Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

CLONAN Thomas né le 1er juillet 1909 à Ballivor
dans le diocèse de Meath, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 19 juin 1932
prêtre le 21 décembre 1935
décédé le 15 octobre 1968

1936-1967 missionnaire au Liberia
1967-1968 animation missionnaire en Irlande

décédé à Dublin, Irlande, le 15 octobre 1968,
à l'âge de 59 ans

Father Thomas Joseph CLONAN (1909 - 1968)

Thomas Clonan was born at Ballivor, in the diocese of Meath, on l July 1909. He died in the Bon Secours home, Glasnevin, Dublin, on 15 October 1968.

Tom was educated in the colleges of the Society. He studied at the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (1925 1927), and at St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork (1927 1930), before entering the novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. He was received as a member of the Society (with sixteen others) on 19 July 1932. Tom studied theology in the Society's seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down, completing his course in June 1936. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 21 December 1935. He was one of a group of twenty-one ordained on that day.

After ordination Tom was assigned to the Liberian mission. He went there two years after the Liberia prefecture had been erected into a vicariate, under Bishop John Collins. Liberia was a poor, underdeveloped mission, very different from the developing mission fields of Nigeria to which most of the newly ordained priests were now appointed. It was often the case that missionaries assigned to Liberia found the circumstances too trying and were transferred to Nigeria. Tom was to spend 31 years in Liberia (1936 1967). Only a handful of confreres were to serve longer.

When Tom first set foot in Liberia he was sent to the Kru Coast (east of Monrovia and accessible only by sea or by trekking along the beach) which had been devastated by civil war and was then in a severely depressed state. Describing the mission at Old Sasstown, a town which had been the cradle of the Church on the Kru Coast, but had recently fallen into decline, Tom reported: 'the mission is now standing all alone, the verandah all overgrown with weeds, the coffee grove (planted by the priests) almost wild.' This was the pattern in many of the missions along the Coast. In many respects Tom came to Liberia at a watershed in the history of that mission. He was to play an important part in establishing the Church on a firm footing, through the foundation of new stations in the more populous regions, and the vigorous development of an educational apostolate. Tom was deeply involved in building mission residences, churches and schools, and in maintaining them thereafter. He was also known to install water systems, sink wells, and perform all sorts of intricate technical tasks which defied the best experts available.

Tom's first appointment on the Kru Coast was to the district of Grand Cess. The principal station of the district, Grand Cess, had been founded in 1916 under the patronage of St. Patrick. John Coleman was Tom's superior and together they looked after a catholic community of some 2,000 members and 500 catechumens, located in Grand Cess and several neighbouring villages such as Kinekale, Topo, Filokli, and Bielapo. In 1939 Tom was transferred to the district of Gbarnga, which had been opened up six years previously and was situated perhaps 100 miles into the interior from Monrovia. Kevin McKeown was superior of this new district which had a mere 20 catholic members, although the number of catechumens - 125 - held out hope for the future. This hope was eventually to be realised when in 1986, after years of patient development, Gbarnga became the seat of a diocese. Tom came to Ireland on his first home leave in 1941. His return to Liberia was delayed because of wartime restrictions on travel. While awaiting a passage back to Liberia, he worked with Phil Corish in laying down the magnificent 'crazy pavement' which fronts the S.M.A. house at Blackrock Road. Eventually, in December 1943 Tom secured a place on a sea convoy going to West Africa. Back in Liberia he was assigned to Sasstown district as superior. Bishop Collins was most anxious to revive the fortunes of the Church in this historic district which had been opened in 1911 and where, effectively, the Church in Liberia had been founded. New Sasstown had grown, just as Old Sasstown declined, and Tom was one of four missionaries deployed by Bishop Collins to breath new life into the Church.

On 2 February 1950 the vicariate of Liberia was divided and the Kru Coast region was erected as a separate prefecture with its headquarters at Cape Palmas. The new jurisdiction was entrusted to the care of the American Province of the Society, but because that Province (founded in 1941) as yet had few priests at its disposal, members of the Irish Province continued to work in the region. Tom was one of those assigned as a staff member of the new prefecture. However five years later, when more priests from the American Province became available, Tom was transferred to the vicariate of Monrovia, which was still in the care of the Irish Province and where John Collins was bishop. Tom was appointed to the district of Kakata, formerly an outstation from Monrovia (some 40 miles into the interior) and a residential station since 1951.

His assistant priest in Kakata was Lawrence Collins, a nephew of Bishop Collins, who (in 1995) still ministers in Liberia. Tom's next appointment, given when he returned from home leave in February 1960, was to Saniquellie mission, one of the first stations established in the interior, in 1932. His assistant priest was David O'Regan. In this, as in all in all the places where he served, Tom paid special attention to schools. In 1964 when he next returned from home leave, Bishop Francis Carroll (who had succeeded Bishop Collins in 1960) recalled Tom to Monrovia to minister in the mission and to take charge of the building of an extension to the elementary school. In July 1965, when John Donovan, mission superior in Monrovia, went home on leave, Tom took his place.

Tom ministered in Monrovia until 1967 when he came home in poor health and no longer fit for further service in the tropics. After convalescing, he devoted himself in promoting the Society throughout Ireland and became widely known in the short time he was engaged in that work. He was ill for a year before he died.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.