Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

FOLEY Michael né le 6 septembre 1913 à Cleggan
dans le diocèse de Tuam, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 1er juillet 1934
prêtre le 19 décembre 1937
décédé le 31 mai 1967

1938-1963 missionnaire au Nigeria, Ashaka et Warri
1963-1967 monastère de Currandulla, aumônier

décédé à Dublin, Irlande, le 31 mai 1967,
à l'âge de 54 ans

Father Michael John FOLEY (1913 - 1967)

Michael Foley was born in Cleggan, Connemara, Co Galway, in the archdiocese of Tuam, on 6 September 1913. He died, after a long illness, at St. Anne's hospital, Northbrook Road, Dublin, on 31 May 1967.

Michael was educated at St. Jarlath's college, Tuam, Co Galway, matriculating in 1932. He joined the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in September of that year. Two years later, on 1 July 1934, he was admitted to membership of the Society. Michael received his theological formation in the Society's seminary at Dromantine, Co Down. He was ordained a priest, with fourteen classmates, by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 19 December 1937.

After ordination Michael returned to Dromantine for six months to complete his theological course. He was then appointed to the vicariate of Western Nigeria, which was the first jurisdiction in Nigeria confided to the Irish Province, in 1918. Leo Hale Taylor was vicar apostolic of this vast vicariate which covered most of western Nigeria. When Michael arrived in his mission in October 1938, Bishop Taylor appointed him to the district of Ashaka where Philip Mahon was superior. Ashaka was a large rural district, first established in 1926, and now with over 1,500 Catholic members and 400 catechumens spread over the principal station of Ashaka and its 40 outstations. Here under the watchful eye of Fr. Mahon, Michael learned the rudiments of missionary evangelisation: dispensing the sacraments to the Catholics, training and supervising catechists, managing schools, building churches and, above all, trekking many miles for weeks on end to visit outstations.

In 1938 Bishop Taylor transferred both the seat of the vicariate and St. Paul's inter vicarial seminary from Asaba to Benin City. When Bishop Patrick J. Kelly (who succeeded Bishop Taylor in 1939) returned from his episcopal ordination in Ireland in 1940, he appointed Michael to the teaching staff of the seminary. Michael remained in St. Paul's until 1942 when he was transferred to Warri district, where the veteran Irish missionary, J.J. Healy, was superior. Warri mission had been founded in 1917 and when Michael came there, he found a Catholic community of almost 2,300 members and 1,000 catechumens, scattered across the principal station and its 25 outstations. Perhaps the best indication that good progress had been made over the years was the high average rate of Catholic marriages, which was 25 and on the increase.

When Michael returned from his first home leave, in May 1945, to what was now the vicariate of Asaba Benin (erected in January 1943), Bishop Kelly gave him charge of Warri district during the absence of Fr. Healy in Ireland. Two years later Michael was appointed superior of St. Paul's major seminary, with Michael Grace as his assistant. In April 1950 the vicariate of Asaba Benin was erected as the diocese of Benin City, eight months before Michael went on his next home leave. Michael returned to Nigeria in November 1951 to become parish priest of Warri (J.J. Healy had died in January 1949). He was to spend the following twelve years in charge of this mission district, building it up to such an extent that in the year after he retired from Africa in ill health (1963), Warri was erected as a diocese.

A colleague who worked closely with Michael describes in some detail his achievement in Warri. 'During Michael's tenure, the number of Catholic schools in the district went up from two to six; a teacher training college for girls was built at Ughelli (Maryfield training college) and Our Lady's high school for girls was opened at Effurun, near Warri. At Bomadi, in the heart of Western Ijaw, and again at Okwagbe, he built secondary colleges for boys. In each case the buildings were put up by Michael himself. He was a familiar figure in all the hospitals in the Delta. He commenced the building of the present Warri cathedral at a time when no one dreamt that Warri would ever become the seat of a new Episcopal See. It was to be the biggest and the best building in Warri. First he demolished the existing church, next he erected the frame and roof of the new building, and when he was invalided to Ireland in 1963 he left behind blocks and money to bring the cathedral to 80% of its present state. This cathedral church is his memorial'.

Michael returned to Ireland with the illness which was eventually to claim his life. A tall, handsome, stately man, he bore the gradual deterioration of his condition with great fortitude, remaining active up to the last months. During the four years of his illness (1963 1967) he served as chaplain to the Franciscan Monastery, at Currandulla, Co Galway. It was during this period too that he wrote his memoirs, a fascinating document of its kind. Another colleague wrote of him after his death: 'I knew Michael most of his missionary life. He merited the admiration and respect of his colleagues for his devotion to hard work and his leadership as pastor in Warri, the largest and most difficult parish in Benin City diocese at that time. He was a councillor to Bishop Patrick Kelly and enjoyed the confidence of his bishop. He was one of the "giants" of the missions in West Africa, greatly admired by the people'.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.