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Société des Missions Africaines – Province d'Irlande
Le Père Owen MAGINN

 maggin  né le 18 octobre 1920
dans le diocèse de Down & Connor (Irlande)
membre de la SMA le 30 juin 1940
prêtre le 19 décembre 1943
décédé le 3 décembre 2006
 

1944-1946 Cambridge Université
1946-1950 hospitalisé
1951-1957 missionnaire en Egypte
Héliopolis, collège Saint-Georges
1957-1964 Irlande, professeur au séminaire
1964-1974 Héliopolis, collège Saint-Georges
1974-1983 missionnaire en Zambie, Ndola
1983-1984 année sabbatique à Rome
1984-2005 missionnaire en Zambie, Ndola
2006 Blackrock Road, Cork, retiré

décédé à Cork (Irlande) le 3 décembre 2006
à l’âge de 86 ans

Father Owen Joseph MAGINN (1920 - 2006)

Owen Maginn was born in Drumanaghan, Clough, Co Down, in the parish of Drumaroad, Castlewellan, in the diocese of Down and Connor, on 18 October 1920.
He died in the Mercy Hospital, Cork, on 3rd December 2006.

Owen was born into a farming family near Castlewellan. His parents, Mark and Annie (nee Mallon) - she was a primary school teacher – bought a farm just before they married. In all six children were born to the marriage of which only two survived, Owen and his brother Tom. When Owen was in his third year the family moved to America, living in Albany (New York State), and later in Detroit where Owen’s father worked in the Ford plant. In 1929, in the wake of the ‘Wall Street crash’, the family returned to Ireland. Owen went to Drumaroad primary school where he came under the influence of Master Fitzpatrick, who embodied many of the best qualities of the old-time school master, and his assistant, Miss Daly. In 1934 Owen became a member of the foundation class of the newly-opened De La Salle secondary school (named after St. Patrick), in Downpatrick, cycling there from his home each day. His interest in the missionary priesthood came through contact with his parish priest, Denis Cahill, brother of Sexton Cahill SMA who was to die prematurely in Africa in 1942. In 1938 having obtained his leaving certificate Owen entered the Society’s novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan. Two years later he was promoted to the Society’s major seminary at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down. Owen was first received as a member of the Society on 30 June 1940. He became a permanent member on 12 June 1943. He was ordained a priest on 19 December 1943, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, by Bishop Daniel Mageean, of Down and Connor diocese. He was one of a group of twelve ordained on that day.

After ordination Owen returned to Dromantine for six months to complete his theology course. In the following September he was assigned to further studies at Cambridge university. This was a time when secondary education was developing in Nigeria and university graduates were increasingly needed to found and staff schools. Cambridge degrees were recognised world-wide and Cambridge graduates were most acceptable to the British in countries like Nigeria and Ghana where the Society had missions. Owen studied history at Downing College, while residing in St. Edmund’s House, the only hall of residence in Cambridge which followed the Catholic tradition. Owen’s tutor at Downing was B. Goulding Brown M.A. Among his lecturers were the distinguished medievalist Professor Zachary Nugent Brooke, Dr Kenneth Pickthorn, the constitutional historian , and Dr. Michael Postan, general editor of the Cambridge Economic History of Europe. He also had the privilege of attending a number of lectures by Dom David Knowles, the great scholar of the medieval Church. Owen studies came to an abrupt end in November 1946 when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After a brief spell in a Cambridge hospital he returned to Ireland to the Mater Hospital and then to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, near Dun Laoire. He remained there during 1947, 1948 and much of 1949. After recovering, in 1950, he returned to Cambridge where he successfully completed his course, being awarded a Masters degree.

Owen was now posted to Egypt, where the climate – with its dry heat – was considered suitable for those with weak constitutions and where it was hoped his recovery would be sustained. In Eygpt the Irish members of the Society catered mainly for Coptic Catholics (Orthodox Christians who re-united with Rome in the 19th century) also known as Monophysites. In comparison with other Christian groups in Egypt the Coptic Patriarchy was not prosperous and lacked the means to provide appropriate education for young Catholics. It was to remedy this deficiency that Irish members of the Society became involved in the educational apostolate. During the war years there were some twenty Irish confreres in Egypt, mainly staffing schools. Owen taught in St. George’s College, Heliopolis ( some 7 to 8 kilometres outside Cairo), his principal subjects being English, Religion, and History. He also taught Science on occasions. The Suez crisis caused a change in the fortunes of the school. Many of the British teachers in better established secondary schools went home and several schools closed down. In Heliopolis the ‘English School’, staffed by Cambridge graduates, went into a sharp decline and many of its pupils came to St. George’s.

In 1957, after six years in Egypt, Owen was appointed to the staff of Dromantine as Dean of Students (Magister Spiritus) and Professor of Ecclesiastical History. He quickly settled into his role and became popular with students and staff alike. In December 1963 he was sent to Kilcolgan to replace the superior of the ‘Spiritual Year’, Fr. Jim Byrne, who had become suddenly ill. A year later Owen returned to Egypt as headmaster of St. George’s College. His return coincided with a reduction of SMA staff and increasing government interference. St. George’s had a rule that the intake of Moslems should not exceed 25%. But the government insisted on a higher number and within less than a decade almost 90% of the pupils were Moslem. Moreover the government accused the school of transferring funds out of the country, and also interfered in the curriculum - insisting that there should be teaching of the Koran and that Arabic should become the ‘first language’. Eventually in 1969 the Society leadership decided to withdraw from the school and to hand it over to the Coptic Patriarchy. Owen was involved in this process which was difficult and drawn-out and only concluded in 1973. Owen stayed on a further year to assist with the transition.

Owen’s next assignment was to Ndola diocese, Zambia, where the Irish Province had just founded its first mission. Zambia was very different from Egypt - a peaceful, secure, untroubled country, with a strong economy (based largely on the copper mines). Owen first went to the White Fathers Language Centre at Ilondola where he was introduced to the customs, culture and languages of the people (particularly Chibemba). He was then appointed to Kabushi where he worked with Mick Igoe, P.J. Gormley and Jerry Hanna. Hitherto in Zambia ‘white’ missionaries tended to live in ‘white’ areas or compounds from which they issued forth to run their parishes or schools. Franciscan missionaries in Luanshya were the first to break this mould and the SMA missionaries followed suit on their arrival. Owen found this proximity to the people particularly refreshing. He relished the pastoral ministry, going out among the people, engaging them in conversation, and in that way improving his facility in Chibemba.

In 1975 the bishop of Ndola (Nicholas Agnozzi, an Italian Franciscan) resigned and was replaced by Denis De Jong (who had converted from Calvinism as a young man and whose grandfather was Dutch). Fr. De Jong had been Vicar General of the diocese and also in charge of the cathedral and Owen was asked to take over this work pending the appointment of a successor. Owen lived in the cathedral house until December 1975 when Fr. Ambrose Knezie was appointed V.G. Owen was then appointed to Twapia, an outstation of the cathedral which had been run by the Franciscans. As it lacked a mission residence he continued living in the cathedral house. Owen ministered in Twapia from 1975-1983. These were busy years. During his first year there he had over 600 baptisms and many marriages. In the subsequent years he set up several new outstations. In his last year the main parish church needed to be extended and plans were drawn up by an architect (Hamish Cameron Smith). However Owen fell sick before the work could be completed and had to be repatriated. The extension was subsequently completed by
Sexton Doran.

Fearing a recurrence of the tuberculosis it was decided that Owen should remain outside Africa for a while. Accordingly in 1983, after a period or convalescence, he took sabbatical leave, attending the Angelicum university in Rome where he studied theology. His principal subjects were Ecumenism and the Canon Law of marriage. In September 1984 (having secured a M.A. in theology) Owen returned to Ndola, taking up a posting at Kamchanga parish, where he was assisted by Mick Joyce, a priest from Tuam archdiocese. Later he took on responsibility for Kawama outstation where he built a fine church. He built another church at Chibolya which was opened in 1989. At the blessing of this latter church Bishop De Jong requested Owen to become his private secretary – a post which was vacant at the time. Owen accepted and returned to Ndola taking up residence in the bishop’s house which was some miles from the cathedral and the bishop’s offices. He was to remain with the bishop until the end of his missionary career.

In 1992 Bishop de Jong appointed a new private secretary, but asked Owen to remain on with him as a companion. During these years Owen was very active in giving retreats, days of recollection and much in demand as a spiritual director. He also had an outreach to people living with HIV/Aids. His presence in the bishop’s house as companion and confident was much appreciated. He was a wise counsellor to young and old. The members of the Friends of Africa (a group of young Irish laity animated by the SMA) found in him a father who was non-threatening and non-judgmental but someone who could put before them a challenge.

In April 2006 Owen suffered a stroke in Zambia and was repatriated, taking up residence in the SMA house at Blackrock Road. During the time remaining to him he was an active member of the community participating in all the liturgical exercises and social activities and greatly enjoying the visits of his many friends formed over his lifetime. Indeed Owen’s ability to make and keep friends was quite exceptional. When people moved away he maintained friendships through a phenomenal regularity of correspondence. His friendships ranged from the very young through to the very old, female as well as male. He was greatly attached to his brother Tom and to Tom’s wife Sadie and their children. Owen was extremely well read and held strong views. Nonetheless in discussion and argument he was always courteous and never lost his gentle smile or the sense of warmth he exuded. He died peacefully at 8.00am on Sunday morning, 3rd December 2006, in his 87th year after spending just a few weeks short of 63 years as a missionary priest.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery