Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

HARRISON Michael né le 24 avril 1904 à Brideswell
dans le diocèse d'Elphin, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 4 juin 1930
prêtre le 11 juin 1933
décédé le 28 juin 1974

1933-1974 missionnaire au Nigeria
1933-1934, préfecture du Nord Nigeria
1934-1974, préfecture puis diocèse de Jos
(1938-1949) visiteur
1954-1974) vicaire général

décédé à Jos, Nigeria, le 28 juin 1974,
à l'âge de 70 ans

Father Michael Joseph HARRISON (1904 - 1974)

Michael Harrison was born at Brideswell, Athlone, Co Westmeath, in the diocese of Elphin, on 24 April 1904. He died in the care of the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles in the catholic hospital, Jos, Nigeria, on 28 June 1974.

Michael (Mick) studied at the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (1923) and St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork (1924) before coming to Kilcolgan, Co Galway, for his novitiate and philosophy in the autumn of 1927. Two years later he went to Dromantine, Co Down, for his theological training. He was received as a member of the Society on 4 June 1930 and was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 11 June 1933. He was one of a group of nine ordained on that day.

After ordination Mick was appointed to the prefecture of Northern Nigeria which had been erected in 1929 under the leadership of William Porter. This vast prefecture covered most of northern Nigeria and extended into 'French Niger'. A year after Mick's ordination the jurisdiction was divided into the prefectures of Jos and Kaduna. On his arrival in Nigeria Mick was appointed to Jos district (in 1934 he was incorporated into the Jos prefecture). Jos mission, founded in 1929, had a catholic community of perhaps 500 members; the majority of whom were Igbos who had come from the east with the railway line. Jos had fourteen secondary stations, with small catholic communities; these included Bukuru, Bauchi, Barkin Ladi and Vom. Mick remained in Jos until 1935 when he was transferred briefly to Shendam, the oldest mission in the north, dating from 1907. He spent the last sixteen months of his first tour of duty (1933-1937) in Jos mission.

On his return to Nigeria after home leave, in June 1938, the prefect, William Lumley, appointed Michael to found a new station at Alogani, in a remote rural district, 1,400 feet above sea level on top of the Mada hills. Together with his assistant priest, Andrew Geraghty, he built a house, a school, a church and a fine dispensary and all that was required for the two nurses who had agreed to come from Dublin to staff the facility. The population was entirely indigenous and animist and both Fathers had great hopes for Alogani's future. Unfortunately in March 1940 Fr. Geraghty suffered a fall from a horse and although he seemed to recover perfectly, four weeks later he suffered a brain haemorrhage and died. Alogani mission was closed subsequently and the mission at Akwanga was opened in its place.

In May 1940, after Fr. Geraghty's death, Mick was appointed founding superior of Pankshin mission, in the south-east of the prefecture. Two years earlier he had been appointed 'visitor' by the Provincial administration, responsible for the material and spiritual welfare of his colleagues. He retained this important post until 1949 when the post of 'visitor' was replaced with that of 'regional superior' (whose scope was wider). Mick returned from his next home leave in May 1945. A year later he returned to Ireland as delegate of his confreres to the Provincial Assembly of 1946. He was also a delegate to the General Assembly of 1947. Mick was to serve in the Jos jurisdiction (erected as a diocese in June 1953) until the time of his death.

Mick played a central role in building up the modern catholic Church of northern Nigeria. During the 30 years he spent in the region he served in most of the prefecture's stations, but his closest associations were with Jos town, Shendam, Alogani, Pankshin, and Bukuru. For 20 years, from 1953 until the time of his death, he was vicar general of the diocese of Jos, in charge of the jurisdiction in the absence of the bishop. Mick was noted for the many fine churches, schools and mission houses which he constructed. He is credited with having built thirty churches. He was also noted for his administrative skills, demonstrated as vicar general, and also in his capacity as 'visitor'. He discharged this latter responsibility with generosity and efficiency. Mick took ill with heart trouble on 23 June 1974 and, five days later, died in the catholic hospital, Jos. He was anointed by Joe Maguire on the day of his death. News of his passing was broadcast over Jos Radio. His Requiem Mass was celebrated in Fatima cathedral. He was related to the brothers John and Tom Galvin, and to John Reddington, first bishop of Jos, all members of the Society.

A colleague wrote of Mick some years after his death: 'He was a missionary of great zeal - to the very end. In the afternoons he would visit the parish societies, especially the Legion of Mary. He was always concerned to make the Church financially self-sufficient, and his efforts have now borne fruit in Jos diocese. Mick said "when we stop building churches, the Church is dead", and right up to the last few days of his life, he worked to put this belief into practice. He was indeed a very great missionary'.

He is buried in St. Piran's cemetery, Jos, Nigeria.