Société des Missions Africaines - Province d’Irlande

HEALY James né le 23 décembre 1913 à Glenamoy
dans le diocèse de Killala, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 29 juin 1937
prêtre le 30 mars 1941
décédé le 19 mars 1997

 1942-1950 vicariat d’Asaba-Benin, Nigeria

1950-1953 diocèse de Benin City, Nigeria
1954-1955 économe au collège de Ballinafad, Irlande
1955-1987 diocèse de Benin City, Nigeria
1987-1995 Blackrock Road, Cork, retiré
1995-1997 Glenamoy, Co Mayo, retiré

décédé à Castlebar, Co Mayo, Irlande, le 19 mars 1997
à l’âge de 83 ans

Father James HEALY (1913 - 1997)

James Healy was born in Glenamoy, Ballina, Co Mayo, in the diocese of Killala, on 23 December 1913. He died in the County hospital, Castlebar, Co Mayo, on 19 March 1997.

James (Jim) was one of a family of six boys and two girls born into a farming background. In 1928 Jim completed his primary education at Glenamoy, a few miles from his home at Bunowna. The school headmaster, James Boland, recognising that Jim had a missionary vocation, arranged an interview for him at the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (the Society's intermediate school). The interview was conducted by Fr. James McGuirk and in September 1930 Jim commenced his secondary studies in the college. He completed his studies at St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork, the Society's senior cycle college. After matriculating, in 1935, Jim entered the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. He was received as a member of the Society on 29 June 1937. Jim received his theological formation in the Society's major seminary, at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down, between 1937 and 1941. Jim was not ordained with his class. With ordination day set for 22nd December 1940 Jim did not feel quite ready to take this important step just yet. He decided to wait for a few months. Ordained to the diaconate on 29 March 1941, Jim was raised to the priesthood on the following day, Palm Sunday, 30 March, by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, Co Down. Jim was one of two members of the Society ordained on that day; the second was Michael Joseph Feeley who later became a member of the American Province.

After ordination Jim returned to Dromantine for six months to complete his theological studies. In June 1941 he was appointed to the vicariate of Western Nigeria. However his departure for Africa was delayed because of the difficulty in securing a sea passage in war-time. Eventually, in February 1942, Jim reached his mission, travelling out in a shipping convoy. Being a lover of the sea Jim enjoyed the month-long journey despite its wartime risks. Late in life he recorded his first impressions on his arrival in Lagos. The heat was so oppressive, he wrote, that he thought he would catch fire. After spending a night in Lagos he travelled next morning by train for Oshogbo on his way to Benin city headquarters of the vicariate. The territory to which Jim was assigned was, within a year (January 1943), to be re-named the 'vicariate of Asaba-Benin', to reflect more accurately its geographical location. It was to be erected as the diocese of Benin city in 1950. The jurisdiction covered a vast territory, some 58,000 square kilometres with 1,700,000 inhabitants, now divided into an archdiocese and three dioceses. The Church had made significant strides since the first mission was founded in the region in 1884. Jim was to serve from 1942 until illness forced him to retire in 1987. His only 'home' appointment was to Ballinafad, where he served briefly as bursar, between July 1954 and March 1955.

Jim's first appointment, given to him by Bishop Patrick J. Kelly, was to Holy Cross cathedral, Benin city, where he was assistant to the 'administrator', John Mahon. During this time he was introduced to the missionary life, learned local languages and took his theological examination which allowed Bishop Kelly to give him faculties to hear confessions. After two years in Benin city Jim was transferred to Agenebode to assist Thomas Murray, the mission superior. There were many outstations in this parish, and Jim threw himself wholeheartedly into the work, making lengthy and frequent tours of pastoral visitation. In August 1947, Fr. Mahon, who was also vicar general, and was anxious about Jim's health, suggested he should go home on leave as he had completed a full missionary tour of five years. Reluctantly Jim agreed, and set off for Ireland in September, calling on his way to visit his classmate, Mattie Gilmore, who was stationed in Liberia. After a year-long vacation in Ireland, during which he regathered his energies, Jim returned to Agenebode as mission superior. Jim was to make many more missionary journeys to Nigeria, some fourteen in all. During his many tours of duty he went about his work quietly and unobtrusively endearing himself to the people and to his missionary colleagues. He is particularly remembered to this day by the peoples of Benin city (and its more than 50 outstations), Uzairue, Ewatto and Igueben. The Legion of Mary claimed much of his time. In places where it had died out he revived it, and it grew from strength to strength under his careful supervision. He was also responsible for establishing the Credit Union in his parishes and the success of it was borne out by the fact that it was adopted by the Anglican Churches as well. Jim was much loved by many Nigerian priests, who served as his curate. They all recognised his graciousness, inherent decency and extraordinary ability to get the best out of them. Not only was he kind to the priests, but he was kind to their families, especially at times of difficulty.

Jim's career on the missions came to an end in 1986 when he fell ill and had to be accompanied home to Ireland by Mossie Maguire, his classmate, and at the time regional superior (responsible for the welfare of Irish confrères). A period spent in the Bon Secours hospital in Cork brought him back to relative good-health. Jim spent the first years of his retirement at Blackrock Road. However in 1994 his health deteriorated sharply. Jim's kind, decent and gentle personality, however, continued to shine through brightly, during his declining years of severe ill-health. In 1996 his sister, Ann, a nurse who had spent all her adult life in the U.S.A., took him to live with her in Glenamoy and it was here that he spent his last days.

A confrère who knew Jim well and worked closely with him in Benin city diocese, wrote the following account shortly after Jim's death: 'The recent death of Jimmy Healy brings back especially happy memories. For me, and I believe for all who knew him, Jim was the perfect gentleman, the ideal priest and missionary. My earliest memory of Jim was when he was parish priest of Uzairue, in what was then known as Kukuruku country. It was 1951 and I was sent up there to conduct an entrance examination to St. Thomas' teacher training college, Ibusa. Jim was at that time living in a bungalow, a two-roomed mud house. I recall being very impressed by the sight of the Christians coming over to the mission after reciting their night prayers to greet Jim and the banter and laughter that ensued before they bade us goodnight! It was obvious that Jim enjoyed their company and they enjoyed his.'

'I also recall that Jim connected his wireless that night to the battery of his old Ford pick-up outside the door so that I could hear the B.B.C. news for the first time since coming to Nigeria! And all the time I was made feel most welcome. How many Fathers and others can testify to his extraordinary hospitality! In Benin mission where he served for many years, Jim entertained so many of us, who had to visit Benin frequently in those days, and he always managed to put us up, irrespective of the numbers. "Stay the night". Those are the words that I always associate with Jim Healy. And if you hesitated: "Sure, we'll have a game of cards tonight". Jim loved cards. He also loved his game of tennis (he had learned it first while a student in Wilton). And this man, who was so placid and kind and patient in his ordinary dealings, was a regular "tiger" on the tennis court. Every point was tenaciously fought; every line ball was disputed; partner's mistakes were frowned upon. Jim loved to play and Jim loved to win.'

'These same qualities contributed, no doubt, to his success as a missionary. There were souls to be won for Christ and Jim left no stone unturned in his efforts to win them. And innumerable were the souls that Jim won for Christ in Uzairue, Benin, Ewatto and Igueben. Wherever he laboured Jim worked consistently and tenaciously. That was the era of education and mission schools, the era of U.P.E. (universal primary education) and "Awolowo's" schools. Jim saw to it that almost every village and hamlet in his vast parish got Catholic schools and additional classrooms. I don't believe any manager in the whole of Nigeria had as many schools under his care as Jim had. He brought his beloved bricklayers and carpenters from Kukuruku country and, under his watchful but benevolent eye, Catholic schools sprung up throughout the Bini bush. Jim had a wonderful way with teachers. His natural sympathy, understanding and benevolence brought out the best in them. Not that he was soft with them. No! On main principles of discipline and morality, Jim did not compromise.'

'Jim applied the same consistency, benevolence and understanding to all facets of mission work. He always found time for his Masses and prayers; he always got the fullest co-operation from both S.M.A. and diocesan assistant priests. The hospital was visited every evening, without fail. Outstations were regularly visited so that the camp bed and mosquito tent were in constant use. The children's confessions on Friday evenings in Holy Cross cathedral were particularly heavy but Jim got the willing assistance of his visiting priests to ensure that we finished in time for the game of cards or, in later years for those who were not that way inclined, a visit to the nearby cinema!. Jim catered for us all. May he rest in peace!'.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.