Société des Missions Africaines –Province d’Irlande

gilmore matthew né le 19 juillet 1915 
dans le diocèse de Tuam
membre de la SMA le 29 juin 1937
prêtre le 22 décembre 1940
décédé le 10 janvier 2004

1941-1943 apostolat en Irlande

1943-1950 vicariat apostolique de Monrovia, Liberia
1950-1954 préfecture apostolique de Cape Palmas
1955-1972 collège du Sacré-Cœur, Ballinafad, économe
1972-1996 archidiocèse de Monrovia
1997-2002 Claregalway, retiré
2002-2004 Cork, retiré

décédé à l’hôpital Sainte-Thérèse de Cork, Irlande, le 10 janvier 2004,
à l'âge de 88 ans

Father Matthew GILMORE (1915 - 2004)

Matthew Gilmore was born in Moylough, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, in the Archdiocese of Tuam, on 19 July 1915.
He died in St. Theresa’s Nursing Unit, SMA house, Blackrock Road, Cork, on 10 January 2004.

One of eight children (four boys and four girls) born to Thomas and Jane (nee Cheevers), Matthew (Mattie) was baptised in the parish of Mountbellew five days after his birth. He received his primary schooling locally before entering St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, for his secondary education. Having matriculated he entered the Society of African Missions novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in the autumn of 1935. He received his theological formation in the Society’s major seminary, at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down, between 1937-1941. Mattie was first received as a member of the Society on 29th June 1937. He became a permanent member on 15th June 1940. Mattie was ordained a priest in St. Colman’s Cathedral, Newry, by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore, on 22nd December 1940. He was one of a class of nineteen ordained on that day.

After ordination Mattie was appointed to the Vicariate of Liberia which was then under the leadership of Bishop John Collins SMA. This was one of the most difficult missions in West Africa. An impoverished 'Black Republic', founded by freed slaves from the U.S.A. in the early decades of the 19th century, Liberia was a small, sparsely-populated country, with constant strife between the Americo-Liberian settlers and the indigenous tribes. By the time Mattie was ordained SMA missionaries had been in Liberia continuously since 1905 and had managed to set down firm roots. Because of the difficulty in obtaining a war-time ship’s passage to Africa, Mattie was delayed until February 1943 before he sailed on the Monarch of Bermuda, then a converted troop carrier, one of a convoy of troop carriers and merchant ships destined to make land-fall at Sierra Leone.

Mattie’s first tour of duty lasted from 1943 until 1948. On arrival he was appointed to the staff of St. Peter’s Teacher Training College, Bassa. A year later he was posted to Pleebo, on the Kru Coast, to take charge of the recently founded St. Francis Boarding and Day school. The Kru Coast was the cradle of Catholicism in Liberia. Mattie returned home on his first leave taking a mail boat which plied between Abidjan and Bordeaux. En route to Ireland he visited Lourdes and Rome, in the latter attending an audience given by Pius X11. After the customary year regaining his strength Mattie returned to Liberia in December 1949. Shortly afterwards, in February 1950, the Liberian Mission was divided, with Monrovia and Cape Palmas becoming the headquarters of two distinct jurisdictions. Mattie became a member of the Cape Palmas prefecture, under the leadership of Francis Carroll. Mgr. Carroll appointed him superior of Grand Cess station, one of the earliest missions on the Kru Coast, founded in 1916. When Mattie took charge there were some 2,000 Catholic members, and numerous outstations and in the task of serving this community and increasing its membership he was assisted by two curates. In addition to pastoral work Mattie attempted to establish a cocoa-nut plantation in the hope that the mission might become self-supporting. However lack of initial capital eventually prevented the scheme from being a success.

When Mattie returned to Ireland at the end of his second tour, in August 1954, he was informed that he was to become Bursar and Farm Manager at the Sacred Heart College, Ballinafad, the Society’s secondary school or juniorate, situated in Co Mayo. He took up this appointment in March 1955. He was to remain in Ballinafad for the next 17 years. Possessed of an extrovert temperament and a kindly nature, keenly interested in sport (he had been a good footballer in his youth) Mattie was to become highly popular among both staff and students in Ballinafad. To the latter he was known as ‘Cassius’, for like the character in Shakespeare’s famous play, he too had ‘a lean and hungry look’. He was to become equally popular in the locality with farmers, neighbours and all manner of men. And he was known further afield. His attendance at Fairs (in the pre-Mart days) or at football and hurling matches the length and breath of Connaught was legendary. His appearance at all manner of funerals was no less remarkable and always appreciated. But Mattie’s thoughts were always with Africa and he made numerous appeals to be re-assigned to that continent during his years in Ballinafad. Finally his wish was granted and he returned to what was now the Archdiocese of Monrovia in April 1972.

Mattie was to spend the next 24 years in Liberia enduring, during the last six of those years, the horrors of Civil War. His first appointment on his return was to St. Mary’s, Bushrod Island, Monrovia, a large parish with a junior-high school. In 1978 he was posted to Harbel parish situated 35 miles from Monrovia. Finally, in 1983 he took up the post of Chaplain to St. Joseph’s Catholic hospital in Monrovia. It was here, from 1989, that he witnessed at first hand the carnage and devastation of Liberia’s civil war, which he survived only by reason of a solid yet unpretentious faith, considerable courage, and a carelessness for his own safety. His missionary work was recognised on his 80th birthday by Pope John Paul 11 who awarded him the papal medal ‘Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’, conferred on him by the Papal Representative in Monrovia. Mattie ran the gauntlet during the civil war. He was arrested by rebel forces and, during a period of heightened conflict, was airlifted by a U.S. navy helicopter onto an aircraft carrier. Eventually Mattie reluctantly was persuaded to retire, although it must be said that after reaching Ireland he made numerous attempts to persuade his superiors to allow him return. . Eventually, in 1996, he accepted the inevitable - he was now over 80 years - and opted to live out his years of retirement in the SMA house, Claregalway.

Not just in the hinterland of Claregalway but further afield in Connaught, Mattie again became widely known, travelling to funerals and attending G.A.A. matches as in earlier years. He enjoyed six happy years in Claregalway until eventually, in November 2002, ill-health led to his transfer to Blackrock Road where dedicated nursing care was available. From the beginning of December 2003 his health suffered a marked deterioration and he died peacefully on Saturday night at 10.45 p.m. in St. Theresa’s Nursing Unit.

He is buried in Wilton Cemetery.