Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

JENNINGS Anthony né le 11 juillet 1922
dans le diocèse de Killala, Irlande
serment permanent le 14 avril 1946
prêtre le 18 juin 1947
décédé le 2 mai 1998

1947-1948 université de Londres
1948-1953 missionnaire au Nigeria
1954-1957 collège de Ballinafad
1957-1964 missionnaire au Nigeria
1964-1971 collège de Dromantine
1972-1977 missionnaire au Liberia
1977-1978 Limerick
1978-1997 missionnaire au Liberia
1997-1998 Blackrock Road, Cork, retiré

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 2 mai 1998,
à l'âge de 75 ans

Father Anthony Francis JENNINGS (1922 - 1998)

Anthony Jennings was born in Driminangle, Moygownagh, Ballina, Co Mayo, in the diocese of Killala, in the parish of Moygownagh, on 11 July 1922. He died in the SMA house, Blackrock Road, Cork, on 2 May 1998.

Anthony (Tony) Jennings attended Carn national school in Moygownagh where he was greatly influenced by two teachers, Mrs Roche and Mrs Blenheim. He developed an interest in the work of the SMA when Fr. Tommy Hughes, a native of Mayo Abbey, called to the school to promote the SMA magazine. On the completion of his primary schooling, in 1936, Tony entered the Society's intermediate school, the Sacred Heart College, Ballinafad, Co Mayo. He completed his secondary schooling in the Society's senior-cycle college, at Wilton, Cork, and was promoted to the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in September 1941. Two years later, on 1 July 1943, he was received as a member of the Society. Tony studied theology in the Society's major seminary, at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down, between 1943-1947. In his last year at Wilton Tony attended lectures in the arts faculty at U.C.C. When in Kilcolgan he continued his university course at U.C.G , graduating in philosophy and education in June 1943. Tony was ordained a priest in St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, Co Down, by Bishop Eugene O'Doherty of Dromore, on 18 June 1947. He was one of a group of sixteen ordained on that day.

After ordination Tony was sent to London University to pursue a teachers diploma. In December 1948, having secured his diploma, he sailed from Liverpool for Nigeria to take up his first missionary appointment. He was posted to the vicariate of Asaba- Benin, a jurisdiction which covered much of mid-western Nigeria and had for its bishop, Patrick J. Kelly, from Galway. Tony's arrival coincided with a drive by Bishop Kelly to develop secondary education. One of the schools which he established was St. Patrick's, in Asaba town, and it was to this institution that Tony was appointed. He joined a staff led by Joseph Donnelly, and which included Tony McDonagh and Bill Fegan (the latter in charge of building extra classrooms). In April 1950 the vicariate was erected as a diocese (the diocese of Benin City). Tony taught in St. Patrick's for the whole of his first tour of duty - for five years - during which other staff members were Andy O'Rourke (principal for a period), Dick Beausang and Anselm Ojefua, a Nigerian priest. Tony came to Ireland on his first home leave in December 1953.

During the following summer - leave in those days lasted a year - Tony received a letter from the Provincial appointing him to the Sacred Heart College, Ballinafad, which had then become a full secondary school. Four years later he returned to Nigeria, to head the new staff appointed to St. Theresa's minor seminary at Oke-Are, Ibadan (with Frs Paddy Jennings, Donal J. O'Connor and Michael Sanusi). During his years as rector of this important institution (1957-1964), which served many dioceses in west and southern Nigeria, Tony supervised some notable improvements. A two-storey classroom block was completed; a new residence for the Fathers was built and the foundations were laid for the seminary's new chapel. Among his students were Anthony Olubunmi Okogie (later Archbishop of Lagos), Boniface Dalieh (later Bishop of Cape Palmas), Felix Alaba Job (Archbishop of Ibadan) and a host of Nigerian priests.

In September 1964 Tony was given the key post of Spiritual Director in the Society's major seminary, at Dromantine. He also taught courses in spirituality. Through this work he became widely known in the Province, especially among the younger members. Tony was anxious to return to the missions and eventually in 1971 he obtained the permission of his superiors. Re-appointed to Nigeria, he failed to secure an entry visa (there was much unrest there at the time) and was re-assigned to the vicariate of Monrovia, in Liberia, taking up this posting in May 1972.

Liberia was altogether different from Nigeria, a poor country with a small population, where the Church had made slow progress despite tremendous sacrifices by its missionaries. Tony was appointed parish priest of Yekepa. He then served as administrator of the Sacred Heart cathedral in Monrovia. He was to be parish priest, too, of Sinkor and Kakata. But he is most closely associated with the parish of St. Peter Claver in the town of Buchanan (some 30 miles west of the capital, Monrovia), to which he was appointed in 1979 and where he was to remain until his retirement in 1997. For fourteen of these years in Buchanan his companion and curate was John Kilcoyne of Ringvaun, Castlebar. This Mayo partnership of mutual respect and fraternity was most productive. It was forged in the face of grave danger, as will be recorded later. Tony spent a year of his 'Liberian period' in Ireland. He had fallen ill and returned home in April 1977 for prostrate surgery. He needed a year to recuperate and spent it doing duty for a Limerick diocesan priest who had gone out to Jos, in northern Nigeria. Tony returned to the Monrovia vicariate in October 1978.

In 1982 the vicariate was erected as an archdiocese, with Michael Kpakala Francis (a Liberian) as Archbishop. The joy which attended this elevation in the status of the mission was overshadowed by the worsening situation consequent on the coup-d’etat against the Tolbert government in 1980. During the following years there was a gradual descent into anarchy, leading to the outbreak of a full-scale civil war in 1990. In the ensuing years over 150,000 Liberians lost their lives and nearly a million people (at least half the population) were forced into exile in neighbouring countries. During these dreadful years Tony, with John Kilcoyne, witnessed at first hand the trauma and devastation of the war. Throughout the worst of the fighting they stayed with their people in Buchanan, feeding the hungry, and setting in train the process of rehabilitation. During these years of trial Tony kept a daily diary and two months before his death he spent many hours placing on record his recollections of events as he had experienced them. It is impossible in a biography of this scope to describe in any detail the horrors through which he lived - the massive loss of human life, the wanton destruction of property, the despair of the people in the face of hunger and starvation, the breakdown of order, the endemic fear.

Throughout it all, Tony, with his companion, John Kilcoyne, showed remarkable courage, working in every way possible to maintain their people's spirits and to assuage their hunger, to keep 'goodness' alive in a world where the forces of darkness were in the ascendant. It would not be an exaggeration to describe this work as heroic. Tony was a man of deep faith and his commitment to his missionary vocation never faltered. The Society responded wholeheartedly to the crisis in Liberia and the Irish Province's development office at Blackrock Road organised the despatch by sea of some 100 containers, filled with food and clothes. Only on one occasion, in April 1996, did Tony and John leave Liberia, when the ferocity of the fighting and the threat to their personal security left their superiors no option but to have them evacuated. They were airlifted with other missionaries out of the capital by a U.S. military helicopter. The airlift captured media headlines around the world. What the international headlines missed (although it was reported in some Irish newspapers), was that three months later, when the situation eased slightly, the SMA missionaries, including Tony, returned to their posts.

Tony had suffered from health problems from time to time, and his delight in cigarette-smoking doubtless played some part in this. However he never let illness interfere with his determination to be an active missionary and after hospitalisation or surgery he bounced back quickly. When warned about his smoking habit he would smile wryly and shrug his shoulders. Perhaps his most debilitating ailment was a hearing defect which could not be remedied and which got steadily worse as he grew older. In May 1997 Tony retired from Liberia in circumstances which caused him some sadness. He would have wished to remain on longer, to serve there until the Lord called him. However, in May 1997, the departure of John Kilcoyne meant that Tony would also have to leave; there could be no question of allowing him to remain on alone. Tony was now a priest of 50 years standing and his hearing difficulty had become profound. Reluctantly he agreed to retire.

Tony had a lively mind and was determined to lead an active retirement. He read widely, took a keen interest in sporting activities, and especially delighted in the resurgence of Gaelic football in his beloved Mayo. He also set himself some serious challenges. For example, at the time of his death he was editing the Buchanan Coutumier (which dated from 1927) for the Provincial archives. He was also awaiting a reply to a 'submission' which he had made in response to the Superior General's Bulletin of December 1997 where the General sought answers to a number of questions concerning mission and the nature of the Society. Tony gave a carefully considered response, emphasising the importance of primary evangelisation, analysing the 'present needs of the African Churches', and outlining the 'choices' which the Society must make. Tony's death came suddenly, if not unexpectedly. He died sitting in his armchair in his room on a Saturday morning, having said Mass some hours earlier.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.