Hayes in the Copper Belt
Before they start theology and the preparation for priesthood, most Jesuit students spend two or three years in what they call regency, a sort of apprenticeship for ministry. Those who are going on foreign missions may spend regency learning the language. So in 1971 Joe Hayes, who had volunteered for the Zambian mission, found himself tackling Tonga in Chikuni. Two years later, as he embarked for theological studies in Ireland, he still had not mastered the language, and he thought despondently that he was leaving Zambia never to return. Just now he is home on leave from directing an Ignatian Centre in the Copper Belt, and looks back with bewildered gratitude: “I realise it was a blessed journey which enriched me and opened up special relationships.” His story intertwines with the story of Zambia itself. Read more.
I am turning 66 next month. If I was in state employment in Zambia I’d have had to retire ten years ago. I feel that is when your life is only beginning. We are a young Province: Emmanuel, our second African Provincial, took office only last week. This is changing the dynamic of the province in a wonderful way. They no longer see the core of the Province as consisting of foreign Jesuits with access to resources from abroad. As a non-Zambian I feel it would be unfair to expect Zambia to support me when I begin to be a burden. Thank God, my health is good and has always been. My mother died at 65 of cancer, but my father lived to 87.
Thinking about my vocation, I remember the suffocation of Dublin life in the dying days of the John McQuaid era. We were Juniors in that period of transition under Paddy Doyle when he took us out of clerical dress. But McQuaid’s influence was still there when I finished philosophy.
Zambia was a lonely place when I came first. I lived in Chikuni, trying to learn the local language. My two companions, Stan Farrell and Philip O’Keeffe, were good at languages, but I was no good. You have to become a child again, to listen and be unable to express yourself – I could not manage that. I was despondent over not being able to learn Tonga. When I left Zambia after my regency I was minded not to come back. After I studied religious education I agreed to come back but asked not to go to Canisius. But I was sent there. It was a blessed period, but lonely. Because of material differences, our relationships with local people were not on a basis of equality.
Most of my life in Zambia has been in education. In Canisius College, Chikuni, I was primarily pastoral director, setting the pastoral tone of the school. I spent ten years there, mainly in religious education, and got interested in life skills training, helping people bring Christian values to their life issues. Then I moved to an excellent secondary school in Kitwe, first as teacher, then for six years as Principal, till I handed over to a Zambian lady.
A Catholic convert lady of Jewish background had donated a beautiful house in the middle of Kitwe as a spiritual centre. Our General advised that we broaden our focus beyond spirituality so as to be open to donor assistance. So it is called the Ignatian centre for leadership development. That is where I have been working for the last three years. I feel privileged. Not many people would be given a three-year sabbatical to do what they most want to do. It is my first responsibility at the moment, but I can’t expect the Province to give me a replacement there for some time, as there are higher priorities.
I have three areas of concern. One: to support local teachers and develop their leadership qualities. Two: spirituality – offer courses in pastoral ministry and run a retreat centre. Three: bring what I’d call a psychological perspective to life issues so that they develop life skills. I develop courses and give them to small groups. Some Zambian friends volunteer their help, and we are building up a team. Every morning we have a liturgy; a small community is growing. As energy goes down, I realise my life has been a blessed journey – it enriched me and opened up special relationships to me. Every day now is a bonus.