Société des Missions Africaines –Province de Grande-Bretagne

HUGHES Francis né le 18 août 1913 à Clydebank
dans le diocèse de Glasgow, Grande-Bretagne
membre de la SMA le 2 juillet 1933
prêtre le 20 décembre 1936
décédé le 1er juin 1996

1937-1954 missionnaire au Nigeria, préfecture de Jos
1955-1974 missionnaire au Nigeria, diocèse de Jos
1974-1977 diocèse de Down & Connor
1977-1994 diocèse de Jos
1994-1996 Wilton, Cork, retiré

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 1er juin 1996,
à l'âge de 82 ans

Father Francis Patrick J. HUGHES (1913 - 1996)

Francis Hughes was born in Clydebank, Glasgow, on 19 August 1913. He died in the Bon Secours hospital, Cork, on 1 June 1996.

Born in Scotland Frank Hughes moved to Belfast with his family when he was five years old. After attending St. Mary's C.B.S. he joined the Society's Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (a junior-cycle college), in 1926. After a year he was promoted to the senior-cycle secondary college in Cork (St. Joseph's College, Wilton) where he acquired his leaving certificate in 1931. He then entered the novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, where, on 2 July 1933, he was admitted to membership of the Society. Frank received his theological formation in the Society's major seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down (1933-1937). He was ordained a priest in St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore, on 20 December 1936. He was one of a group of eighteen ordained on that day.

After ordination Frank returned to Dromantine to complete his theological course. Then, in October 1937, he set sail for the prefecture of Jos, in northern Nigeria. The mission to northern Nigeria had been pioneered in 1907 when three S.M.A. priests travelled north from Lokoja to Shendam. A prefecture had been established in 1929 (the prefecture of Northern Nigeria). In 1934 this jurisdiction was divided into the separate prefectures of Jos and Kaduna. The prefecture of Jos, under the leadership of William Lumley, comprised the provinces of Bauchi, Plateau, and parts of Benue, Adamawa and Bornu provinces, as well as a part of the French Sudan. Tragedy struck Jos prefecture at the very moment Frank was making his way out from Ireland. Two members of the small staff of eight priests, John Marren and Anthony O'Dwyer (aged 29 and 27 years respectively) died during a yellow fever epidemic. There were a number of other deaths among confreres in other jurisdictions at this time, some of them also attributed to yellow fever. As a result of these deaths the medical authorities urged all missionaries to avail of a new inoculation against yellow fever which was available in Lagos. When Frank arrived in Lagos he (and a number of other colleagues destined for the north) travelled the arduous two-day journey by train up to Jos, only to be instructed to return to Lagos for inoculation. Frank spent two weeks in the government's isolation block in Apapa (Lagos), because the serum used was of a 'live' variety and there was a danger of infection.

When Frank returned to Jos, Mgr. Lumley assigned him to Kafanchan mission, which had just been established as a residential station. A year later Francis was transferred to Jos town. St. Theresa's mission, Jos, had first been opened in 1926, when there was a mere 500 catholic members (mostly immigrants from the south) and 145 catechumens. Today Jos is the capital of an archdiocese. When Francis went there to join Peter Bennett (the superior and a year senior to him) 'Jos district' had a catholic membership in excess of 3,000 with almost 600 catechumens, 8 schools, and over twenty secondary stations. Frank was to spend the next four years in this district before returning to Ireland for leave in September 1942. On his return to Nigeria, a year later, he was appointed superior of Jos mission, remaining there for the whole of his next two tours of duty (1943-1948; 1949-1954)

In April 1954 John Reddington was nominated first bishop of Jos diocese. One of his first acts was to establish a residential mission at Bauchi, headquarters of a vast province north-east of Jos. Frank was nominated first superior of the district. He was to serve here, and later in Zawan mission, until the mid-1960's when he returned to Jos city. At this time, after some 30 years in Nigeria, Frank's health began to deteriorate and his superiors decided that he should be withdrawn from the tropics. Frank took up an appointment with the British Province of the Society in January 1968 (Allerton Park seminary, where he was confessor to the students). However he did not settle and, after a brief period on pastoral work in Belfast, he persuaded his superiors to allow him return to Jos in March 1969. Four years later (during which he served in St. Theresa's parish, Jos) his health again deteriorated, and he was compelled to withdraw from Africa, taking up a pastoral appointment in the diocese of Down and Connor (St. Mary's Presbytery, King St. Belfast) . However Frank's heart was in Nigeria and eventually, in May 1977, he again persuaded his superiors to allow him return. Three years earlier a Nigerian priest, Gabriel G. Ganaka, had succeeded Dr. Reddington as bishop of Jos diocese. Frank was to give Bishop Ganaka faithful service, ministering continuously for a futher 17 years, until his retirement in 1994. During these years Frank served in Our Lady of Fatima parish, Jos, St Jarlath's, Bukuru and in Kuru (Uganda Martyrs church). He spent the last six years of his missionary career in semi-retirement, living with Fr. Maurice Henry in Vom mission.

Frank celebrated his golden jubilee of priesthood in 1986, one of three members of his large class to reach that landmark. He spent his last years in retirement at Wilton. Frank was a man of few words and rarely spoke of his achievements. In a profile carried in the Lent 1991 issue of the African Missionary Frank is quoted as saying: 'My life has not been very exciting. I am one of those who is born, lives and dies'. Fortunately others have recorded some of Frank's achievements. The homilist at his requiem Mass noted: 'Frank can rightly be counted among the "happy" of the Sermon on the Mount. His poverty of spirit witnessed to by his true humility and reliance on God and his gentleness of character are qualities spoken of by all whose who encountered him'. After the first 30 years service in Nigeria his bishop, John Reddington, wrote: 'Few men can have served any diocese in Nigeria as Fr. Hughes has served the diocese of Jos'. And a letter of congratulations from the Superior General on the occasion of his golden jubilee speaks of Frank as a 'people's man ... with a gentle and winning manner ... always available, ever "on seat".

To ask any confrere to describe Frank, the one quality mentioned by all was his gentleness. Such gentleness should not be equated with weakness. In his ministry Frank showed qualities of great strength. He is famous for his work among the Berom people where he dedicated much time and interest to the study of their language, compiling a dictionary and several catechisms. He is regarded as the Founding Father of the Church in north-eastern Nigeria, an area now served by the dioceses of Yola and Maiduguri. Frank was also noted for the gift of water divining. Many a mission in northern Nigeria owes its water supply to Frank's gift. But it was his ability to trace the presence of the divine stream in the bits and pieces of people's daily lives that was his enduring gift to Africa'.

A touching and revealing tribute was paid to Frank by one of his Berom parishioners, Mrs Lucy Daju. She wrote in a parish bulletin: 'Rev. Fr. Francis Hughes, my Father, Our Father, the People's Father, Fada Berom (the Berom Father), Mwad Dagwoi (the man of God), Gwaha (Grandfather)' - were the ways he was known and called by the people among whom he lived, preached and served... He spent most of his missionary work among the Berom. It was he who instructed and wedded my parents, my Father having served him as a Houseboy. He was a very gentle, loving and humane man... His doors and his arms were always open to welcome the people... He was always ready to listen patiently and give fatherly advice... He came into our land a young energetic priest and spent all of his prime working life in our land. Adieu Gwaha, Adieu. Peace - perfect - peace'.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.