Société des Missions Africaines - Province d’Irlande

FOLEY Anthony né le 25 juillet 1916 à Callan
dans le diocèse de Ossory, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 29 juin 1937
prêtre le 22 décembre 1940
décédé le 7 avril 1997

1941-1945 Blackrock Road, Cork, études
1946-1949 vicariat de Lagos, Nigeria
1950-1952 archidiocèse de Lagos, Nigeria
1952-1958 préfecture d’Ibadan, Nigeria
1958-1981 diocèse d’Ibadan, Nigeria
1981-1990 archidiocèse de Lagos, Nigeria
1990-1997 Wilton, Cork, retiré

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 7 avril 1997
à l’âge de 80 ans


Father Anthony Joseph FOLEY (1916 - 1997)

Anthony Joseph Foley was born in Callan, Co Kilkenny, in the diocese of Ossory, on 25 July 1916. He died in the Bon Secours hospital, Cork, on 7 April 1997.

Anthony Joseph, the first-born son in a family of seven, was given the pet name of 'Gem'; in time this mutated into 'Jim', the name by which he was universally known. Jim's father, who was manager of the Munster & Leinster Bank in Callan, died at an early age, in 1925, leaving his young family poorly provided for. Shortly after Mr Foley's death the family had to quit the Bank House in Callan to make way for the new occupants. Not having a house they went to live with a grandparent outside Callan. Eventually they were able to secure a house and settled in New Ross. Jim received his primary education in Callan, from the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers. He commenced his secondary education at the Christian Brothers school in New Ross. Jim's first contact with the S.M.A. came through the influence of Fr. Patsy Kelly, a member of the Society.

Fr. Kelly had been in contact with the parish priest who asked Jim one morning if he would like to join the African Missions. Hence it was that after a year in the New Ross school Jim entered the Society's apostolic college at Wilton, Cork, in September 1930. Five years later, after matriculating Jim went to the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. Jim received his theological formation in the major seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down, between 1937-1941. He was received as a member of the Society on 29 June 1937 and was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 22 December 1940. He was one of a group of nineteen ordained on that day. During his last year in Wilton Jim had attended lectures in U.C.C. and during his time in Kilcolgan he continued his university course at U.C.G. where, in 1937, he was conferred with a B.A. degree (philosophy and education).

Jim's ordination coincided with a re-organisation of the education system in Nigeria which heralded a rapid development of the secondary sector. Government sought the cooperation of voluntary agencies in the provision of high-quality secondary colleges and was prepared to make considerable subventions available for capital expenditure and running costs. Recognising the potential of schools for evangelisation, and anxious to assist in the development of a better education system, the Catholic bishops in Nigeria sought to prepare staff for the task. Many missionaries returned to Ireland for third-level education, while increasing numbers of S.M.A. seminarians were assigned to university courses. Jim, along with his class-mate, Joe Donnelly, was one of those selected to specialise in Science. Accordingly, in September 1941 Jim found himself enrolled at U.C.C., residing in Blackrock Road. Four years later he was awarded a B.Sc. degree (physics and chemistry) and also with a higher diploma in education.

His studies complete, Jim was appointed to the vicariate of Lagos, in south western Nigeria. Almost immediately he was sent to teach at St. Gregory's college, Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria's first Catholic secondary school (founded in 1928), and the pride and joy of successive bishops of Lagos (one of whom, Leo Hale Taylor, the current incumbent, was its founder). Jim joined a staff headed by Tom Moran and which included Richard Finn (later bishop of Ibadan) and Anthony Sanusi, a Nigerian (later first bishop of Ijebu-Ode diocese). Later he was joined by John Guilfoyle and Frank McGovern . There were some 250 boarding pupils in the college and Jim was given charge of the Science department.

In September 1948 the newly founded university of Ibadan - Nigeria's first university, affiliated with the university of London - was seeking staff and Jim was asked to become Catholic chaplain and lecturer in inorganic chemistry. Bishop Taylor released him from the diocese and Jim's superiors in Cork sanctioned his appointment. Jim, who acquired an M.Sc. degree in 1958, was to serve in Ibadan university as teacher and chaplain, until 1981. One of the university's founding members, Jim was to make an important contribution to its widely-acknowledged success. Although a reluctant academic, by dint of great enthusiasm and hard work he became a larger-than-life character on the campus. The huge numbers who chose his subject were eloquent testimonies to his growing reputation as a hardworking priest and lecturer. With irrepressible and infectious good humour he fashioned and moulded the minds of many young men and women.

A testimony to his achievements was that during his lifetime he had a chemical laboratory named after him, a unique distinction for an expatriate. He was, of course, more directly responsible for another building, the beautiful university chapel with its magnificent wood-carved doors. Pastorally Jim’s influence extended beyond the bounds of the university. He played a leading role in the establishment of the Legion of Mary in Ibadan, serving as Spiritual Director of the first Comitium of the Legion. He also regularly visited the parishes of Ibadan to encourage existing Legion Praesidia and to start new ones. He was also a great man for visitation and he used to trek miles around U.I. Campus and to the villages outside in order to visit people and talk to them about their problems. He was a wonderful talker and had a great sense of humour. Witty remarks about anything and everything flowed easily from his tongue. Unfortunately his wit was sometimes misunderstood. He sometimes expressed radical views to make people think or to get their reaction. This led some people to believe he was a radical, but at heart he was a most loyal and dedicated priest.

In the Provincial archives at Blackrock Road there is a revealing letter written to the Provincial on the occasion of Jim's death by a layman and his wife both who had worked with him in Ibadan university. 'We worked together with him in the chemistry department for many years. He was a wonderful person who cheered us all up when things were difficult. He was much respected by the technicians and junior staff who he worked hard to train. He was very sensitive to the needs of his flock when he was in charge of the Catholic chapel and indeed of folk generally. I remember when there was a cholera outbreak in part of the city he organised us and others to help in the mission hospital' A former student of his in Ibadan wrote, on hearing of his death: 'He was a father, a great friend, a confidant, a man of great humanity and compassion, a disciplinarian and yet a peacemaker...'

In 1981 Jim retired from the university and returned to Lagos to embark upon a new career in the pastoral ministry. He served first with Frank McGovern in St. Agnes parish, Maryland. Later he transferred to St. Theresa's parish, Agege, ministering there until he returned to Ireland for medical attention in April 1990. Jim spent his years of retirement in St. Joseph's college, Wilton. There he kept active, creating and tending a fruit and vegetable garden, reading everything he could lay his hands on, and especially keeping a keen eye on the performance of the liturgy in the house. He also completely re-organised (and catalogued) the house library. Jim suffered a lot in his last years, from a variety of illnesses. Yet his irrepressible sense of humour and immense intellectual curiosity remained always in evidence until the very last minute of his life. Jim died suddenly but not unexpectedly.

A letter written by V.A. Ugbade, General Secretary of St. Gregory's college 'Old Students Association' contained the following remark: 'Late Rev. Fr. Foley taught English language and chemistry from 1946 until September 1948. His teaching of English was unique in one respect. He made us write daily essays on various topics. He inspected these every day. A student who failed to write his daily essay was instantly punished and required to produce two essays the next day. The strategy was well conceived because of the dreaded failure in English language in the Cambridge senior school-certificate examination which at the time meant failure in the whole examination. Fr. Foley also gave us a very good grounding in chemistry. He was an extremely friendly and affable master and father, always approachable and helpful. Those of us who later went to the university of Ibadan continued to enjoy the good and close relationship nurtured at St. Gregory's.'

A confrère who lived with Jim during his last years wrote the following: 'I can't think of a better start to this reflection than to thank God for Jim's full life. He was the searcher after the Holy Grail of truth. At times he could drive you demented with topics at table, ranging from his knowledge of Arabic music to why Julian of Norwich was so right to refer to Jesus as "Mother Jesus". His love of the psalms, his unique devotion to the presence of Christ in the gathered faithful, in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, and his devotion to Mary came from a heart whose every beat was an act of adoration. He could tell you why rain was wet, the origins of such words as "Yggdrasil" and why camels had to wear socks when they were raced in Australia. He valued companionship yet he was a solitary; he had the greatest respect for offices of authority; he was a scrupulous man whose only desire was that God alone be worshipped and not the words and gestures used to enact that worship. He was a missionary to the very hour of his death’.

When on vacation from Africa Jim used to stay with his sister Noreen in Limerick. She predeceased him by a few years. He was survived by his sister Margaret and his twin sisters Eileen and Mary; also by his cousin, Sister Philippine O.L.A.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.