Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

Greene Michael né le 2 décembre 1902 à Bellcara
dans l’archidiocèse de Tuam, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 31 octobre 1924
prêtre le 16 juin 1927
décédé le 28 février 1986

1927-1973 missionnaire au Nigeria

diocèse de Benin City
1973-1986 Blackrock Road, Cork, retiré

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 28 février 1986,
à l'âge de 83 ans

Father Thomas Michael GREENE (1902 - 1986)

Thomas Greene was born in Bellcara, Co Mayo, in the archdiocese of Tuam, on 2 December 1902. He died in the South Infirmary hospital, Cork, on 28 February 1986.

Tom (known by his colleagues as 'Pére') was born in Co Mayo but was brought up in the parish of Ballyadams, Co Laois. He was educated in the colleges of the Society. He studied at the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (the S.M.A. preparatory college) between 1916 1918 and at St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork, where he completed his secondary schooling. He came to the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan, Co Galway, in September 192l. Two years later he commenced his theological studies at the Society's seminary on the Blackrock Road, Cork. He completed those studies at Dromantine, Co Down, to where the seminary was transferred in 1926. Tom was admitted as a member of the Society on 31 October 1924. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 16 June 1927. He was one of a group of eleven ordained on that day.

After his ordination Tom was appointed to the vicariate of Western Nigeria. Tom was to minister in this region and particularly in the area which formed the old mid-western state of Nigeria, for a total of 47 years. During this period he saw the Church in the mid-west go from strength to strength under the leadership of Bishop Thomas Broderick (1918-1933), his successor Bishop Leo Taylor (1934-1939) and finally Bishop Patrick Joseph Kelly (1939-1973). In the last two years of his missionary career Tom shared the joy of seeing an African, Bishop Patrick Ekpu, take charge of the diocese. He also witnessed during his lifetime many divisions of the territory, and the erection of new dioceses, including Warri (1964), Lokoja (1964) and Issele-Uku (1973). The original vicariate of Western Nigeria was itself re-named the vicariate of Asaba-Benin in 1943 and became the diocese of Benin City in 1950. Tom played a distinguished part in bringing about these astonishing developments.

Tom's first appointment was to Agenebode district, where he was to spend so many years subsequently. Agenebode station, founded in 1897, had perhaps 600 Catholics and a large hinterland with almost fifty outstations. Tom spent all of his first tour in Agenebode, going on home leave in 1931. Tom returned to Agenebode as superior in 1932 remaining there for the whole of his second tour. Tom's third tour (1937-1945 - prolonged because of the world war) saw him posted to Ubiaja district which had been established as a mission in 1908. When Tom returned to Nigeria after his next leave (in April 1946) he was appointed superior of Uromi district. Tom was to spend five further tours in Benin City diocese. He ministered mainly in the Agenebode-Uzairue district, Uromi and Ubiaja. He initiated two teacher training colleges in Ubiaja (St. John Bosco's college, and Sacred Heart training college) and is acknowledged to have been the inspiration for the Catholic hospital, Uromi. His qualities were recognised by his colleagues in the western region when they elected him delegate to the Provincial Assembly of 1952. He also served as a member of the 'Provincial Commission on the Constitutions and Directory', representing the commission in Rome during Easter 1952.

When failing health forced him to retire from Africa in 1973, Tom was the longest serving member of the Province in the tropics. And among Irish missionaries of other Societies only Archbishop Charles Heerey C.S.Sp. of Onitsha had been in Africa longer. One of Tom's classmates, Walter Keary, died less than three years of his arrival in Nigeria, aged 29 years. Tom died in his 84th year. Tom Greene was a man of great breadth of vision. His God was not a narrow or a small God, neither vindictive nor a balancer of books. His was a forgiving God, a caring and understanding God, expansive and magnificent. During his years of retirement spent at Blackrock Road, Tom became a much-loved member of the community. He struck those who had not known him previously as a man of great openness and humanity. He continued to read widely (as he had always done) until his sight began to give way. He loved nothing better than to discuss the great theological and philosophical questions of the day with his colleagues, something which he did with extraordinary simplicity, clarity, insight and always with wit. He maintained a keen interest in everything concerning the Society and Africa and was always there to welcome the returning missionary, or to encourage the departing.

A colleague who served as his assistant in Agenebode and Uzairue later wrote of him: 'Tom was kind and tolerant, always a gentleman, a true Christian. He was an avid student of local customs and a great Old Testament scholar. He liked to compare the Animist sacrifices with Old Testament ones. He liked to sing and had a good voice. His favourite song was 'There's a Colleen Fair as May'. He had sound ideas about how to learn the local language, encouraging me to walk through the village in the evenings. I remember him saying to me: "Say what you have learned, talk to the people, let them laugh at you, you'll learn that way." Tom had time for everyone and showed special consideration for young missionaries. He was kindness personified'.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.