uncle, Sean, a Government T.D., was shot by anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War. A third brother, Donal, was the Republicans’ representative in Italy. Bob was baptised in Courcys parish, Kinsale, on 5th June 1928. He received his secondary education in St. Augustine’s school, Dungarvan, Co Waterford between 1941-1946, where he was rated as a brilliant student. On matriculating and taking his leaving certificate he was awarded a County Council Scholarship to University College Cork. Deciding to become a missionary priest he entered the SMA house of Students at Wilton, Cork, in September 1946, enrolling at U.C.C. to study for a B.A. degree. Bob completed his course in 1949, being awarded a B.A. degree with First Honours in French and Second Honours in English. He took Philosophy as a subsidiary subject. He then went to the Society’s novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, but within a few weeks, the renewal of his County Council scholarship led him to return to U.C.C. where he acquired an Honours M.A. degree in French (his M.A. thesis was on Honore Balsac). During the summer of 1950, while awaiting his M.A. results, he spent a month in the SMA house at Chanly, Belgium, to perfect his French. A further renewal of his scholarship led to a further year at U.C.C. where he obtained a Higher Diploma in Education. Normally students for the Society spent two years at Kilcolgan but, already having studied philosophy at U.C.C., Bob’s term was reduced to a year. He was then promoted to the Society’s theological seminary, at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down. Bob was first received as a member of the Society on 1st August 1952. He became a permanent member on 13th June 1955. Bob was ordained a priest by Bishop Eugene O’Doherty of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman’s cathedral, Newry, on 13th June 1956. He was one of a group of thirteen ordained on that day.

After ordination Bob was appointed to the Archdiocese of Lagos, in south western Nigeria. Bob’s first appointment - he arrived in Africa on 31st October 1956 - was to St. Mary’s secondary school, Ijebu-Igbo, where he served under the Principalship of John Mooney. A year later he was transferred to St. Peter and Paul’s parish, Itesi, Abeokuta, to assist Pat Braniff. During the twelve years spent in Lagos Archdiocese – until April 1968 – Bob was mainly involved in the teaching apostolate. He taught briefly in St. Gregory’s College, Nigeria’s first Catholic secondary school, with Martin Conboy, P.J. Carroll and Pedro Martins. He spent a longer period living with Fr. Tom Devane at Most Pure Heart of Mary parish, Esure, while teaching in the adjacent St. Anthony’s Grammar school, where Anthony Sanusi (later bishop of Ijebu-Ode diocese) was Principal. Later Bob was to succeed Fr. Sanusi as Principal of this institution.

In the autumn of 1968 Bob commenced a year of study at the School of African and Oriental Studies, London University, residing in the SMA house, Holland Road. Bob’s purpose in undertaking this course was to prepare himself for a new assignment as tutor (‘Director of Yoruba Studies’) and superior in the Iwo Tyrocinium, Ibadan diocese, where newly-arrived missionaries were introduced to African conditions, culture and language. Bob completed his course and took up this posting in August 1969. He is remembered by those who passed through the Tyro as an excellent teacher, instilling in his pupils a love of the Yoruba language and Yoruba culture. His love for the Yoruba people was reflected in the painstaking research into the history of mission in Yorubaland, the results of which he readily imparted. Perhaps most valuable of all was the nature of the course he developed, which became a template for those who succeeded him in the Yourba Tyrocinium (in Iwo, Ibadan and Ilawe-Ekiti).

In June 1972 he joined the staff of the recently created Pastoral Institute in Ibadan, serving here until February 1977. The Institute did much to introduce Western Nigeria to the post-Vatican Council Church. During these years, too, Bob’s linguistic skills, and particularly his fluency in French, were in demand as is shown by his selection as an interpreter to the Society’s General Assembly of 1968. In Ibadan diocese the respect in which he was held by his colleagues led to his selection as their Delegate to the General Assembly of 1973. And it came as no surprise when he was appointed to the Preparatory Commission for the 1978 Provincial Assembly. During September-December 1977, while engaged in this latter work, he was able to take a brief sabbatical break with the Redemptorists at Marianella, Dublin. The following April found him in Rome as ‘mission’ delegate to the General Assembly of that year.

On his return to Nigeria, in September 1978, Bob returned to his duties in the Ibadan Pastoral Institue and then, from September 1979, took up the post of Director of the Tyrocinium, now located at Ilawe in Ekiti diocese. He was to serve in Ekiti until August 1984, with a brief posting as simultaneous translator for the 1983 General Assembly at Rome. Bob went on sabbatical leave in September 1984, undertaking pastoral work in St. Constantines’ Church, Glasgow.

A new phase in his missionary career commenced in September 1985 when Bob was entrusted with the task of translating a number of SMA publications – principally the writings of the Society’s Founder, Melchior de Marion Bresillac – from French into English. The homilist at his requiem Mass noted that Bob’s ‘translations were always accurate but his impish character shone through in a style that shunned a boring literalism for a more free spirited rendering of the meaning of the text. His translations made the works enjoyable reading and in this way he made an incalculable contribution to the understanding of the Founder and the charism he imparted to his followers.’ Although Bob was not an unequivocal admirer of the Founder, this important work did much to hasten the introduction of the Founder’s Cause for Canonisation which took place shortly after its completion.

Regrettably, another work of scholarship which Bob had undertaken some twenty years earlier never saw the light of day. To commemorate the centenary of Catholic beginnings in Yorubaland in 1968 Bob was commissioned by Archbishop Aggey of Lagos to write a history of the Catholic Church in Yorubaland. Bob devoted much time and energy to the preparation of this volume. However, for whatever reason, the book was never published. A sensitive man, Bob was deeply upset by this. Unfortunately no copy of the manuscript can be located. In July 1993 Bob returned to Africa, becoming a member of the formation staff at the SMA house, Kabwe, Zambia, and professor in the nearby Zambian national philosophical seminary, at Mpima. Bob retired from the active ministry in August 1996, taking up residence in Wilton.

During his retirement Bob undertook important works of translation for the Society’s Irish Archives. Always a voracious reader, he discovered the riches of the Cork City Library, and in particular liked to make use of the ‘talking books’ library. Often he was to be seen in the Wilton locality striding along, oblivious to his surroundings, as he listened intently to Hardy, Tolstoy, Austen, and the many other much-beloved classics. During his earlier years in Africa he was known to perform at gatherings the popular American song, ‘Steamboat Bill’ (composed in 1910), and it was said by some who knew him well that he was an admirer of things American. Bob’s health began to deteriorate noticeably in the year before his death. His parting came rather suddenly. On Sunday morning, 31st October he celebrated Mass, had breakfast but some time later complained of being unwell. He died some hours later.

The homilist at his funeral captured Bob’s personality well when he said: ‘Bob was a truly original thinker, quickly bored by the mundane… He was passionate about life and many of life’s subjects while retaining a healthy suspicion of any dogmatism. Perhaps he is well described as a charming eccentric and a benign iconoclast’.

He is buried in Wilton Cemetery.