Société des Missions Africaines – Province d'Irlande

BREHENY John Patrick né le 10 mars 1932
dans le diocèse d'Achonry, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 26 juin 1955
prêtre le 21 décembre 1960
décédé le 22 avril 2006

1961-1975 missionnaire au Liberia, Monrovia
1976-2005 en paroisse à la paroisse sma
de Luton, Angleterre
2005-2006 Blackrock Road, Cork, retiré

décédé le 22 avril 2006, à Cork, Irlande
à l’âge de 74 ans

Father John Patrick BREHENY (1932 - 2006)

John Breheny was born at Knockconnor, Keash (sometimes spelt Kesh), Ballymote, Co Sligo, in the diocese of Achonry, on 10 March 1932.
He died in St. Theresa’s nursing unit, SMA House, Blackrock Road, on 22 April 2006.

John Breheny one of a family of two boys and two girls born to Patrick and Mary (nee Deignan) in the townland of Knockoconnor in the parish of Keash. His father was a farmer. John was baptised on 17 March in the church of St. Kevin in Keash. He received his primary education at Keash national school and Ballymote national school. Some years later he attended the Commercial school in Boyle. But the missionary vocation was very much in his mind and, after five months there, in September 1949, he came to the Sacred Heart College, Ballinafad, Co Mayo, the Society’s secondary college where he studied for the next five years. It must have taken great courage for a young man who was shy by nature to join a group of boys four and five years his junior. But he persevered with quiet resilience. John came from a family where service of the Church was paramount. Three of his siblings entered religious life. His sister joined the Mercy Sisters of the Swinford and Ballymote communities, taking the name Sr Assumpta; while his brother Kevin was ordained with St. Patrick’s Missionary Society, Kiltegan. Kevin died in 1985.

In 1954 John matriculated and was sent to St. Joseph’s College, Wilton, Cork, for a year to commence his study of philosophy. A year later he went to the Society’s major seminary, at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down, where he completed his philosophical course. He studied theology in Dromantine between 1957-1961. John was first received as a member of the Society on 26 June 1955. He became a permanent member on 14 June 1960. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Eugene O'Doherty of Dromore diocese, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 21 December l960. He was one of a group of twenty-two ordained on that day.

After ordination John was appointed to the vicariate of Monrovia in Liberia. Liberia was arguably the most difficult mission field in Africa. Before the SMA took charge in l906, three missionary expeditions to that Black Republic (established in the early l9th century by freed slaves from the U.S.A.) had foundered. This was the mission which had been entrusted to the Irish Province of the Society on its erection in l9l2 and which was to exact a heavy toll on personnel over the years. Liberia was an impoverished country, with virtually no roads, few medical facilities, with a small and widely scattered population, where outbreaks of civil strife between the indigenous people and the Americo Liberian ruling elite were frequent, where Protestantism of a virulent anti Catholic strain was strongly established and where, above all, there was a hazardous climate. This was the original 'whiteman's grave', situated only a few degrees from the Equator. In 1950 the vicariate of Liberia (the sole jurisdiction in Liberia) was divided into two separate jurisdictions, the vicariate of Monrovia and the vicariate of Cape Palmas. John was assigned to the Monrovia vicariate where he was to work until 1975, for fifteen years. He ministered in most of the vicariate's central stations (Kakata, Gbarnga, Buchanan, Voinjama, Sanequellie and Yekepa), in the course of six tours of duty, each lasting between four years and twenty one months. John’s contribution during these years was immense. He is remembered not only for the quality of his pastoral care but also for his exceptional practical skills (something shared by another noted SMA missionary from Keash - Richard Devine), shown not least in the construction of fine churches, schools, clinics and hospitals.

During his years in Liberia John suffered a lot from malaria and this, cumulatively, undermined his general health. In 1975 he was compelled to retire from the tropics. After a short period of convalescence, but no longer fit to work in Africa, he was assigned to the SMA parish of the Sacred Heart in Ashcroft Road, Stopsley, Luton, England. He was to spend the next thirty years in this apostolate. During these years he always cherished the hope of being able to return to Africa and on several occasions requested permission from his superiors. In 1985 he paid a brief visit to Liberia. But when (because of ill-health) his requests for a permanent posting were denied, he accepted the verdict with good grace. John worked for much of his time in Luton with Eugene Connolly and they made an excellent team. From 2002, on Eugene’s retirement, John worked with John Browne SMA and again the parish benefited greatly from the rapport between the two. With his meticulous attention to detail John had a remarkable knowledge of parish matters, whether it was filling financial returns for the diocese or the taxman or attending to the Board of Governors of the school. He was particularly attached to the schools ministry, and was loved by both staff and pupils. When he fell ill in his last months he was the recipient of an extraordinary number of get-well cards from past and present school children. His pastoral contribution, too, was noted in the Vauxhall motor plant and Luton Town soccer club. Luton, too, was a place where young SMA deacons were sent to obtain experience of the pastoral ministry and John’s unfailing courtesy, hospitality and wisdom were greatly appreciated by those who came. Sadly, in the last year of his life, it became known that the Society was about to return the parish to the diocese of Northhampton. John greeted this decision with sadness but resignation.

John died after a long and debilitating illness. Throughout he showed exemplary patience and courage; and while remaining hopeful that he might some day be able to return to the active ministry he faced his parting from this life with faith. John went to his reward on Saturday morning, 22nd April. On the following Monday, after Mass in the SMA House at Blackrock Road, his remains were removed to Keash, arriving at St. Kevin’s church that evening at 7 p.m. His funeral Mass and burial took place on the following day. A token of the esteem in which he was held by those who benefited from his pastoral care was the large number of people who travelled to his funeral from Luton.

He is buried in Knockbrack cemetery, Keash, Co Sligo.