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Société des Missions Africaines –Province des Etats-Unis

TAYLOR Leo Mgr né le 27 septembre 1889 à Montevideo
dans le diocèse de Duluth, USA
membre de la SMA le 21 octobre 1911
prêtre le 21 juin 1914
nommé évêque le 26 février 1934
décédé le 27 octobre 1965

1914-1920 ? Blackrock Road, Cork, professeur
et rédacteur de la revue African Missionary
1920-1950 missionnaire au Nigeria
1920-1934, responsable des écoles
pour le vicariat de la Côte du Bénin
puis président du collège Saint-Grégoire
1934-1939, vicaire apostolique
de la Nigeria occidentale
1939-1950, vicaire apostolique
de la Côte du Bénin
1950-1965, archevêque de Lagos

décédé à Lagos, Nigeria, le 27 octobre 1965,
à l'âge de 76 ans

 


Bishop Leo Hale TAYLOR (1889 - 1965)

Leo Taylor was born in Minnesota, in the diocese of Duluth, U.S.A., on 27 September 1889. He died at Lagos, Nigeria, on 27 October 1965.

Leo's father was a travelling photographer from England, while his mother came from Northern Ireland. His younger brother, Claude, became a member of the Society, serving most of his life in African-American parishes in Southern Illinois. Leo studied at St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork, although the exact circumstances of his entry and the dates of his stay are unclear. His obituary notice records that he had to run away from home to join, but there is no corroboration of this. Leo belonged to the first group to study in the Society's seminary at Blackrock Road, Cork, which opened its doors in 1909. He was admitted as a member of the Society on 21 October 191l and was ordained a priest in St. Joseph's church, adjoining the seminary, by Bishop Daniel Cohalan, auxiliary bishop of Cork, on 21 June 1914. Leo was retained in Cork after his ordination. He taught canon law in the seminary from September 1914, for a year, and then was a tutor in Wilton between 1915 1920.

Leo was also founder and first editor of the African Missionary, the Province's monthly journal, first published in 1914. He used the pages of the African Missionary to welcome the foundation of the new Society of St. Columban and characteristically too he took an immediate and active interest in the new nationalist movement. In this connection the following excerpt from an obituary is worth recording. 'While supplying in a Co Roscommon parish he met the late Father Flanagan, who was destined to become such a notable national figure. They became life-long friends and young Father Taylor's enthusiasm for the nationalist movement was enkindled by this encounter... Another outstanding friend was the late Professor Stockley of U.C.C. with whom he shared the twin loves of Ireland and of English literature. Father Taylor was among the first priests in Ireland to express public support for the new nationalist movement when he took his place, with Professor Stockley, on a Sinn Fein platform at a Cork city function in 1914'.

In 1920 Leo was appointed to the vicariate of the Bight of Benin, a vast jurisdiction in south western Nigeria with its headquarters at Lagos. His first appointment, given him by Bishop Ferdinand Terrien, the vicar apostolic, was to Holy Cross mission, the oldest station in Nigeria, founded in 1868. Leo was given special responsibility for the schools attached to Holy Cross - a boys 'preparatory' secondary school with 60 pupils, an elementary boys school with 1,295 pupils and a girls elementary school with 547 pupils. Leo acquitted himself well in this work and in 1924 he was transferred to the staff of St. Theresa's minor seminary, at Oke Are, Ibadan. This seminary provided secondary education for seminarians mainly from the south and west of Nigeria, but also from parts of the north. In 1928 Bishop Terrien opened a 'full' secondary college in Lagos, appointing Leo as 'founder-principal'. St. Gregory's College, was the first catholic secondary college in Nigeria, beginning with a pupil intake of 90 students and within a short time increasing the numbers to some 300. Leo remained in charge of St. Gregory's until 1934.

On 26 February 1934, on the death of Bishop Thomas Broderick, vicar apostolic of Western Nigeria, Leo was nominated to succeed him. This vicariate was the first mission in Nigeria to be entrusted to the Irish Province (in 1918). Leo was consecrated bishop at Asaba (his title was bishop of Vartane) on 26 June 1934. The consecrating prelate was his confrere Bishop Francis O'Rourke (who had succeeded Bishop Terrien in 1930) assisted by Bishop William Porter of the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Bishop Charles Heerey C.S.Sp. of Onitsha. Leo brought with him to this fast growing mission a considerable knowledge of the educational apostolate, but also a great enthusiasm for pioneering work, for trekking, for pushing out the frontiers of evangelisation. He travelled regularly to the more remote districts of his mission. In roadless parts of Benin, Warri and Kabba provinces, he could be seen cycling along bush paths to administer confirmation in towns and villages which had never before seen a catholic prelate.

On the death of Bishop Francis O'Rourke, Leo was transferred to the Lagos vicariate from June 1939 and, on the erection of the vicariate into the archdiocese of Lagos, in June 1950, he was promoted to archbishop. He occupied this post until he retired from office early in July 1965 (being then nominated titular archbishop of Madito). Leo Taylor took over the Lagos jurisdiction on the eve of the second world war. This brought its own problems, not least the task of forestalling any attempt that might be made by the British authorities to deport or intern Irish missionaries (who although they came from a neutral country could be suspect because of long-standing problems between Ireland and England). On the best of terms with government and deeply respected by his missionaries, Leo managed to keep the peace. The release of a number of his staff to serve as chaplains with the West African Brigade, helped matters considerably.

Later he was to receive the C.B.E. decoration from the British government. There were much greater pastoral problems to be dealt with, not least the short supply of priests from Ireland during wartime, and the increasing size of his flock. Finding it more and more difficult to provide teachers for the ever growing number of Nigerians seeking an education, he established in 1944, at Ile Ife, Blessed Murumba college for the training of elementary school teachers. In 1946 he founded at Ibonwon an institution for African nuns, the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, whose sisters trained as teachers and nurses. Also in 1946 he established in Ibadan St. Theresa's college, a secondary school for girls, staffed by O.L.A. sisters. This school had been originally founded at Lagos in 1933. St. Gregory's college, Lagos, the flagship of education in the jurisdiction, was extended in 1947, while St. Leo's men's teacher training college, Abeokuta, begun in 1948, at once developed into a flourishing institution for training higher elementary teachers. A similar training school for young ladies, St. Agnes's college, was established at Maryland, near Lagos city.

Bishop Taylor spoke excellent Yoruba and would correct the interpreter frequently. He was a man who had no favourites, treating everyone, Black and White, with the same rather mordant humour. It is said that had he lived he would have been the only person able to avert the Nigerian civil war because he knew all the principal personalities intimately and was respected by them. Bishop Taylor inspired great loyalty among his men. He was also highly esteemed by his fellow S.M.A. bishops who elected him their delegate to the General and Provincial Assemblies of 1958.

One member of the Society who worked closely with Bishop Taylor gave this assessment of his approach. 'In terms of policy he differed from other bishops in that he tended to take the long view. He felt his responsibility was to establish a local Church, not the Church to establish a local Church with its priesthood and hierarchy. Taking this view he never set out to convert large numbers of people, nor was he a great advocate of founding very many outstations, or of building many churches, schools, hospitals and dispensaries. His approach was evolutionary, developing Lagos and its hinterland vigorously, and attending to the work of training indigenous clergy, and all with the conviction that in time the influence of his local Church would penetrate further afield. Some of his priests maintained that large stretches of his jurisdiction were neglected, and persuaded him to authorise new developments. But while he often acquiesced, he felt that in any case these districts would be reached (and even more effectively evangelised) in time.'

Leo was always anxious to develop a truly indigenous Church. His formation of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart was a declaration of intent. He also did much to promote St. Theresa's inter-vicarial minor seminary at Oke Are, Ibadan. He played a leading role in securing the transfer of the major inter-diocesan seminary from Benin City to Ibadan, and thereafter in expanding this important institution. In 1957 he was overjoyed at the appointment of an African, John Kwao Amuzu Aggey, as his auxiliary bishop. And when he resigned it was Dr. Aggey who succeeded him as archbishop (in July 1965).

He is buried in the grounds of Holy Cross cathedral, Nigeria.