Société des Missions Africaines – Province d'Irlande
Le Père John F HANNON


né le 22 avril 1939
dans le dans le diocèse de Killaloe
membre de la SMA le 26 juin 1962
prêtre le 18 décembre 1967
décédé le 24 novembre 2004

1968-1993 archidiocèse de Lagos, Nigeria
1994-1996 archidiocèse de Nairobi, Kenya
1997-1998 diocèse d'Elphin, Irlande
1999-2004 diocèse de Ngong, Kenya

décédé le 24 novembre 2004 à Matasia, Kenya,
à l'âge de 65 ans

Father John Francis HANNON (1939 - 2004)

John Francis Hannon was born in St. John’s hospital, Limerick city (his home address was Killula, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare) on 22nd April 1939.
He died in Matasia, Kenya, on the night of Wednesday, 24th November 2004.

One of five brothers and two sisters born to Timothy and Kathleen (nee O’Dea), John hailed from a farming family in the parish of Newmarket-on-Fergus, in the diocese of Killaloe. He received his early education at Stonehall National School. Between 1952-1958 he attended St. Flannan’s College, Ennis, for his secondary education. Desiring to become a missionary priest John entered the Society’s novitiate at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in the autumn of 1961. A year later he was promoted to the Society’s major seminary, at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down. He was to receive both his philosophical and theological formation in Dromantine. As a student John was noticeable for the seriousness with which he regarded everything connected with his vocation. Never finding his studies easy, he applied himself to achieve the required standard. In his observance of the rule and the performance of his duties, records from the time declared him exemplary. John was first received as a member of the Society on 25th June 1962. He became a permanent member on 14th June 1967. John was ordained a priest in St. Colman’s cathedral, Newry, by Bishop Eugene O’Doherty of Dromore diocese, on 18th December 1967. He was one of a class of eleven ordained on that day.

After ordination John was appointed to the Archdiocese of Lagos. He reached West Africa in October 1968. He was to work in the Lagos jurisdiction until April 1993, broken only by a short sabbatical spent with the Redemptorists in Marianella, between September and December 1978 and a three month’s sabbatical at Mill Hill, London, in the autumn of 1987. For most of his two and a half decades in the Archdiocese of Lagos John worked in suburban parishes where he erected churches and social centres. The homilist at John’s Requiem Mass recorded that ‘wherever he worked, he left his footprints through the erection of physical structures and the building up of vibrant communities. He was loved by the people – men, women, youths and children alike. His apostolate among the youths was particularly remarkable and commendable. For them he was a friend, a brother, a father and a teacher…’ This quotation could be said to sum up the nature of his contribution in Nigeria. But there was also a darker side to his experiences. Towards the end of his time, while living in a turbulent neighbourhood where there was opposition to the Church, he suffered armed robbery on a number of occasions. On one such occasion both his night-watchmen were murdered by the robbers and John, along with an SMA seminarian who was with him, were lucky to survive. He also had the harrowing experience of witnessing an armed robbery in which a number of people were shot dead.

John returned to Ireland in April 1993 in ill-health. He was also shaken as a result of his experiences of violence. Not one given to taking things easy, while officially recuperating he spent six months working in the diocese of Killaloe, at Quinn, near his home. He was determined to return to Africa at the earliest opportunity and crossed swords with his superiors on this point; the latter felt he needed more rest before returning. However eventually he was given permission, although it was decided that he should now go to the Society’s mission in Kenya, which had been recently founded. His first appointment was to the parish of St. Joseph the Worker’s, Jericho, situated in an impoverished suburb of Nairobi called Jericho. This parish was in the charge of the Society’s British Province and John was seconded to that Province in October 1994 to enable him take up his appointment. There were two principal tribal language groups represented in the parish, the Luo and the Kikuyu. John took to his work with relish.

In June 1996 John returned to Ireland on leave. Toward the end of his leave he was taken seriously ill and underwent a quadruple coronary artery bypass on 25th September 1996. During his recovery, as always anxious to keep active, he assisted in Elphin Diocese, in Castlerea, Co Roscommon (between March 1997 and August 1998). John was impatient to return to Africa, while his superiors felt he needed more time at home. With his typical persistence he brought up the subject at every available opportunity until, with some reluctance, his superiors gave way, although they did have the satisfaction of knowing that, at least, John had had one year’s rest since the operation. John was not to return to Jericho as his secondment to the British Province was not renewed. Instead he went to Noonkopir Catholic Church (St. Monica’s), Kitengela, Nairobi, returning to Africa on 20th August 1998.

John was by no means firing on all cylinders when he returned. He found that he tired easily, especially after the visitation of outstations. Also the conditions of the parish were stressful and changes were not easily made. One source of difficulty was the need to terminate the employment of eight catechists, both because of lack of funds and dissatisfaction at their work. This was something which needed to be done, but it required a lot of energy and perseverance. At one point John considered leaving Kenya and returning to Ireland. But he was made of stern stuff and with increasing support from his parishioners he resolved to persevere. His load was considerably lightened when he was joined by an Indian Fidei Donum priest. John’s efforts were greatly appreciated by his parishioners. In a letter to the Provincial from the Noonkopir Parish Council, the following extract is significant. ‘We are very grateful for sending us Father John Hannon to be in charge of our parish since August 1998. He has had a number of teething problems but things are changing for the better since the last quarter of 1999. Despite the problems, he has started many development projects at the parish headquarters and outstations which are not yet completed…We are giving him all the support he needs and pray that God gives him good health and long life.’

The inhabitants of Kitengela suffered from serious noise pollution, originating in a nearby factory. John took a leading role in having the noise abated and incurred hostility on that account. On March 31st 2000 he was attacked in his house and was lucky to escape with his life. Fortunately his curate had left for India the previous day. It has been suggested but not proven that the factory authorities had authorised the attack since they were aware of a forthcoming newspaper article on the noise pollution problem. John was badly shaken by the occurrence, but despite his injuries, he determined to remain on in Kenya, although he accepted a transfer to another parish. This was the parish of St. Barnabas, Matasia, a poor, working-class location some 15 miles from Nairobi, near Ngong. Here he set out to construct a new church and mission house. John was in his element in Matasia, working closely with a well-motivated parish council to put his plans into operation. When he first came to Matasia he lived in the catechist’s house, a tiny two-roomed structure. Little by little, raising funds within the parish and further afield (in this latter respect he was greatly helped by his sister Mary; the Society, too, gave him invaluable assistance), employing direct labour and supervising all work personally, the church and mission house began to take shape. A highlight in the history of the parish came in November 2003 when the Society’s Deaconate Ordinations for the African District were held in the new St. Barnabas church. A year later the mission house was completed and John took up residence there.

Matasia was quickly becoming a vibrant parish, with a variety of educational programs. Here the mainly Maasai young women were trained in domestic economy, secretarial work, dress-making, hair-dressing, sewing and knitting. He was also exploring plans for the training of young men as carpenters, masons, painters and electricians. At the time of his tragic and untimely death he was in the process of completing a parish hall and had initiated a 14,000 euro project to equip the hall as a Training Centre.

The full circumstances surrounding John’s death still remain unclear. He was attacked in his house during the night of 24th November 2002 and murdered. His body was discovered some distance from the house, near some class-rooms. To date no one has been convicted of his murder, although investigations are ongoing. His murder was one of a number of recent killings of missionaries in Kenya. His death and its manner came as a great shock to his conferes in Kenya, to his family in Ireland and to the Society in general. His funeral took place in Matasia, in the mission compound, after Requiem Mass on Friday December 3rd. As well as a large throng of parishioners and people from other parishes John’s funeral was attended by senior members of the Kenyan Church. Members of his family came out from Ireland, as did the Irish Provincial, and several class members travelled long distances to attend. John was the second of his class to die, the first being Michael Walker who was killed in a motor accident in Ireland on 2nd September 1970. A week after John’s funeral, a Remembrance Mass was held at Newmarket-on-Fergus on 10th December, with Bishop Willie Walsh as chief celebrant.

John was a strong character, occasionally to the point of stubbornness, with a keen sense of justice and a particular affection for the underprivileged. This latter trait
came to light during his student days when his superiors discovered that he regularly sent small donations anonymously to a number of charities. John had assiduously sought to conceal this practice. Throughout his life he was courageous, ready to put himself in the firing line when those under his protection were persecuted or wronged. He was also creative, studying how he might best uplift those entrusted to his care – mostly the poorest of the poor – and then transforming his ideas into reality. John was not a diplomat and in the pursuit of his life’s mission he could be abrasive. For his superiors he was not always the easiest man to deal with, but his complete commitment to mission and to Africa was never in doubt. Those who knew him well saw beyond a sometimes rough exterior to the loving heart which inspired his actions. John had a great fondness for horses and was a fearless rider who rode over fences as bravely as he surmounted every obstacle in life’s path.

He is buried in the compound of St. Barnabas Church, Matasia, Kenya.