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Société des Missions Africaines Province d'Irlande

RAFFERTY John né le 10 juillet 1924
dans le diocèse de Dromore
membre de la SMA le 2 juin 1944
prêtre le 13 juin 1948
décédé le 16 juillet 2009

1948-1952 université de Cork, études supérieures
1952-1953 université de Londres
1953-1972 archidiocèse de Kaduna, Nigeria
1973-1974 université de Fordham
1974-1991 archidiocèse de Kaduna
1991-1998 Mission sui juris et vicariat de Kano
1998-2002 Dromantine, retiré
et ministère pastoral à Dromore
2007-2009 retiré à Warrenpoint

décédé à Warrenpoint, le 16 juillet 2009,
à l’âge de 85 ans


Father John RAFFERTY (1924 - 2009)

Seaghan Rafferty was born at Lurganare, Jerretspass, Co Down, Northern Ireland, in the Diocese of Dromore, on 10 July 1924.
He died at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home, Warrenpoint, Co Down, on 16 July 2009.

Seaghan (Sean) Rafferty was the third child in a family of two girls and two boys, born to John and Elizabeth (nee O’Hare) Rafferty, who farmed in the townland of Barr, in the parish of Donaghmore. Baptised in Donaghmore Sean began his primary education at Barr Primary School where his teacher, Mr. Peter Conlon (father of the late Fr. Fergus Conlon S.M.A.) had a profound influence on him. He received his secondary education at the Christian Brothers Abbey, Newry (1936-1941), where he recalled with great warmth a Brother O’Donnell ‘who respected the individuality of his students’. Deciding to become a missionary priest Sean entered the S.M.A.’s novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in the autumn of 1942. He cited the pages of the African Missionary as a strong influence on his choice of vocation. Two years later, in September 1944, months after having taken his first oath of Society membership (1st July), Sean was promoted to the Society’s major seminary, at Dromantine, Newry Co Down. Sean became a permanent member of the Society on 16 June 1945. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Eugene O’Doherty of Dromore diocese on 13 June 1948 in St. Colman’s Cathedral, Newry, Co Down. He was one of a group of fourteen ordained on that occasion. Sean celebrated his first Mass at St. Mary’s Church, Barr, assisted by Fr. James McCartan C.C.
Sean was ordained at a time when the second-level education apostolate was being vigorously pursued in the Society’s Anglophone West African Missions, mainly in Nigeria and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). To supply headmasters and teachers for these educational institutions the Society was increasingly sending suitable confreres to universities to secure the appropriate academic qualifications. It was against this background that Sean’s first appointment was to study for a Science Degree at University College Cork. He commenced his studies in September 1948. Three years later, in 1951, he qualified with an honours B.Sc degree (his principal subjects were Physics and Mathematics). Sean was to have a distinguished academic career. In 1952 he acquired a Masters degree in Science at the same institution. Then he went to London University where he obtained a Teaching Certificate in 1953. Later, in 1974 he was to receive a Masters Degree in Religious Education at Fordham University, New York.
In 1953, equipped with the necessary qualifications, Sean was appointed to St. John’s College, Kaduna, Northern Nigeria. Kaduna, the government administrative centre, had a population in the region of 20,000. There was one public Catholic church, St. Joseph’s, with Mass centres at the Army Barracks in the Kawo area and in Kaduna South/Kakuri. The Catholic Community was largely made up of ‘Strangers’ or Southerners, a majority of these from the Igbo tribe. It has to be said that at this juncture the education apostolate was much further advanced in Southern Nigeria than in the Moslem-dominated North. In deference to Moslem sentiment, British policy in the North was much more reticent with regard to the development of education. At the same time certain communities in the North, especially those Southerners who had come there to work, were demanding education facilities such as were available in the South. St. John’s was one of the pioneering Catholic educational institutes in Northern Nigeria. Apart from St. John’s the other Catholic second level education institutions were Our Lady of Apostles, Girls’ Secondary School, Kaduna and St. Malachy’s Grade 3 Teacher Training College at Bosso outside Minna. The second level institutions, it was hoped, would provide staff for the Catholic Primary Schools in Kano, Zaria, Kaduna and Minna, all with enrolments largely from families of Southern Nigerian origin.
When Sean first arrived in Nigeria he was sent to study Hausa, at Zonkwa where his main tutor was a young seminarian, Christopher Abba – subsequently Bishop of Minna and later of Yola. However after two weeks he was recalled to Kaduna and assigned to St. John’s College. Two months later – during which time he endeavoured to continue his Hausa studies – he was given a full quota of classes, including ‘religious education’ by Malachy Morris S.M.A., the principal. This put paid to his language study. In addition to his academic work Sean became involved in the school’s sports programs, and supervised a number of triumphs over the government colleges in football and athletics. In addition, he undertook a pastoral ministry to indigenous people known as the Gbeji or Gwarri and also the Kadara, located ‘on the far side of the Kaduna River’. In 1962 a sixth form was initiated in St. John’s permitting students to take state certificate examinations and thus opening the way for them to enter the universities. Also, from the early 1960’s increasing numbers of indigenous students were admitted to St John’s college, although southerners remained dominant. St. John’s College, in which Sean taught until 1965, was a large institution with a mixture of clerical and lay staff – at one point no less than six priests – and a student intake of some 300.
In 1966 Sean was appointed supervisor of schools for Kaduna, a diocesan post recognized by the government in which the incumbent oversaw the conduct of the Catholic schools and liased with government inspectors and education officials. This was a key post within the diocesan education framework. Sean took office at a time of change in the control of the schools with local education authorities (LEA) taking over all schools, but with the voluntary agencies having the right of nomination of teachers to their ‘transferred’ primary schools. Kaduna archdiocese transferred 50 primary schools with enrolment of several thousand pupils to Zaria LEA. The vast majority of these were either Catholic or the children of ‘Followers’. Through the 1960’s tensions developed between the non-indigenous southerners and the indigenous non-Moslems, particularly with regard to access to Catholic education. The indigenous Hausa-speaking Catholics were often resented by the Igbo immigrants. This was part of a wider problem between the dominant Islamic tribes of the north, who controlled government, and the southerners, which was to erupt into violence first in 1966.
By the early 1970’s increasing numbers of educated Catholics were emerging from the secondary schools, universities and the advanced teachers’ colleges, and the Catholic Church in the North was now in a position to develop advanced and widely located programs of Christian Education / Studies. Sean took a great interest in these developments, to the extent that he sought (and received) permission from the Irish Provincial, Lawrence Carr, to go to Fordham university in New York to take a Masters Degree in Religious Education. The course chosen by Sean was titled : ‘The Institutes of Islam’. Sean spent two years in New York (1972-1974), helping to support himself by doing pastoral duty in the Bronx and Central Harlem. In a memoir written during his years of retirement Sean recalled with considerable warmth his experiences in New York.
The conclusion of Sean’s course coincided with the retirement of Archbishop John McCarthy and his replacement by a Nigerian, Archbishop Peter Jatau. The new archbishop decided to set up a Marriage Tribunal and instructed Sean, before his return to Kaduna, to undertake a three-month ‘cursus pro judicibus’ at the Gregorian University in Rome, so that he could head the tribunal. Sean returned in August 1974 and soon found the tribunal work problematic. As he himself wrote: ‘Some decisions were straightforward …but many cases were buried deep in fogs of the greatest variety - in those diverse ethnic customs that are glibly labeled “African Culture”.’ But this was not Sean’s principal work. His substantive appointment was as Chaplain to the Catholic Community at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria (A.B.U.). To facilitate his ministry Sean’s qualifications in Science permitted him to apply for and receive an appointment in the ‘School of Basic Studies’ where he taught Physics. Later he was also to tutor in Religious Studies. At A.B.U. Sean found ‘a good and effective pastoral instrument in the Young Catholic Student movement. This movement made contact with second level schools in the archdiocese, leading to involvement in Y.C.S structures at diocesan, provincial and national level. These were years when there was much unrest in the university, due to the theft of funds at the highest level and other institutional failures. The intervention of the mobile police unit to quell student unrest caused the greatest tension and Sean was deeply involved in resolving these conflicts. Inter-religious antagonism was also a major problem at A.B.U. In June 1988 Moslem students attempted to drive out Christians from the university. A few weeks earlier the Christian university chapel had been burned. Throughout this fraught period Sean maintained friendly relations with Moslem fellow-members of the teaching staff.
From the late 1970’s Sean was the coordinator for Christian Religious Education in the government Colleges of Education (which were set up to produce non-graduate elementary school teachers). This work involved dealing with syllabus, and setting and moderating examinations. In the early 1980’s a degree course in Christian Religious Education was initiated in Zaria and extended to A.B.U. Sean was deeply involved in drawing up the syllabus for the A.B.U. course. Sean’s relations with his Moslem academic colleagues and Moslem officials in the Education Department stood him in good stead in this work . In addition to his academic commitments, during this period, Sean assisted in the pastoral care of several Hausa Magazawa villages in the Giwa area, east of Zaria.
In 1990, on reaching the age of retirement (65) Sean relinquished his teaching duties at A.B.U. and was appointed to a full-time pastoral ministry among the rural Hausa Magazawa in Kano State where previously he had ministered on a part-time basis. Here he was greatly aided by an experienced catechist, Bullus Barau, a Christian of many years’ standing. In the Dry Season of 1990 Sean set about making a survey with Bullus, contacting the different village communities. Progress was slow but sustained. By late 1991 Sean was able to report that there were some 15 or 16 substantive communities where he anticipated a positive response to the Gospel. His survey complete and placed before his superiors, Sean turned his attention to the almost wholly non-Moslem communities in the Takai area, about 100 km from the Kano urban area, south of the Kano-Birnin Kudu Road. Here, for the next 7 years, and in the face of great difficulties and many setbacks, with the help of Bulus Barau, he built up small, but vigorous, Christian communities. In addition to preaching the gospel he engaged in socio-economic development, particularly in the sphere of adult literacy work and primary education. Realising that the Magazawa Christians and Catechumens saw the Church as an agent of Liberation (in many senses they were an oppressed and exploited people), Sean ‘tried to make justice, in all its aspects, central to the Catechesis, in parallel with the sacramental / worship dimension.’
Within the Society Sean contributed much. He was elected a delegate to both the Provincial and General Assemblies of 1989 and prior to his election had prepared a lengthy reflection document on the future of the S.M.A. mission, especially in Nigeria, which was much appreciated by his fellow-delegates. In this document he was especially concerned with ‘restructuring the S.M.A in the light of diminishing numbers of Irish confreres’. Within this context he argued the need to target specific areas for evangelization.
In 1998 Sean retired from the active ministry in Africa, taking up a pastoral appointment in his home diocese of Dromore, at Loughbrickland. In 2002 he retired from this work, paying a last visit Nigeria for the dedication of the S.M.A. parish in Kano. He then retired to the S.M.A. house at Dromantine, near his home. In 2007 Sean’s condition deteriorated and he went to live in St. Joseph’s Retirement Home, Warrenpoint. Sean celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of his priesthood in 2008. Sean was a tough, persevering, dedicated missionary, a man of strong views with a talent for expressing them. He is remembered as having had a beautiful smile and an ability to be charming when that was required. Sean was blessed with an independent spirit and a strong sense of ‘fairness and justice’.
He is buried in the family plot at St. Mary’s Church, Barr, Co Down, Northern Ireland.