Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

HIGGINS Jeremiah né le 22 décembre 1907 à Limerick
dans le diocèse de Limerick, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 2 juillet 1929
prêtre le 11 juin 1933
décédé le 26 mai 1978

1933-1947 missionnaire au Liberia
1949-1950 Ecosse, travail pastoral
1950-1972 missionnaire au Liberia, vicariat de Monrovia
1973-1978 Blackrock Road, Cork, malade et retiré

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 26 mai 1978,
à l'âge de 70 ans

Father Jeremiah Joseph HIGGINS (1907 - 1978)

Jeremiah Higgins was born at William Street, Limerick city, on 22 December 1907. He died, after a protracted illness, at Shanakiel hospital, Cork, on 26 May 1978.

Jeremiah (Jerry) studied at the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (1923), and St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork (1924), before entering the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway in 1927. Two years later, on 2 September 1929, he became a member of the Society. He received his theological formation in the Society's seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down (1929 1933). He was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 11 June 1933. He was one of a group of nine ordained on that day.

After ordination Jerry was appointed to the prefecture of Liberia. This was the first mission entrusted to the Irish Province, in 1912. Liberia was a 'Black republic', founded by emancipated freed slaves from the U.S.A., in the early decades of the 19th century. It was a poor country, with few natural resources, and a small scattered population of perhaps 1.5 million, most of them belonging to small tribal groupings. The Americo Liberians, who ruled the country, were congregated mainly in Monrovia, the capital, and many of them belonged to virulently anti Catholic denominations and sects. Several attempts had been made to plant the Church in Liberia during the 19th and early 20th century, without success. In 1906 the mission was confided to the Society and in the years immediately following tentative roots were put down. These roots became more substantial during the years of the first world war, when the missionaries won the respect and allegiance of the Kru tribe, by protecting them against government oppression and helping them in a time of famine.

When Jerry came to Liberia, in October 1933, he joined a staff of fifteen priests, led by John Collins, the prefect apostolic, who had pioneered the mission among the Krus. Jerry's first appointment was to Bassa, a coastal region some 70 miles east of Monrovia, which had been founded by Michael McEniry in 1929. Jerry spent a year in Bassa, learning the rudiments of the missionary life, ministering to a Catholic community of 170 members and 150 catechumens, located in the two principal stations of Bassa and Drawquieh and the outstations of River Cess, Edina, Marshall and Little Kola. In 1934 the prefecture was erected as a vicariate. On his return from his episcopal ordination in Ireland, late in 1934, Bishop Collins appointed Jerry to the district of Sasstown Betu. This consisted of the principal residential stations of Old and New Sasstown, both founded in 1912, and the non residential principal station of Betu. In addition there were 20 outstations to be visited, by Jerry and the other two priests, Martin Lacey and Denis Horgan (the superior). This district was the largest in Liberia, with a Catholic membership of 3,500 and 12 schools.

Jerry came to Ireland on his first home leave in December 1937. On his return to Liberia in January 1939 he was re appointed to Sasstown district, where he was to serve throughout his second missionary tour, until March 1942. For much of this period Jerry was superior of the district, assisted by John Moran and Martin O'Meara. Jerry returned from his next home leave in November 1943, travelling in a wartime shipping convoy. He resumed his superiorship at Sasstown, until February 1945 when he was transferred to the district of Monrovia. The principal station of Monrovia had been re opened in 1921 and since that time progress had been slow but sustained. Jerry joined Tom Larkin and Joe Guinan in ministering to the district's 1,300 Catholic members and 200 catechumens. There were also four schools to be looked after, with 1,100 pupils on the rolls and 23 teachers. The most prestigious school was St. Patrick's Elementary and Secondary School. There was also St. Teresa's Boarding and Day school, under the care of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

In August 1947 Jerry was invalided home to Ireland. After convalescing he took up a number of temporary assignments in Scotland, working for a brief period as chaplain to the Marist Brothers in Dumfries, and ministering in a parish in the diocese of Dunkeld. Jerry returned to Liberia in 1950, the year the vicariate was divided into two separate jurisdictions, the vicariate of Monrovia and the vicariate of Cape Palmas. Jerry was assigned to the Monrovian vicariate where he was to work until 1972. He ministered in most of the vicariate's central stations (Kakata, Gbarnga, Buchanan, Sanequellie and Yekepa), in the course of six tours of duty, each lasting between four years and twenty one months. His final posting was to the Bomi Hills mission from which he was invalided home with deteriorating eyesight. Jerry spent his last years retired at Blackrock Road, Cork, suffering from increasing blindness, a heart complaint and finally cancer.

Jerry spent almost thirty six years attached to the Liberian jurisdiction, one of the longest serving missionaries in this territory. Among the very few who served longer was Bishop John Collins, Jerry's superior, who spent 47 years at his post. Jerry was keenly interested in sport and in his youth he was a fine hurler. Later in life, from Sunday to Sunday, he knew from his radio the results of most sporting events. Among his colleagues he was recognised not only for his dedication to missions and commitment to Liberia but for his sociability and good humour. A fiery temperament in his younger days was strictly confined to the hurling pitch. Even in his latter years when he suffered greatly he remained congenial company.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.