The Irish Province of Augustinians has a long association with the foreign missions, principally in Nigeria, Kenya and Ecuador. We have also had men working in South Africa and Benin Republic. In our history missionaries from Ireland founded the Augustinian provinces in North America, Australia and refounded the presence of the Order in Great Britain.
The following article, written by Fr. Michael O’Sullivan OSA who worked many years in Nigeria, gives a good flavour of the work and commitment of missionaries.
Return to Nigeria
Nowadays, many people live in fear of losing their jobs. For those of us who work on the Missions “working oneself out of a job” is the great achievement. In the early 1960’s there wasn’t a single Nigerian student preparing for priesthood. Today, all but two parishes in an area larger than Ireland are staffed by Nigerian priests. The bishops in five dioceses have come through our schools.
2008 gave an unexpected opportunity to a few of us who had begun working in Nigeria 30, 40 and nearly 50 years ago, to go back and see the place again.
This is how it happened; Patrick Sheehan OSA retired after being Bishop of Yola and Kano for 35 years. A Nigerian, Fr. John Niyiring OSA, was appointed to succeed him as Bishop of Kano. We knew the same John well when he was a student and now he invited us to Kano for his ordination as bishop. It was a most pleasant experience.
The ordination ceremony itself was grand: many thousands were there in high spirits. Irish Augustinians, Richie Hughes, Ray Hickey, Colin Fives, Michael Walsh and Brendan McDonnell came to celebrate from the far-flung parts of Nigeria where they still work. Nigerian Augustinians we had known as youngsters came from all parts of their own country and from Kenya and Rome. They gave us the kindest of welcomes. We got around to a few other places we had known years ago. Everywhere we were delighted to meet people from our past. Delighted, too, to see that the work goes on.
In Kano itself you’d be wide-eyed in admiration for the new Priory and church, and for the plans of the local Augustinians for a big school in a place where the hunger for education is great.
In Abuja, Fr. Richie Hughes OSA was supervising an army armed with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows building a school for up to a thousand pupils on scrubland a few miles outside the capital city.
In Jos we stayed in the new Novitiate and noticed that security arrangements there have changed since our time – Alsatian dogs patrol by night. Would-be intruders think twice, and then go home.
In Maiduguri it was great to see the new rising bigger and better from the ashes of the old church, school, house and hall destroyed in a day of murder and burning by an Islamic mob two years previously. The business of Church and school goes on there. Our Augustinians are there and mean to stay…
Much more is happening in other places but these were the places we saw. Best of all, people everywhere were full of good humour in poor places. Full of hospitality and gratitude too. A thousand times we heard the words: “Greet and thank your people at home.” It is a common saying, sincerely spoken.
We are seeing the end of an era. We have “worked ourselves out of a job”. Alleluia!!!
Fr. Michael O’Sullivan OSA