As the year is dying, Christians remember the dead: the millions whose lives were squandered in tragic wars, and the others, close to us, whom we save from oblivion by memorial rites in November. Colaiste Iognaid in Galway will hold a Mass of remembrance – for the first time – for its past pupils and staff, on Sunday 27th November at 11.00am. A large congregation attended the annual memorial Mass for deceased Jesuit missionaries (pictured here), and heard Michael J. Kelly reflect on the lives of his missionary colleagues in Zambia and other mission fields. The last few years have robbed us of Bill Johnston in Japan, Frank Doyle in the Philippines, Cecil McGarry in Nairobi, and many others. These men who left their homeland for a life among strangers – what inspired them to that move? Michael picked out four qualities – read on.
First, they were certain that they had been sent – by God through their superior. It was not a travel bug that motivated them, but a mission. Secondly, they knew they had been sent to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people who were in need of it; and they conveyed that good news both by preaching, Mass, the sacraments, and by conversation, the everyday interaction with those they encountered. Thirdly, in the tradition of Jesus the healer, they saw their mission as helping people in any need, by the best means available, whether hospitals, schools, parishes, building, farming. The Jesuits in Zambia were there to do what they could to make life better for their sisters and brothers. Fourthly, they offered their services freely, without cost or fee, giving freely what they had freely received.
The Zambians cherish these strangers who have left home to settle and die in Africa. One remarkable example of this: when Tom McGivern was recovering from a savage attack by a thief in Lusaka, Kenneth Kaunda, the first President of independent Zambia, made a point of visiting him in his Jesuit home, a sign of gratitude for Tom’s immense work on education. There are other examples of affection in the tear-filled funerals of Jesuits like Norman McDonald and Paddy Sherry, who have died there. To quote Michael Kelly: “The Zambians are saying to the missionary who dies among them what we are saying today: Well done, and thank you.”