By Peter McCawille, SMA,
SMA House, Abuja, Nigeria,
I have just returned to Abuja from Kaduna in the North of Nigeria (Nigeria is one country!) where I joined Fr Mark Monaghan, a native of Fireagh, Omagh, in celebrating the Golden Jubilee of his priestly ordination on December 17, 1969 at St Colman’s Cathedral, Newry, Co Down.
This Jubilee was a gloriously joyous occasion held on Thursday past, the likes of which one could scarcely imagine happening in Ireland today.
Son of John and Catherine (née McMenamin) Monaghan, Mark is the fourth child in a family of five boys and three girls – Ellen (Sr Gertrude), Johnny, Catherine (Daly), Mark, Gabriel, Danny, Michael and Mary (Kirkpatrick).
He attended Culmore Primary School and later the CBS Primary School where he passed the 11+ under the direction of the famed Bro ‘Bonzo’ Byrne, before proceeding to St Columb’s College, Derry for his secondary education.
At St Columb’s Fr Monaghan’s classmates were Frs Stephen Kearney (now priest-in-residence at Knockmoyle) and Fr Eddie Kilpatrick in St Patrick’s parish, Murlog, Lifford. Teachers included Fr Michael Keaveney (former parish priest in Sacred Heart, Omagh and now Pastor Emeritus). Msgr Joe Donnelly, another former and much-loved parish priest in Sacred Heart, was his prefect in the boarding house.
Mark’s interest in becoming a missionary in Africa with the SMA was sparked by then SMA seminarians James and Brian O’Kane, natives of Deerpark, Omagh and by the late Vincent O’Neill, from Newtownstewart, who all, so to speak, left a mark on the young Monaghan boy and nudged him in the direction of the Society of African Missions (SMA).
He recalls Cathal McKenna and himself being driven by the late Leo Mulhern to Kilcolgan, Co Galway to enroll in the one-year SMA preparatory programme (then called a Spiritual Year).
In July, 1970 Mark set sail for Africa on the HMV Aureol, a passenger liner that took two weeks to complete the voyage, stopping on the way to Lagos at Las Palmas, Canary Islands and Freetown, Sierra Leone to visit the grave of the SMA Founder, Msgr Marion de Brésillac who had died there in 1859.
Apart from spending seven years (1980-1987) on the staff of SMA House of Formation, Maynooth, Mark has spent all his priestly life in Nigeria, working for many years in education and for the past 32 years in the pastoral ministry. His Golden Jubilee celebrations happily coincided with the blessing and dedication of an impressive new church called St Simon’s, the construction of which Mark has been actively involved in supervising over the past five years.
He took up residence at St Simon’s in 2004 and a few years ago decided with the encouragement of the parishioners to embark on an ambitious project to replace the old church which was no longer able to comfortably accommodate the teeming Catholic population of the area. Today there are two Masses on Sundays with overflowing congregations. It may also be of interest to note that following those two Masses which each last for 2-3 hours, Fr Monaghan, now approaching his 75th year, celebrates a third Mass in another ‘outstation’ church which in time will also become a parish.
A palpable spirit of enthusiasm and love (it was in many ways a wonderfully wholesome dress-rehearsal for St Valentine’s Day) pervaded the church compound from early morning as the parishioners trekked in to erect the canopies and assemble the chairs to accommodate the expected overflow attendance.
A huge team of volunteers was already in place from the previous evening, working through the night to prepare food for everyone. Hospitality is at the heart of Church life here in Nigeria.
The Chief Celebrant was the Archbishop of Kaduna, Dr Matthew Man’oso Ndagoso who entered fully into the spirit of the occasion with his relaxed and jovial manner. In the course of his homily he expressed his admiration for the herculean efforts of a host of SMA missionaries who have laboured all over Nigeria for well over a hundred years, singling out Mark on this occasion for the enormous contribution he has made in different places.
It is also important to acknowledge that Mark’s younger brother, Fr Danny Monaghan has also been equally active as a SMA missionary in Nigeria since 1975 and is currently ministering in an even more heavily populated parish in the Archdiocese of Lagos. Between them they have accumulated almost 100 years of active missionary service.
It will also be appreciated by parishioners at home that both of them engage actively during their holidays from Nigeria in helping out in different local parishes, in Omagh, Drumquin, Greencastle and Aghyaran where their help is much appreciated by the different parish priests and the people.
We rejoice with both of them and their family as Fr Monaghan marks this memorable milestone in his missionary life. Ad multos et faustos annos!
Peter McCawille, SMA,
SMA House, Abuja, Nigeria,
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere
SUBSCRIBE TO CURRENT EDITION TODAYand get access to our archive editions dating back to 2007
(CLICK ON THE TITLE BELOW TO SUBSCRIBE)