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Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

oneill patrick né le 27 juillet 1912 à Dublin
dans le diocèse de Dublin, Irlande
engagement permanent le 18 juin 1938 
prêtre le 18 décembre 1938
décédé le 31 janvier 2000

1939-1960 missionnaire en Gold Coast
1960-1996 missionnaire au Nigeria
1997-2000 Cork, retiré

décédé à Cork, le 31 janvier 2000,
à l'âge de 87 ans

Father Patrick Francis O’NEILL (1912 - 2000)

Patrick Francis O’Neill was born at 45 Foster Terrace, Ballybough Road, Dublin, in the archdiocese of Dublin, in the parish of St. Agatha’s, on 29 July 1912. He died in St. Theresa’s nursing unit, SMA house, Blackrock Road, Cork, on 31 January 2000.

Patrick (Pat) O’Neill was the second in a family of six boys and four girls born to Michael O’Neill, and Hannah (Evans) who died in 1986 at the age of ninety-seven. Pat’s paternal grandfather, a native of Thomastown, became a school teacher at Carrick, North Tipperary. Later he moved to Dublin where he taught in Rutland St. and afterwards at St. Patrick’s, Drumcondra. Pat’s mother’s family originally came from North Donegal. Growing up in St. Agatha’s parish, North William St., in the shadow of Croke Park, Pat received his early primary education from the Daughters of Charity before graduating to the Christian Brothers primary school at Fairview where he remembered Brother Martin as an exceptional character. It was the curate in St. Agatha’s, John Neary (later archdeacon), who encouraged him to go on for the priesthood and Pat remained friendly with him until he died in the 1960’s. In response to this encouragement Pat entered the Society’s junior college (Sacred Heart College), at Ballinafad, Co Mayo, in 1929. A year later he joined the senior-cycle college at Wilton, Cork (St. Joseph’s College), and matriculated in 1933. He was then promoted to the Society’s novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. Two years later, on 30 June 1935, he was admitted as a member of the Society. He then commenced his theological formation in the Society’s major seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down, completing his course in 1939. Pat was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman's Cathedral, Newry, on 18 December 1938. He was one of a group of eleven ordained on that day.

Pat’s first missionary appointment was to the vicariate of the Gold Coast in West Africa. On reaching his mission, in October 1939, he was appointed by William Porter, bishop of the jurisdiction, to the staff of St. Augustine’s College, Cape Coast, Ghana’s first Catholic secondary school, founded three years earlier. Pat joined a staff led by Mick Scully and which included three other Irish priests. At the time there were approximately 100 pupils in the secondary college and some 80 students in a teacher training department attached to St. Augustine's. Pat was to work at St. Augustine’s until February 1944 when he went to Ireland on leave. He resumed his duties in the college on his return in May 1945, remaining there until December 1947. On return from his next home leave, in August 1948, Pat was appointed to the staff of St. Teresa’s minor seminary, Amisano, near Elmina, which had first opened its doors in 1930. A gifted teacher, and especially interested in the formation of priests, Pat spent four happy years in St. Teresa’s, during which many future indigenous priests passed through his hands, including three who became bishops, Peter Sarpong (Kumasi), James Owosu (Sunyani) and Dominic Andoh (Accra).

During his teaching years Pat had gained something of a reputation as a writer. And in 1953, when Church leaders in Ghana decided to establish a national Catholic newspaper, it was no surprise that they selected Pat as founding Editor. From its inception the national Catholic Standard (it had existed previously for some years as a diocesan newspaper) proved a resounding success. Known today simply as The Standard, this weekly continues to thrive. In addition to this work Pat found time to edit The Catholic Voice, a monthly journal of Catholic opinion in Ghana. Pat was to spend five further years in Ghana.

Pat was at home in Ireland as a delegate to the 1958 Provincial Assembly (representing his confreres in Ghana) when he was invited by Bishop Richard Finn, of Ibadan diocese in Nigeria, to become the founding Editor of a new national Catholic newspaper. Its appearance coincided with Nigerian Independence in 1960 and so Pat became first Editor of what was appropriately named The Independent. Pat arrived in Nigeria towards the end of 1959 and, as soon as transport was available, began touring various dioceses, interviewing bishops, priests, school principals, possible agents and reporters; transport arrangements for the distribution of the paper to the various centers were also made; office staff was recruited; and a large correspondence with those who could not be contacted personally was initiated. The first issue of the new newspaper came out on 13 August 1960. Pat’s association with this paper, first as Editor and later as helper and advisor of subsequent Editors, also as contributor, lasted for thirty-six years until ill-health forced him back to Ireland in 1996. During these years Pat held other appointments in Ibadan diocese.

Through his introduction to the Legion of Mary in Ghana he had become deeply interested in the lay apostolate. In the wake of Vatican II he was selected by Bishop Finn to head the Lay Apostolate in Ibadan. Specifically he took charge of the newly-built Lay Apostolate Centre at Oke-Ado, which was to make such an impact in implementing the Council’s decree on the laity. Pat took a particular interest in the Legion of Mary and succeeded in having the Ibadan Concilium raised to the rank of Regia. He also persuaded Bishop Fagun of Ekiti diocese to have the Legion Handbook translated into the local Yoruba language. In 1976 Pat relinquished his duties as Director of the Lay Apostolate and was appointed assistant priest at the Cathedral parish, first with John O’Hea and in later years with Nigerian Fathers Ajibola and Oyelami. In 1979 he was appointed Spiritual Director at Ss. Peter and Paul’s major seminary in Ibadan, a post which he occupied for six years and to which he brought a lifetime’s experience and devotion. He spent the last years of his life in peaceful retirement at Blackrock Road.

Pat’s output as a writer was prolific. As well as his numerous contributions to the newspapers he edited, he found time to write a history of the Diocese of Ibadan (The Catholic Faith in the Diocese of Ibadan, 1884-1974), published in 1981, and some thirty-five booklets on a wide range of religious topics; these included a series of most valuable Catholic tracts which countered the very damaging anti-Catholic literature being circulated throughout Nigeria by virulent fundamentalist groups. He also wrote scores of articles on religious and social issues for various scholarly publications including The Irish Ecclesiastical Review and The Furrow. He remembered with justifiable pride the day he received a letter from Archbishop Fulton Sheen, inviting him to become a correspondent for World Mission magazine and for several years he frequently contributed articles. Around the same time he wrote a number of articles for Fides which is the English Pontifical Missionary Union Quarterly. In one such article published in 1988 entitled ‘Nigerian Catholic Piety’, he had this to say: ‘Nigerian Catholic prayer appears to have a confidence and an intimacy all its own. They see God as the Father of their own extended Christian family and, therefore, they talk to Him with an ease and a familiarity that is quite unequalled’. Those words tell a lot about Pat’s admiration for the people of Africa.

An article in the Province’s in-house magazine, Link, described Pat at the time of his Diamond Jubilee as follows: ‘His youthful smile and enduring interest in missionary work makes it hard to believe that he is eighty-six years old and spent fifty-seven of them in Africa. He is an abstemious man and a lifelong teetotaler whose only acknowledged weakness is an insatiable appetite for homemade marmalade. He is an avid reader and still spends hours delving into the wide range of literature available in the community library at Blackrock Road.’ It could be added that central to his reading habits in his last years was his morning visit to the library where he read from cover to cover all available newspapers, Catholic and secular. For a man who saw the importance of the media for evangelisation, long before it became generally recognized in Church circles, this was no surprise.

Pat’s retired reluctantly from Africa and hoped that an improvement in health might enable him to make one last trip. However as the homilist at his Requiem Mass, Fr. Des Corrigan, remarked, ‘Although he wasn’t sure whether to blame the doctors or the Provincial Council for keeping him at home… I think it was good he could spend his last years in quiet retirement among his brothers and enjoy the care from the nursing staff.’ Pat died peacefully in St. Theresa’s nursing unit, Blackrock Road in the early hours of the morning in the presence of the nursing sister in charge, Sister Rosalie Bowles OLA, and an SMA confrere, Tony Butler, who was praying with him.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.