Société des Missions Africaines - Province d'Irlande

Glee James né le 29 mai 1924
dans le diocèse de Down & Connor, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 29 juin 1948
prêtre le 18 juin 1952
décédé le 20 février 2006

1952-1957 missionnaire au Nigeria, Lagos
1957-1962 Blackrock Road, Cork, Irlande
1962-1963 Bruxelles, études supérieures
1963-1973 missionnaire au Nigeria, Lagos
1974-1976 diocèse de Northampton, UK
1976-2005 missionnaire au Liberia, Monrovia

décédé à Blackrock Road, Cork, le 20 février 2006
à l’âge de 81 ans

Father James Gerard LEE (1924 - 2003)

James Gerard Lee was born on 29 May 1924 at Drumaroad, Castlewellan, Co Down, in the diocese of Down and Connor.
He died in St. Theresa’s nursing unit, SMA House, Blackrock Road, Cork, on 20 February 2006.

James (Jim) was the eldest of a family of two boys and three girls born to Patrick and Mary (nee Egan) Lee. His father was a shopkeeper and grocer. Jim was baptised in St. Malachy’s parish, Belfast, on 5 June 1924. He received his primary education locally. For his secondary education he studied at Garvey College, Belfast, between November 1943 and June 1946. He attributed his interest in the missionary priesthood to the influence of Denis Cahill, parish priest of Dromaroad whose brother, Sexton Cahill, was a member of the SMA In 1942 Sexton Cahill was to die in Warri, Nigeria, aged only 36 years. When Jim expressed an interest in the priesthood, Canon Cahill encouraged him to join the Society. Jim entered the Society’s novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan in September 1946. Two years later he commenced his theological studies in the Society’s major seminary at Dromantine, near Newry, Co Down. James was first received as a member of the Society on 29 June 1948. He became a permanent member on 11 June 1951. Jim’s ordination to priesthood took place on 18th June 1952, in St. Colman’s cathedral, Newry. He was one of a group of ten ordained on that day by Bishop Eugene O’Doherty of Dromore.

Jim’s first posting after ordination was to the archdiocese of Lagos. He sailed to Nigeria from Liverpool on 9th October 1952. On arrival he was posted to Lafiagi parish where he was introduced to the pastoral ministry. After eighteen months he was transferred to Abeokuta where he was to minister for the remaining three years of his first tour of duty. During this tour Jim showed an aptitude for organisation and administration and when he returned to Ireland on leave he was retained there as secretary to the Provincial and as Provincial archivist. He worked in this capacity between September 1957 and November 1962. Jim was not enamoured of a home appointment and frequently requested to be sent back to Africa. Eventually his wish was granted. Before returning to Africa he decided to upgrade his skills in catechetics and education. To this end he spent seven months in Brussels, Belgium, where he attended a catechetical course (the Lumen Vitae course) at the Brussels Institute; and a further two months studying education in London.

Jim returned to the archdiocese of Lagos in September 1963, working there (during four tours of duty) until June 1973. Most of these years were spent in St. Leo’s College, Abeokuta (a teacher training institution) where, as a member of staff, he put his catechetical training to good use and from where he assisted in the local parish and its outstations. In 1973 Jim found himself unsettled in his vocation and decided to withdraw from Africa for a while. Stress and overwork played a large part in this. During his last tour he not only taught in St. Leo’s but was chief examiner in Religious Education in the Western State, had responsibility for the running of St. Leo’s Fathers’ House, managed St. Leo’s Secondary Commercial School, was chaplain to the sisters and was secretary to several diocesan and parochial committees. After a period of rest which included a retreat with the Jesuits at Loyola Hall, Prescot, England, he took up a post in Northhampton diocese – in the parish of Kettering. A year later, he joined the first team in a newly-founded SMA parish at Luton (originally located on Sundon Park Road, under the patronage of St. John Apostle, and later re-located at Stopsley Road under the patronage of the Sacred Heart ) where he was to serve until 1976.

Jim returned to Africa in the autumn of 1976, to the vicariate of Monrovia (Liberia). Apart from a sabbatical year spent at Maryknoll during 1980 (during which he acquired a Masters degree in Theology), he was to minister in Liberia until his retirement in 2005, a period of almost thirty years. Jim’s first assignment was to lead the diocesan catechetical program for what was now the Archdiocese of Monrovia. Over the following years he occupied many portfolios, taking on numerous chaplaincies and making an outstanding contribution in both the field of financial administration and religious education. For many years he was administrative assistant to Archbishop Michael Francis of Monrovia and then to Fr. Andrew Karnley who administered the diocese when the Archbishop fell ill in 2004.

In 2005 Jim’s health began to deteriorate alarmingly and he was advised by the doctors in the Catholic Hospital in Monrovia to come home for medical treatment. Although the prognosis was discouraging Jim remained active in the SMA community at Blackrock Road until the second week of February when his condition became grave. He died in the presence of members of the Blackrock Road community and his two sisters, Mrs Margaret Cassidy and Mrs Lucy Kirkpatrick.

Jim’s last sixteen years in Liberia, from 1989, coincided with a fearful civil war in during which hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Jim was not the only missionary to show heroism during this protracted nightmare, but his contribution was a telling one. During the darkest days of the war he remained at his post and assisted with the relief effort. He witnessed some of the most serious fighting and its dreadful consequences. His courageous gesture in staying on in the war zone so as to help in the evacuation of other expatriate civilians did not go unnoticed by the press in Northern Ireland. He was given banner front-page headlines in the Irish News and, perhaps more surprisingly, in the Belfast Telegraph. Eventually, as violence escalated and when everyone else was safely evacuated, he was compelled to flee the capital for his own safety in April 1996. He went reluctantly, taking refuge in the American embassy, before being helicoptered out to Freetown in Sierra Leone from where he was taken to Dakar in Senegal. He was the last member of the Society to leave the city. He did not stay away long. Five months later, during a period of relative calm in Liberia, he returned to his mission. As the war came to an end his services to an embattled people were formally recognised by the Liberian government when in 2004 he was admitted to the ‘Human Order of African Redemption’ with the grade of ‘Knight Great Band’.

Jim was particular effective in raising funds for mission projects particularly among his friends in Northern Ireland and Scotland. At the time of his death the finest monument to this work was approaching completion, namely the medical clinic in Holy Family Parish, Caldwell, a location where he had been briefly taken prisoner by one of the factions during the civil war. A colleague who saw Jim in action during the civil war years described him as follows: ‘Jim’s enthusiasm was infectious, his work-ethic inspirational. To see him rushing about, in the autumn of his life, rolling up the sleeves of the white cassock in his characteristic and individual manner, was something to behold and admire.’

He is buried in Wilton Cemetery