Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

HUGHES Thomas John né le 31 mai 1899 à Mayo Abbey
dans le diocèse de Tuam, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 12 septembre 1919
prêtre le 26 mai 1923
décédé le 24 mars 1966

1923-1925 Kilcogan, collège, économe
1925-1934 missionnaire au Liberia
1934-1949 Liverpool, Ullet Road, supérieur
1949-1959 Liverpool, Ullet Road, procureur
1959-1966 Wilton, directeur spirituel

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 24 mars 1966,
à l'âge de 67 ans

Father Thomas John HUGHES (1899 - 1966)

Thomas John Hughes was born at Mayo Abbey, Co Mayo, in the archdiocese of Tuam, on 31 May 1899. He died in the Bon Secours hospital, Cork, on 24 March 1966.

Tom John studied at the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (1913 1915), and St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork (1915 1918), before entering the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in September 1918 (he was a member of the first class to study in that house). He studied theology in the major seminary, at Blackrock Road, Cork, from 1919. He was admitted to the Society on 12 September 1919, and was ordained a priest by Bishop Thomas Broderick, vicar apostolic of Western Nigeria, in St. Joseph's church, adjoining the seminary at Blackrock Road, on 26 May 1923. He was one of a group of four ordained on that day. The other three were Thomas Francis Hughes (no relation), Desmond Ryan and Joseph Donaghy.

After ordination Tom John was appointed to Kilcolgan. Maurice Slattery was superior and master of novices and the other member of staff was Nicholas Clery who was director of students and taught philosophy. Tom John was given charge of the administration of the house and the large estate; and also taught English to the 30 novices. After two years in Kilcolgan Tom John was assigned to the prefecture of Liberia, scene of the first modern mission to West Africa in 1842. Liberia had proved a difficult mission field. That first mission had failed after two years; two subsequent attempts to establish a missionary presence had foundered, respectively in 1888 and 1904. In 1906 the mission was entrusted to the S.M.A. and was given to the Irish Province as its first mission in 1912. Tom John was to spend two tours of duty in Liberia, lasting a total of 9 years. On his arrival he was appointed to the station of New Sasstown, on the Kru Coast, where John Collins (later vicar apostolic and bishop) was superior. New Sasstown mission had been opened in 1912 under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. It was one of the largest stations in Liberia with a Catholic membership of 600 and 100 catechumens.

Tom went to Ireland on his first home leave in October 1930. He returned to Liberia a year later to find the Krus in open revolt against the Americo-Liberian government. One of the towns burned during the crisis was Old Sasstown, situated a kilometre from New Sasstown, which was quickly rebuilt on another location. On his return from leave Jean Ogé, the prefect apostolic, appointed Tom to Old Sasstown, giving him charge also of New Sasstown which was reduced to the status of an outstation. There were also a further 20 outstations to be cared for, many located in villages and towns in revolt against the government. Tom remained in charge of Sasstown district during these turbulent years until September 1934 when he returned to Ireland on home leave.

At the time Tom's superiors were looking for a member to take charge of the S.M.A. house at Ullet Road, Sefton Park, Liverpool, which was a point of transit for missionaries en route to, or returning from, Africa. They needed a confrère with administrative ability, but also one who would be sensitive to the needs of the men, many of whom would be coming back to Ireland in poor health. Tom was an ideal choice and he took up his new post before the end of the year. In 1949 he relinquished his superiorship at Ullet Road, but remained on for a further decade as procurator. Finally, in 1959 he was appointed 'spiritual father', or confessor, at Wilton which had then become a hostel for S.M.A. students attending U.C.C.. He was to remain there until his death.

Tom's obituary in the African Missionary records the following impression of his years in Africa: 'When Tom John went as a missionary to West Africa the people saw testimony in his own life to the Christianity which he preached. They were amazed when they saw their white missionary go hunting wild animals in the forest. They were astonished when he faced and shot a leopard something that few of their own native hunters had ever done. But, what impressed and awed them most of all was when, despite their imploring appeals, he refused to have his head shaven in order to protect himself from the vengeance of the pagan gods whose favoured animal he had killed.' Another account of this incident was given in a letter from John Collins, the 'visitor' (responsible for the welfare of the members) to the Provincial. 'Tom John has become a famous character recently, and to mark it the people have changed his name. He is now "Father Leopard Killer". It sounds better in Kru: "Fadda Dragi". During the past six months a village in the Sasstown district was pestered by a leopard which had killed no less than eleven people. The people were so terrified of it that they would not attempt to shoot it. Thank God "Fadda Dragi" (soft "g") has now rid them of it. In their delight and gratitude the people almost tore him asunder'.

Another colleague wrote of Tom's years in England: 'During his 25 years as mission procurator at Liverpool he was the last to see our missionaries off to their destinations, the first to welcome them home and all were grateful to him for his never failing kindness and care. He was also chaplain at a large city hospital, the director of a welfare centre for Africans, the trusted chaplain to the Knights of Columbanus and a member of many Irish societies. Throughout the war years he had the difficult responsibility of providing and despatching vital supplies to the mission-fields. He also had to find passages for the mission-bound priests. He was a tower of strength to many non Catholics in Liverpool air raid shelters during the Blitz.' Tom was a cousin of Patrick Hurst who was ordained for the Society in 1927.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.