Biography of Most Rev Patrick Kelley
BISHOP KELLY OF WESTERN NIGERIA, by Michael O’Shea
Posted by National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF)
In November 1921, after a good holiday, Pat bade farewell to his mother and family at Tristaun and made his way to Dublin and then Liverpool. With him were classmate John Cadogan, Cork, and Michael O’Donohuem Laois; both were two years younger than Pat, who was twenty-seven. In Liverpool they spent a few days at the African Missions transit house on Ulett Road, while waiting on the departure of the Elder Dempster liner bound for West Africa.
In the city they bought suitable clothing and footwear for the tropics, a pith helmet for protection against the sun, and quinine for Malaria. On boarding ship, the purser directed them to first class cabins; the 1918 Provincial Assembly had decided that the confreres should travel first class. The trio appreciated the comfort, but were a bit ill-at-ease at the thought of rubbing shoulders with colonial nobs in the first class dining hall. As the ship got under way, the new sailors in the Roman collars clutched the rail and spoke quietly as they watched the land recede.
A few days later, the ship’s radio picked up the news that the Anglo-Irish Treaty had been signed in London on 6 December. Recalling it, Pat said, “We heard that the Free State was established and we were glad.” As he was not given to talking about himself or his activities, we are fortunate to have an account by him of his first missionary journey:
A fortnight after leaving the Port of Liverpool, we began to feel the heat and we knew that we were nearing Africa. The temperature increased daily and we perspired from morning to night. Early one morning, an indescribable sight lay before us. The ship lay off the north of a big river called “Rokell.” On either side hills, decked with stately palms, rose majestically to the sky. Fog on the water was already being burned off by the sun as it rose like a golden ball above the hilltops. Shops and the fine houses of the white people stood near the river, behind them the dwellings of the Africans. Freetown lay before us! A ferry came out to take the passengers ashore; lots of canoes with two or three natives in each followed. The canoe men easily climbed the sides of the ship; portholes and windows were closed for fear of pilfering. One of the sailors saw a black man near an open window and, having nothing else at hand, threw his pipe at him. Catching it deftly, the canoe man made off delighted with the Pipe.
They did not go ashore to visit the tomb of the Founder of the Society, Marion Bresillac, who with four companions, had died here of yellow fever in 1859, the year of the Society’s first mission, Bresillac himself dying within forty-one days of arrival. Visiting the tomb had not yet become a custom among the Irish confreres, nor did Pat, in his narrative, mention the Founder or the tragedy of that first year. Pat, John and Michael had arrived on the West Coast of Africa, which, for good reason, had earned itself the title, “the White Man’s Grave.” A fellow passenger beside them on the deck recited for their benefit an old sailor’s rhyme, “Beware! Beware; the Bight of Benin where few come out, though many go in!” At nightfall, the ship weighed anchor and steamed out of the bay. (Bishop Kelly of Western Nigeria, by Michael O’Shea, Page 32-33)
ILLNESSES AND DEATHS
It wasn’t the spirit of the times to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve; nevertheless, Pat was more reserved than most in keeping his feelings to himself. He hadn’t mentioned the Founder’s grave at Freetown, nor did he mention the near tragic end of the Society there in 1859 when all the pioneer missionaries had been wiped out. During his first tour, death still struck quickly and arbitrarily in the West Coast. Scarcely had he arrived when, George Lacely, just a year ahead of him in the seminary, died of malaria in Lokoja. George, a hardy young man from the Island of Inishboffin, off the Galway Coast, was only twenty-nine. Pat’s comment was, “It’s God’s holy will; we must be perfectly resigned, for He knows what’s best.”
Another premature death was that of one of his own classmates, Francis McGovern, from Lietrim. Ordained with Pat in 1921, he participated in the same Department Ceremony and departed for Africa two days after Pat. Appointed to Liberia – the Irish Province’s first mission, and arguably the Society’s most difficult and unhealthy one – he died suddenly of fever in the mission of Betu on the Kru Coast in1922 at the age of twenty-three. Six months before him Denis O’Hara, only nine months in the country, had died in the same mission aged twenty-nine.
Speaking of McGovern’s death, Pat said, “The news brought me great sadness. But when I realized that it did not discourage John (Cadogan), it lessened my grief, and I understood that the best thing for us to do is to unite our wills with God’s holy will. We have great confidence in the Sacred Heart that He will give his special blessing to the work we are doing because of all who died for His sake.” When Bishop Broderick heard the news, he wrote to the Provincial, “Is it God’s way of blessing the Province – trying it as he tried the Society from the very start? Sanguis martyrum … (The blood of martyrs … is the seed of Christians). It brings home to all that the conversion of West Africa is not to be considered a human work, or to be judged by human standards.” Not long afterwards, the Kru Coast claimed another young life: John Barry from Kerry, only two months in the country, died 6th January, 1925, aged twenty-four.
Western Nigeria witnessed other tragic deaths, apart from George Lacey’s, during Pat’s first tour. A French confrere, Pierre Piotin, “apostle of the Etsakos,” called “the good white man” by the people, died in 1924. Iln1926, two young men of the Irish Province, Phil Cassidy (whose letter we have quoted), and William Bond died within two months of one another. Bond had worked for a short time with Pat in Eku before being appointed to Sapele. He died in one of Sapele’s outstations – Benin City.
Sixty years later, Pat, in retirement said, “In my last year in Eku, Fr Bond an Englishman, was appointed ‘second man’ to men, but then they decided to make Sapele a residential station, and after a month or two he went to take charge there and died shortly afterwards.” Unsentimentally, Pat continued, “There was another Father called Cassidy, who got backwater fever after a long journey on a bicycle and died.” Cassidy, ordained the year before Pat, like him, loved the Irish language and delighted in local customs and stories both Irish and African. Not long before Phil’s death, Pat spoke of “anticipating a hearty shake hands from Phil” and/or “showing him a kind cead mile failte when he comes to Eku.”
A number of men, after experiencing ‘close calls’ with death in Western Nigeria, had to be invalided home. One of them was Michael O’Donohuem, who was with Pat on the voyage to Africa. He became very ill in Onitsha-Olona and had to be sent home in August 1922. Pat, who had not seen him since their ways parted in Warri, believed that “the climate did not agree with him at all.” (O’Donohuem never fully recovered and died in New York in 1935). Phil Cassidy, a late vocation, was thirty-seven when he died. Bond was twenty-nine and Pierre Piotin was an ‘old man’ of fifty-seven.
The attitude of resignation towards premature death expressed by Pat was not unusual. Deaths did not discourage the missionaries; if anything, they stimulated them. The missionaries believed that their deceased brothers interceded for them in Heaven, and that their deaths were sacrifices somehow desired, or even demanded by the “good God,” who had asked to less from His own Son.
The Founder of the Society often quoted John 12:24 – “The seed must die if it is to bear fruit.” Val Barnicle, who was with Phil Cassidy when he died, said, “He died for Africa. He had no regrets in giving his life – it was the one thing he desired.” Missionaries of Pat’s time, and even later, went to Africa with little expectation of return. The French Revolution had given rise to theories about the necessity of ‘blood sacrifice;’ later, the Great War, and in Ireland, the Easter Rebellion, re-evoked thoughts about the worthiness of dying for a cause. Missionaries considered the ‘salvation of souls’ to be the greatest of causes and dying for this cause was identified with the death of the Saviour himself.
Whatever personal sense of loss or sadness Pat suffered interiorly on hearing of the deaths of confreres, externally he did not give the impression of being unduly disturbed or upset; if anything he pressed on with his work even more energetically, mindful that no one’s time was unlimited. At the end of June 1926, he and John Cadongan, their first five-year tour in Africa completed, took ship for home. Pat was quite run-down. When his superiors in Cork saw him they became concerned for his health and, being also concerned to staff their new seminary in the North of Ireland, they appointed him Professor of Moral Theology. (Bishop Kelly of Western Nigeria, by Michael O’Shea, Page 58-61)
Sad news reached Asaba in October ‘37; two young men, John Marren and Tony 0’Dwyer had died of yellow fever in the neighbouring Prefecture of Jos, and a third, Pat McAnally, was lucky to have survived. The deaths were a great shock to Mgr William Lumley and his small team of about ten young Irish confreres. Lumley was well known to Pat and the confreres in Western Nigeria, as he had worked there from 1926 until his nomination as the first Prefect Apostolic of Jos in 1934. Marren, from Sligo, was twenty-nine years of age, O’Dwyer, from Galway, twenty-seven. O’Dwyer, stationed in Shendam, on hearing that Marren and McAnally were seriously ill in Kwande, had gone to their assistance. Shortly after arrival, he also became ill and died within a week. McAnally recovered and was invalided home.
Two years previously, the Society Visitor of Jos, Florrie O’Driscoll, a student of Pat’s in Dromantine, had died of typhoid fever, at the age of thirty. In Bishop O’Rourke’s Vicariate of Lagos another young man, Eddie Murphy, twenty-seven years of age, died of fever in Ibadan in December ’37. On board ship en route to Nigeria, Murphy had heard of the Jos deaths.
At Freetown, after visiting the Founder’s and Pioneers’ tombs, he wrote to a friend, “I have visited the graves of those, who found and cleared the way, and I asked God that I, too, may have the privilege of dying in the black Continent without seeing again my homeland if my death might serve the cause. It is my will to die here as did Frs O’Dwyer and Marrren. May it please God to hear my prayer.” Some prayers are answered; Murphy died thirty-seven days after arrival in Lagos, four days less than it took Marion Bresillac to die in Sierra Leone! Pat visited the graves of the young men in Jos; and, in a letter, referred briefly to Murphy’s death, “Another young man went down in Ibadan; may he rest in peace.”
With a drastic increase in the number of deaths from fever at this time, the Director of Medical Services advised all Europeans, especially missionaries, to get inoculated against yellow fever. People coming from Britain were advised to have it done in London, otherwise they would have to be inoculated in Lagos and remain ten days in quarantine. Pat urged the Provincial to see that outward-bound missionaries got their injections in London, to avoid delay and the pound-a-day fee in the mosquito-proof clinic in Lagos. He also recommended inoculation against typhus – of which Florrie O’Driscoll had died. (Bishop Kelly of Western Nigeria, by Michael O’Shea, Page 112-113)
The point here is that Christianity demands such sacrifice. Pastors, like their European counterparts of the past, must be prepared to stake their lives to save souls.
- In the Nigerian situation with Islamism, they have no choice but to unite to save souls. Pastors must not abandon their primary responsibility of saving souls for personal ego and interests. Pastors must, like the white Priests and Pastors before then, who died in droves from malaria, put their lives against Islamists – the present-day “white man’s grave;”
- While the Emirs are both rulers and Imams, our Pastors seem to want to be part of the rulership like the Emirs and, like colonial subjects, want to be part of the ruling elite and are, therefore, prepared to play second fiddle to the Imams. In such a situation, they become vulnerable to corruption and manipulation;
- Christophobia as opposed to Islamophobia, which is widely discussed, receive very little coverage, why? The fear of provoking additional violence by wav of crusade. However, OIC and JNI have very effective lobby groups that have, over the past decades, been very successful in persuading Journalists and Editors in the West and Nigeria to think of each and every example of perceived negative comments on Islam as an expression of deep-rooted Islamophobia. In the circumstance, Christians have to develop our homegrown methods to inform ourselves if the Journalists and Editors refuse to publish the truth;
- Any fair-minded watcher of events (such as Chibok girls) must conclude that Christophobia is more pronounced in Nigeria than Islanlophobia. Yet nobody, including Christians, complained of Christophobia. Christians must not be carried away by fear of being branded and thereby refuse to speak out;
- To say that, “the Muslim concept of Jihad – the belief that God had chosen one people (Muslims) over others and ordered them to go conquer the earth,” is not Islamophobia because the statement is a correct interpretation of jihad;
- When the President of CAN, H.E. Pastor Oritsejafor, asked Christians to defend themselves, he was branded Islamophobia by Christians not Muslims. Christians must be very weary of labeling another Christian in the circumstance of Nigeria with Islamist Boko Haram present and active;
- ISIS is a Religious Movement because, while committing murder, shout “Allahu Akbar.” Christians can help Muslims develop tolerance, and so Christians need to be united and understand the problem;
- Christianity was a crusading faith but over time, it abandoned its militancy. Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere must, therefore, demand that it is time Islam abandoned its militancy and become a Religion of Peace through and through;
- Locke made the case that religious beliefs, and, in the words of Adam Wolfson, are “matters of opinion, opinions to which we are all equally entitled, rather than quanta (a small quantity) of truth or knowledge.” Therefore, no one person should “desire to impose” his or her view of salvation on others. Instead, each individual should be free to follow his or her own path in Religion and respect the rights of others to follow their own paths. Islamists, who insist that in religion they have been commissioned to force the world to have one and only one religion, are in breach of Section 38 of the Constitution, Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion;
- God’s laws over and above the Constitution, breed disloyalty and insecurity to one’s country and insecurity. In the case of Nigeria, God’s laws make National Unity and integration impossible. In any case, only a Section of the population (Islamist) knows of these God’s laws;
- Sometimes lay faithful wonder whether Priests and Pastors know something about Heaven, which they (the lay faithful) do not know. Lay faithful are appealing to be informed. Christian Social Thought provides that, “where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also is both harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.” The Nigerian church must strive for virtue at all times.
Letter for Conversation
- For writing a letter and stating facts – threat to former CJN, NCEF is accused of bias and tribalism, indirectly Islamophobia. NCEF presented a Christian viewpoint and had hoped for Muslim viewpoint in a conversation;
- In Nigeria today with Islamism, we have a new and even more violent ideology than that of Apartheid or Communism and Ideology where people are targeted not for colour of their skin, sexual orientation but their personal faith;
- The connection between violence and Islamism is too clear to be ignored. We must not shut our eyes; we must not excuse but reflect;
- Rather than spend trillions on raging wars against terrorists as the Nigerian Government had done in the last five years, it would have been better if we append a fraction on the protection of Muslim dissidents by giving them the necessary platforms and resources to counter vast network of madras, centre and mosques clearly responsible for spreading Islamism;
- Islamism, like Communism, is contemptuous of Human Rights, and have proved as brutal to their citizens in Sharia countries as the Soviet Republic was;
- We need to counter the proselizing of the Islamist as we cannot fight an ideology solely on air strikes, drones and boots on the ground. We need to fight ideas with better ideas, with positive ideas and alternative vision;
- We need a lot of cultural initiatives funded by our Intelligence Agencies to encourage anti-Islamist intellectuals to counter the influence of Islamism and other fellow travelers to Islamism; and this is not done by appointing Islamists as AGF, NSA, DG-DSS, Ministers of Defence and Internal Affairs. We need books and magazines and book-mailing programme;
- There must be a concerted effort to turn people away from Islamism; platform for Muslim dissidents to communicate their messages through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We must form an alliance with Muslim individuals and groups, who want modernity and share our values of Human Rights and Democracy.
NATIONAL CHRISTIAN ELDERS FORUM (NCEF).