Société des Missions Africaines –Province de Grande-Bretagne

LYONS John né le 14 novembre 1912 à Motherwell
dans le diocèse de Motherwell, Grande-Bretagne
membre de la SMA le 2 juillet 1933
prêtre le 20 décembre 1936
décédé le 28 avril 1964

1937-1964 missionnaire au Nigeria
diocèse de Benin City

décédé à Agbor, Nigeria, le 28 avril 1964,
à l'âge de 52 ans

Father John Columbanus LYONS (1912 - 1964)

John Lyons was born at Motherwell, Scotland, in the diocese of Glasgow, on 14 November 1912. He died as a result of a car accident, at Agbor, in Benin City diocese, Nigeria, on 28 April 1964.

John's father, Michael, emigrated as a young man from Co Leitrim to Glasgow, where he married Annie McKee. When John (Johnny) was an infant the family moved from Mossend, Lanarkshire, to Glendine, Youghal, Co Cork. John studied with the Christian Brothers, at Youghal, from 1924 1929. He came to St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork, in 1929, matriculating two years later. He then entered the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway and on 2 July 1933 was received as a member of the Society. He completed his priestly training in the Society's seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down, and was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 20 December 1936. He was one of a group of eighteen ordained on that day.

After ordination John was appointed to the vicariate of Western Nigeria. This was the first jurisdiction in Nigeria entrusted to the Irish Province, when Thomas Broderick was appointed vicar apostolic in 1918. John disembarked at Lagos in October 1937, some weeks after the deaths of two Fathers in Jos prefecture (northern Nigeria) from yellow fever. As a result of this tragedy the medical authorities urged all missionaries to avail of a new inoculation against yellow fever which was available in Lagos. John was one of those who was inoculated, spending two weeks in an isolation block in Apapa, because the serum used was of a 'live' variety and there was a danger of infection. His first letter home, to the Provincial, Stephen Harrington, was written from Apapa. When John was released he travelled up to the mid west and took up a posting at Ubiaja mission, where he learned the local language, studied African culture and was introduced to the missionary life. After four months he went to Benin City for a brief placement.

In May 1938 John was appointed to the staff of St. Thomas' teacher training college, Ibusa. This institution had been founded ten years earlier by Bishop Broderick and supplied teachers for the vicariate's growing elementary school network. John went on home leave in January 1941. On his return to Nigeria in July 1943 his ship, the troop carrying liner, California, was bombed four days out to sea and sunk with considerable loss of life. The missionaries on board were rescued by the corvette Moyola and taken to Casablanca. When John eventually reached his mission, Patrick J. Kelly, bishop of the jurisdiction (which had been renamed the vicariate of Asaba Benin in January 1943), appointed him to the staff of St. John Bosco's teacher training college, Ubiaja. John was soon nominated principal of this prestigious college, which provided a steady flow of bilingual teachers for the twelve linguistic groups in the vicariate. After his return from his next home leave, in March 1949, John resumed his duties in Ubiaja. Later he was appointed to the staff of the Immaculate Conception secondary college in Benin City. John was also afforded an opportunity to gain experience of the pastoral ministry, serving between 1953 55 in the parishes of Asaba, Benin City and lastly Onitcha Olona.

During these years John maintained his interest in educational matters and it was came as no surprise when in 1956 Bishop Kelly nominated him to the senior post of Catholic education secretary and government education adviser, resident at Agbor. This demanding post required a high level of diplomacy in the difficult task of allocating and directing staffs for the mushroom development of Catholic primary and secondary schools in what was now the diocese of Benin City. In addition there were seven teacher training colleges whose yearly output of trained teachers fell within his jurisdiction to allocate and appoint. Earlier, as has been mentioned, he himself had taught both in teacher training and secondary schools; he also knew what it was to manage primary schools as a parish priest. Ideally equipped therefore for the task, he soon gained a reputation within the diocese and government education circles for the quality of his work.

John's death resulted from a motor accident. Travelling at night, as was his custom, he struck a fire charred fallen tree on the road between Uromi and Agbor. His tragic loss, when he was approaching the height of his powers, was a severe blow to his family, to the Society and to Nigeria. To his funeral flocked all his colleagues in the Society from the mid western region; the many Irish graduates whom he had allocated to teach in the diocese; his close friend, the Hon. Chief Utomi, Minister of Education of the mid western region, and many other friends in government circles.

He is buried in Asaba, Nigeria.