Société des Missions Africaines - Province d’Irlande

TONER Michael né le 23 février 1920 à Belfast
dans le diocèse de Down & Connot, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 1er juillet 1941
prêtre le 17 décembre 1944
décédé le 2 juin 1994

1946-1992 archidiocèse de Kaduna, Nigeria
1992-1994 Portaferry, comté de Down, retiré

décédé à Portaferry, Irlande, le 2 juin 1994
à l’âge de 74 ans

Father Michael Bernard TONER (1920 - 1994)

Michael Toner was born, in Belfast (his home address was at Church Street, Portaferry, Co Down) in the diocese of Down and Connor, on 23 February 1920. He died, unexpectedly, in his house at Ballyphilip Road, Portaferry, on 2 June 1994.

Second son in a family of five boys and three girls, Michael (Mick) was educated in St. Patrick's high school, Downpatrick, Co Down (1934-1939). In September 1939 he joined the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. Michael studied theology in the major seminary at Dromantine, Co Down (1941-1945). He was received as a member of the Society on 1 July 1941. Michael was ordained a priest in St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, by Bishop Eugene O'Doherty of Dromore diocese, on 17 December 1944. He was one of a group of seventeen ordained on that day.

After ordination Michael returned to Dromantine to complete his theology course. He was then appointed to the prefecture of Kaduna, in northern Nigeria. It was January 1946 before he was able to secure a ship's passage to West Africa. Michael was to work in northern Nigeria for a total of forty-six years, until 1992. His first tour (1946-1950) was spent mainly in Gawu mission, after brief postings in the cities of Kano and Kaduna. Towards the end of Michael's second tour (1951-1955) the prefecture of Kaduna was erected into a diocese (June 1954) under the leadership of John McCarthy. Michael was to undertake a further twelve missionary tours (each lasting from between three years and twenty-one months) in the Kaduna jurisdiction which became an archdiocese in July 1959. Many of these years were spent in St. Patrick's mission, Kubacha, Southern Zaria, which he founded in 1957. He built many churches throughout the archdiocese, of which the church at Television village (Kaduna South) is an excellent example. He also assisted other confreres in building construction; for example he helped Tom Duffy in completing the magnificent Our Lady of Fatima's church, Kano.

During his first missionary tour Michael demonstrated an enthusiasm for fresh approaches to missionary work, which was to characterise his long career; at this time he was keenly interested in the potential of catholic lay action and began to organise this movement in the north. Michael had a keen appreciation of the importance for Christianity of social action, community development and co-operative enterprises. During his holidays in Ireland he visited the department of social science at U.C.D. He also studied the methods of Muintir na Tire and examined the workings of the Credit Union movement in Derry where he sat at the feet of a young man called John Hume. Later Michael was to introduce the Credit Union movement to northern Nigeria and to engage in a wide variety of development and co-operative projects. He was also active in the Irish Credit Union movement and played an important role in the inauguration of a boat ferry service between Portaferry and Strangford, a venture in which Protestants and Catholics co-operated and which was of great benefit to the region.

To finance his enterprises in Africa Michael obtained funds from international and European funding agencies ('Miserior' was most frequently in receipt of his well-argued submissions) and for the day-to-day management he often recruited graduates from Europe, mainly Irish and German. He was particularly convinced of the efficacy of the Legion of Mary as an apostolic tool. In 1981 he was to translate the Legion handbook into Hausa. His own devotion to Our Lady was legendary. So too was his love of the Blessed Eucharist. In 1968 Michael was an observer at the Provincial Assembly held in July of that year. In 1970 he contributed to the 'Nigerian orientation course' for deacons of the Irish Province. Finally, in October 1991 Michael was appointed to the 'Missio Sui Juris' (independent mission) which Propaganda Fide established in Kano. A year later he took sabbatical leave and in April 1993 retired to his home in Co Down. During his last years Michael suffered from increasing ill-health.

His obituary in the African Missionary, written by a colleague who knew him well, recorded the following impressions: 'I first met Mick Toner sixty years ago at St. Patrick's high school, Downpatrick and over the years we kept in touch with each other. I visited him and his sister, Ursula, on the day of his death. Less than fifteen minutes after I had left him, he died of a heart attack. His priestly life spanned a total of forty-six years spent in the archdiocese of Kaduna, where churches, schools and clinics bear ample witness to his varied talents. In everything he did he had one over-riding purpose: to make Christ known and loved. For Michael, priesthood was a call to service and whether at home on holiday, or on the missions, he was always concerned with the welfare of the people among whom he worked. His enthusiasm was catching. On one occasion, at a seminar on development, a group of Protestants, touched by what he was doing, made a collection to help him in one of his many projects'. Fittingly, in view of his love of Our Lady and the Blessed Eucharist, he died at the hour of the evening Angelus on the feast of Corpus Christi.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.