Société des Missions Africaines – Province d’Irlande

CAHILL Thomas né le 26 mai 1907 à Crossgar, Tyrconnet
dans le diocèse de Down & Connor, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 2 juillet 1929
prêtre le 11 juin 1933
décédé le 4 septembre 1942

1933-1942 missionnaire au Nigeria

décédé à Warri, Nigeria, le 4 septembre 1942
à l’âge de 35 ans

Le père Thomas Sexton CAHILL (1907 - 1942)

A Warri (Nigeria), le 4 septembre 1942, retour à Dieu du père Thomas Cahill, à l'âge de 35 ans.

Thomas Cahill naquit à Tyrconnet, dans le diocèse de Down & Connor en Irlande, en 1907. Il fit ses études secondaires au collège Saint-Malachie, à Belfast. Entré aux Missions Africaines, il fit le noviciat à Kilcogan et sa théologie à Dromantine. Il fit le serment en 1929 et fut ordonné prêtre en juin 1933. Peu après, le père Cahill partait pour le vicariat de la Nigeria Occidentale.

Vicaire à Warri, puis à Benin-City, il devenait bientôt directeur des écoles et conseiller du visiteur. En 1940, à la suite de la nomination du père Kelly comme vicaire apostolique, le père Cahill, âgé seulement de 33 ans, était nommé visiteur (supérieur régional).

En tous ses travaux, le père Cahill apporta tout son zèle et toute l'ardeur de sa forte nature. Il mourut de la fièvre jaune, à l'hôpital de Warri.

Father Thomas Sexton CAHILL (1907 - 1942)

Sexton Cahill was born in Crossgar, Co Down, in the diocese of Down and Connor, on 26 May 1907. He died from yellow fever, in Warri hospital, Western Nigeria, on 4 September 1942.

Sexton received his secondary education at St. Malachy's diocesan college, Belfast. He commenced his novitiate and philosophy course with the Society in Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in 1927 and, two years later, on 2 July 1929, received his oath of membership. He studied theology in the Society's seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down, 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 Sexton was appointed to the vicariate of Western Nigeria, which had been the first mission in Nigeria entrusted to the Irish Province in 1918. Sexton arrived in Nigeria in October 1933. In the same month the vicar apostolic, Thomas Broderick, died in Genoa, and Patrick J. Kelly, the vicar delegatus took temporary charge of the jurisdiction, until the appointment of Leo Hale Taylor as successor. Fr. Kelly appointed Sexton to Warri district, where he was introduced to the missionary life, learned the local language and undertook supervised pastoral work. After six months he took his language examination and received faculties to hear confessions. His 'tyrocinium' complete, he remained on in Warri for a further six months before being posted to Benin City mission, where Valentine Barnicle was superior and Tom Bartley was the first assistant priest. Benin City mission was a relatively new station, founded in 1928. Although the catholic population was small (there was a catholic community of 500 members and 200 catechumens), Benin City had almost forty secondary stations and there was clearly great potential for development. This was subsequently to be realised and in 1938 Bishop Taylor transferred the headquarters of the vicariate from Asaba to this centre (which was also the administrative capital of the region). Sexton went to Ireland on his first home leave in January 1938. In the last year of his tour he had been superior at Benin City and had greatly impressed his superiors with the quality of his work.

At this time efforts were being made to establish schools throughout the jurisdiction, a policy which was to reap abundant fruit in years to come. The expectation was that children educated in mission schools would evangelise their parents and families, and would in due course themselves become leaders of Christian communities. Some, it was hoped, would eventually embrace the priesthood. It was a tribute to Sexton's qualities as a missionary that after returning from leave, in January 1939, he was appointed supervisor of schools, entrusted with the implementation of the educational apostolate. This required him to supervise the building of schools, to over see the employment of teachers, to see that academic standards were maintained and, perhaps most important, to liaise with the government education department on which vital subsidies for the vicariate's schools depended.

Sexton's talents had received earlier recognition when, within a few years of his arrival in Africa, in 1936, his superiors in Ireland appointed him councillor to the 'visitor' (Society representative on the missions responsible for the spiritual and material welfare of the members). In December 1939, on the appointment of the existing 'visitor', Patrick J. Kelly, to succeeded Bishop Taylor as vicar apostolic, Sexton was nominated 'visitor', although he was only 33 years old. A warm and understanding man, mature beyond his years, and endowed with the gift of good judgement, he won the confidence of all the members in his region as well as the esteem of his superiors in Ireland. Sexton died in Warri hospital of yellow fever, the sickness which had carried off Bishop de Marion Brésillac, Founder of the Society, in Freetown in 1859. Two weeks before he contracted yellow fever, Sexton had written a report on his region to his superiors which shows him at the height of his powers.

Bishop Kelly gave the following report of his death to the Provincial, Stephen Harrington: 'He was sick only four or five days and died in Warri hospital of yellow fever. He seems to have got it out in the Sobo bush, Sapele district (in an outstation called Ovu or Orun, twenty five or thirty miles from Sapele). Inoculation for all these priests and sisters is being arranged. He died a very happy death having got the last sacraments beforehand. May God rest his soul and take the sacrifice of his life for the conversion of the blacks. He named Fr. Keenan (Willie), already one of his councillors, as the man to carry on as acting visitor.' Fr. Keenan added: 'The last Mass he (Sexton) said was 29 August. He felt unwell Sunday and sent for Fr. Fegan who took him to Sapele and on to Warri. Bishop Kelly went down and several of the Fathers were with him. His strength gradually failed and towards the end he became unconscious five or six hours before his death. He was buried that evening at Asaba and I think practically all the Fathers were at the Requiem Mass on Saturday morning. Bishop Heerey and some of the priests and sisters were over (from Onitsha).'

His loss at so young an age and at a time when he was only at the beginning of his work, was a grievous blow to his family, to the Society and to his mission. In Africa it had the effect of drawing the small missionary team closer together, steeling their resolve to establish the Church. Today the jurisdiction in which Sexton lived out his short missionary career boasts one of the most vigorous Christian communities in Africa, led by four African bishops and staffed by increasing numbers of indigenous priests and religious. Sexton's brother, Denis, was a priest in the diocese of Down and Connor. Three of his sisters became nuns (Sr. Marie Celine, Bon Secours; Sr. Augustine, Holy Rosary; Sr. Colmcille, Sisters of Charity). His nephew, Sexton Doran, became a member of the S.M.A. in 1963 and serves today in Zambia. His niece, Mary, joined the French Sisters of Charity.

He is buried in Asaba, Nigeria.