Société des Missions Africaines – Province d’Irlande

Hassett Gabriel né le 23 mars 1937 à Dublin
dans le diocèse de Dublin, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 24 juin 1956
prêtre le 10 décembre 1961
décédé le 4 février 1972

1962-1966 diocèse de Benin City
1966-1972 diocèse de Warri

décédé à Ozoro, Nigeria, le 4 février 1972,
à l’âge de 35 ans

Father Thomas Gabriel HASSETT (1937 - 1972)

Thomas Hassett was born in the parish of the Visitation, Fairview, Dublin (his home address was at Merville Villas, Convent Avenue, Richmond Road), in the archdiocese of Dublin, on 23 March 1937. He died in Warri diocese, Nigeria, on 4 February 1972.

Thomas (Tommy) received his primary education at St. Patrick's, Drumcondra and at St. Canice's, North Circular Road. For his secondary education he attended the Christian Brothers renowned 'O'Connell schools' between 1950 1955, after which he joined the S.M.A. novitiate at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. He studied philosophy and theology in the Society's major seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down, completing his course in 1962. Tommy was received as a member of the Society on 24 June 1956. He was ordained a priest, along with fifteen colleagues, by Bishop Eugene O'Doherty of Dromore diocese, at St. Peter's church, Lurgan, on l0 December 196l. St. Peters was chosen because it was deemed more suitable for a B.B.C. television transmission of the ceremony, in these early days of outside broadcasts, than St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, where Society ordinations usually took place.

Immediately after ordination Tommy was appointed to the diocese of Benin City, formerly the vicariate of Western Nigeria. Bishop Patrick J. Kelly had been in charge of the jurisdiction since 1939 and when Tommy arrived, in October 1962, he found before him a flourishing diocese, with vigorous Church communities in every district. Benin City diocese was, in fact, reaching the point where particular districts could be detached and formed into separate dioceses. And this was to happen within four years of Tommy's arrival. In October 1966, the Warri area became a diocese in its own right, and Tommy was assigned as a member of the new diocesan staff.

Tommy began his missionary career at Ashaka where he was appointed assistant to Bill Power. This mission had been established in 1926 and by the time Tommy arrived it was a flourishing district with some 60 outstations and a Catholic community in excess of 5,000. Tommy devoted himself to visiting the outstations, often spending weeks at a time ministering to the many riverine villages along the Niger. On one occasion he is known to have cycled some 36 miles of bush roads carrying a number of jerry-cans of petrol on his push-bicycle to salvage the mission's stranded canoe. Tommy spent all of his first tour of duty (1962-1966) at Ashaka. At the start of his second tour, in October 1966, Tommy was appointed Okparo, a mission founded in 1947 and dedicated to Christ the King. Like Ashaka it was a thriving mission with a Catholic community of some 4,000 and 30 outstations. Tommy spent all of his second tour of duty at Okparo. When he returned for his third tour in November 1969 he was appointed to Ozoro. This was a more recent mission, founded in 1953. Again, it had a multitude of outstations and Tommy relished the challenge of reaching out to each of them.

Tommy's death came during the unsettled aftermath of the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). Returning by night from Obiaruku, with Harry Jones, where they had gone to order building materials, they came upon a road block on the Obiaruku/Kwale/Ozoro road. Tommy was driving and as he stopped a voice shouted to him to turn off the engine and dim the lights. Tommy lowered the window and immediately a shot rang out. He died instantly. Fr. Jones gave him absolution and took him to Ogune police station. From there he was given a police escort to Kwale hospital and then on to Ozoro. It seems that the shot which took Tommy's life was fired accidentally by one of the robber band who then fled. Tommy's death came as a great shock to his fellow priests in Africa, none more so than his brother, Father Michael (then working in Ibadan diocese), to his family in Dublin, and to the members of the Society everywhere. His funeral in Nigeria, from Warri to Ozoro, was attended by Bishop Lucas Nwaezeapu of Warri diocese and Bishop P.J. Kelly of Benin City diocese; practically all the Fathers and Sisters from the dioceses of Warri and Benin City as well as a good representation from Lagos, Ibadan and Akure (thirty-four priests in all, including his brother Michael) were also in attendance. The Anglican archdeacon and five Anglican pastors from Tommy's region, too, were present to pay their respects.

Tommy was a keen athlete and hurler and coached and administered sport at all levels, in Nigeria as well as during his student days in Ireland. It was no surprise therefore that his funeral Mass should be attended not only by representatives of Nigerian education, commerce and local government, but also of sport. The Requiem Mass in his native parish church of Fairview, in Dublin, too reflected the great esteem in which he was held and the impact he had made during his short life.

He is buried in Ozoro, Nigeria.