Société des Missions Africaines – Province d’Irlande

McGOVERN Francis Joseph né le 15 septembre 1898 à Drumshambo Leitrim
dans le diocèse d’Ardagh, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 8 février 1919
prêtre le 29 juin 1921
décédé le 30 mars 1922

1921-1922 missionnaire au Liberia pendant 6 mois

décédé à Betu, Liberia, le 30 mars 1922,
à l’âge de 24 ans

Le père Francis Joseph McGOVERN (1898 - 1922)

Le 29 mars 1922, à Betu (Liberia), retour à Dieu du père Francis Mac Govern, à l'âge de 24 ans.

Francis Mac Govern était né dans le diocèse d'Ardagh (Irlande), en 1898. Il fit ses études dans les maisons de la Société en Irlande. Il fit le serment en 1919 et fut ordonné prêtre le 29 juin 1821. Il partait peu après pour le Liberia.

"Le première attaque de malaria a produit des vomissements noirs et l'a emporté en 3 jours." Ce père pourtant paraissait fort "comme un hercule". Peut-être avait-il attrapé un fort coup de soleil quelques jours auparavant au cours d'une chasse à l'antilope!

Father Francis Joseph McGOVERN (1898 - 1922)

Francis McGovern was born in Chapel St. Drumshambo, Co Leitrim, in the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, on 15 September 1898. He died at Betu, Liberia, on 30 March 1922.

Francis studied at the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (1912 1914), and St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork (1914 1916). He entered the Society's seminary at Blackrock Road, Cork, in the autumn of 1916 and completed his course five years later. He was admitted to membership of the Society on 8 February 1919 and was ordained a priest by Bishop Thomas Broderick, vicar apostolic of Western Nigeria, in St. Joseph's church, adjoining the seminary at Blackrock Road, on 29 June 1921. Francis was one of ten missionaries ordained on that occasion.

After ordination Francis was assigned to the prefecture of Liberia, in West Africa. The Catholic Church's first contacts with West Africa in modern times came in Liberia in 1942. Liberia had proved a difficult mission field. That first mission failed after two years; two subsequent attempts to establish a missionary presence collapsed in 1888 and 1904. In 1906 the mission was entrusted to the S.M.A. and was given to the Irish Province as its first mission in the year if its erection (1912). In the early years Stephen Kyne, the prefect apostolic, had established mission stations in Monrovia and its hinterland. However these had made very little progress due to the hostility of the Americo-Liberian ruling elite, many of whom belonged to virulent anti-Catholic Protestant denominations. From 1912 the energies of the missionaries were directed more towards the Kru Coast, a region 150 miles east of Monrovia. Significant progress was made in this area, largely because of the efforts made by the missionaries on behalf of the Krus during times of civil unrest and famine. By 1920 the Kru coast had become the cradle of Catholicism in Liberia.

It was to this region that Francis was appointed on his arrival in Liberia in October 1921. Jean Ogé, the prefect apostolic, posted him first to the mission station of New Sasstown. This station, founded in 1912 under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, was one of the largest missions in Liberia, with some 600 Catholic members and 100 catechumens. There also was an elementary school with 108 pupils. After some months in New Sasstown Francis was transferred to the nearby mission of Betu, where Patrick Francis McKenna was superior. This mission, founded in 1914 under the patronage of St. Joseph, was somewhat smaller than New Sasstown, with 500 Catholic members.

Francis was physically strong yet he was to die within a year of his ordination. Some days before his death he had exposed himself to the sun in the course of an antelope hunt. However it seems more likely that he died not of sunstroke but of blackwater fever. A colleague at Betu reported on the circumstances of his death as follows: 'On last Sunday Mgr. Ogé had Confirmations here at Betu and he afterwards remarked what a strong looking priest Fr. McGovern was. On Wednesday March 29th Francis spent the day as usual in school in the morning, visiting the sick in afternoon. About 5 o'clock he went for a short walk with Fr. McKenna... It was only at supper that he complained of a headache and a little chill, but ate a little. He went to bed immediately... Temperature rose, fell and rose... His missionary life was a brief but happy one. Among his note books I found one in which he kept a brief diary. He expresses very pathetically the sorrow he felt on leaving home, but soon becomes his cheerful self.'

Francis' death was a severe blow to a mission which already had suffered much. Premature deaths were frequent occurrences ever since the Irish Province had first been formed in 1912. Conversations with retired members who lived through the 1920's and 1930's reveal that morale was never affected, neither in Africa nor in the Province's training colleges at home. Premature deaths were accepted calmly as the price to be paid for the evangelisation of Africa.

Francis was not the first missionary to die in Betu. In September 1921, five weeks before his own arrival, Denis O'Hara had died of blackwater fever, while stationed in Betu (he actually died in nearby New Sasstown). In 1925 John James Barry also succumbed to fever. In June 1932, John Collins, who had become prefect in the same year, decided to reduce Betu to the status of an outstation, although the number of Catholic members had increased to almost 1,000. The decision was taken because of the poor location of the mission which made it unsuitable for habitation by Europeans. Henceforth Betu was incorporated into the Sasstown district.

He is buried in Betu, Liberia.