Société des Missions Africaines - Province d'Irlande

GRIFFIN Cornelius né le 1er septembre 1947
dans le diocèse de Cork & Ross, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 30 juin 1968
prêtre le 15 juin 1974
décédé le 19 novembre 2007

1975-2007 missionnaire au Nigeria
1975-1996, archidiocèse de Kaduna
1996-2005, diocèse de Kafanchan
2005-2007, archidiocèse de Kaduna

décédé à Abuja, Nigeria, le lundi 19 novembre 2007
à l’âge de 60 ans

Father Cornelius GRIFFIN - 1947 - 2007

Cornelius Griffin was born at West Colla, Schull, Co Cork, in the diocese of Cork and Ross, on 1st September 1947.
He died in the National Hospital, Abuja, Nigeria, on 19th November 2007.

Cornelius (Connie) Griffin was the youngest of a family of two boys and two girls born to Cornelius and Hannah (nee Rahilly) Griffin who farmed near Schull in West Cork. He received his primary education at the Convent of Mercy school, in Schull. He then entered St. Finbarr’s diocesan seminary, Farranferris, in Cork city, where it was expected that he would go forward to become a priest for his home diocese. It came as some surprise to the staff at Farranferris when, on completing his secondary education, he opted instead for a missionary vocation and applied to join the Society of African Missions. Accordingly, in September 1966 Connie commenced his novitiate or spiritual year in the Society’s house at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. A year later, in 1968, he began his philosophical course in the Society’s major seminary at Dromantine, Newry Co Down. In 1969, after a decision by the Society to transfer its seminary program to St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, Connie resumed his studies in that institution, living with his SMA confreres in a section of Logic house. Connie began his theological training in 1970, completing it four years later. He was first received as a member of the Society on 30th June 1968. He became a permanent member on 22nd April 1973. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Cornelius Lucey of Cork and Ross Diocese, in the Church of the Real Presence, Curraheen Road, Bishopstown, Cork, on 15th June 1974. Connie was one of a group of five ordained for the Society that year. The others were Tom McNamara, Pat Kelly, Hugh O’Kane and Pat Lynch.

After ordination Connie was assigned to the Society’s missions in Northern Nigeria. His first posting was to the diocese of Jos, which at the time was under the leadership of Bishop Gabriel Ganaka. The Catholic presence in Northern Nigeria went back to 1907 when three missionaries came to Shendam. The Prefecture of Northern Nigeria was erected in 1929 and in 1934 was divided into two jurisdictions, the prefectures of Jos and Kaduna, both of which became dioceses in 1953. The Kaduna jurisdiction was erected as an archdiocese, under John McCarthy, in 1959.

Before travelling to his mission, during the summer of 1974, Connie attended the Summer Institute of Linguistics at High Wycombe, north-west of London, England. He then set out for Nigeria, arriving at the Kagoro Tyrocinium on 22nd October. Here he was introduced to life in Africa, studied the local Hausa language, and prepared for the active ministry. On 24th November 1974 he received a telegram that his mother had died on that day. Con’s father was to die in November 1980. On that latter occasion Con was on leave in Ireland and was able to be with his father during his last illness. Connie was to spend his entire missionary career in Northern Nigeria, working briefly in the towns of Zaria and Kano and then, for the remaining 28 years of his ministry, in the rural areas of Kaduna Archdiocese. After the completion of his tyrocinium his first formal appointment was to St. Joseph’s minor seminary in Zaria. But very soon he was placed at Gidan Bako among the Ikulu people where he served between 1980-1986. He was then posted to Sabon Sarki parish, Kaduna State. Three years later he became parish priest of St. Dennis’s church, Danladi, Dutsen Wai, Kaduna State.

In 1996 the Irish Provincial requested the Archbishop to release Connie from diocesan responsibilites so that he could take over the parish of St. Joseph’s – an SMA parish – attached to the Regional House at Kagora. Connie was duly released and took up residence at Kagoro in December 1996. Kagoro was located within that part of the Archdiocese of Kaduna erected separately as the diocese of Kafanchan in 1996. Connie was to minister here until the close of 2004. He then took sabbatical leave spending part of the year at St. Bueno’s Retreat Centre in Wales and in Jerusalem. He returned to Nigeria in July 2005 taking charge of St Mulumba’s Parish, Kurmin Sara.

As a student Connie was interested in the charismatic movement. He also had a strong devotion to Our Lady and later in life, during his home leave, liked to visit the Marian shrines of Europe. He was particularly attracted by the writings of Anthony de Mellos and liked to retail de Mellos’ stories to his close friends. Connie lived simply and was possessed of a sense of humour which gained much from his unique delivery. His sense of humour blended with the shrewdness of a man who had been born at the foot of the ever-changing Mount Gabriel, behind Schull. Connie loved the Society and Archdiocese of Kaduna, playing a full part in the life of each, always attending meetings, retreats, funerals, ordinations and other important gatherings. His rather frail appearance and self-effacing personality belied a self-sufficiency and imaginativeness that was to stand to him throughout his life. For example as an impecunious student he supported himself during holiday time by setting up as a hairdresser in an abandoned cottage on the outskirts of Schull village. As priest he showed both inventiveness and skill, roofing and beautifying many of his churches, digging wells to provide clean water for his people, constructing halls and offices, introducing social development projects. His training of catechists and leaders, his craft-training program for widows, as well as a vibrant youth ministry were further dimensions of his ministry. Testimony to his talent was the fact that he was made advisor to his Archbishop on all archdiocesan building projects.

Connie was predeceased by his parents and by his brother, Michael, and sister, Ellen. His remaining brother, Anthony, died some months after Connie’s own death. Connie died unexpectedly. He had been unwell for a few days in his house at Kurmin Sara mission, suffering from a malarial fever. Fr. John Haverty of St. John’s parish, Kachia, his nearest neighbour, who visited him, tried to persuade him to go to hospital in Abuja but Connie felt he would be fine. A day later, as Connie’s condition deteriorated, Fr. Haverty insisted and Connie reluctantly agreed to go to hospital. He was taken to St. Francois’ clinic on the following morning in a semi-conscious state and then transferred to the National Hospital, Abuja. In hospital he appeared to recover but then, after some days he took a turn for the worst and died. He was 60 years old.

SMA priests who die on the missions are buried on the missions and indeed it was Connie’s own wish, expressed to a confrere, that he should be buried in Nigeria. His funeral testifies to the great love and respect by the Africans for SMA missionaries who die in their midst. On Sunday 25th November Connie’s remains were removed from the hospital mortuary after a simple ceremony attended by priests, sisters and parishioners from Kurmin Sara who had come ‘to accompany him home’. En route to Kaduna the cortege stopped at Kurmin Sara where a prayer service was held and some parishioners had the opportunity to make short speeches. They were joined by people from other parishes where Connie had ministered – Kagoro, Gidan Bako and Sabon Saraki. The cortege arrived at Kaduna at 6.00 p.m. and the remains were received at St Peter’s Church, Sabon-Tasha, on the outskirts of the city by parish priest, Fr. Daniel O’Brien SMA. A vigil was held in the church beginning with Mass concelebrated by about 40 priests at which Dan O’Brien preached the homily.

The funeral Mass was concelebrated in Sabon-Tasha on Monday, 26th November. The Archbishop of Kaduna, Most Rev. Peter Jatau, presided and the SMA Regional Superior, Fr. Maurice Henry, was the main concelebrant. Fr John Haverty preached the homily. More than 70 priests concelebrated – diocesan, religious and SMA. Following the prayers of Commendation the funeral cortege headed off on the long journey to Kagoro where the remains were met by the local bishop, Most Rev. Joseph Babogiri and the Bishop of Bauchi, Most Reverend John Moore SMA and a huge crowd which had gathered and which included about 100 diocesan and SMA priests. Vigil and funeral Masses were held on Sunday 25th and Monday 26th November, in Kaduna/Kagoro. A Mass for the repose of his soul was celebrated in St Mary’s Church, Schull, on 14th December 2007.

He is buried in the cemetery of the mission compound at Kagoro, Nigeria.